I’ve gotten several emails recently that go something like this:
“A production company wants to option my script and they are going to take it to some major studies but they want me to pay them a retainer fee. Do you think this is a scam?”
Yes. This is a scam.
If a production company really has connections with major studies and they really believe your script is good enough to bring to a major studio they don’t need you to pay them a few hundred bucks (amount may vary from $50 to $1,000 or more).
Sometimes I’ve heard these sorts of companies tell the unsuspecting screenwriter that they need a few hundred dollars to cover administration costs, script copies, postage, etc. Again, this is pure nonsense. Producers and agents have offices. That’s what they do and they absorb those costs. Everyone who’s really in the industry knows this. Agents and managers get paid when they sell your material – the same time you get paid. Producers get paid when they set up a deal and get financing or an investment in a project. The talent doesn’t pay them for setting up the project.
There’s an interesting reversal that happens when a real agent or real producer likes your script. Before they’ve read your script they do everything within their power to avoid you and put you off because most of the material they read sucks. But once they’ve read your script and they genuinely like it the writer then has the power because they appreciate how hard it is to find good material. The last thing they would do is annoy the writer by trying to squeeze a few bucks out of him.
When I was new to the business I sent my script to a production company who sent me a nice letter back telling me how great it was but that it needed a polish by a “professional” screenwriter who I could hire through them for around $5,000. This was the first screenplay I ever wrote and it was an unmanageable mess, it was awful, it made no sense, it wasn’t formatted correctly, it had no structure what-so-ever, the characters and story were dull and trite, the dialogue stilted (although at the time I thought it was brilliant). To think that anyone could turn it into a workable script is ludicrous. I think the fact that it was so terrible and clearly written by a novice made them think they might have a chance at ripping me off because I later sent them a more professional submission and never heard a word out of them.
I’d prefer not to get into naming specific companies as “scams” as there is really no point. They’re often quite defensive about it and I really don’t have time to fight each company that thinks they’re really bringing some value to the equation. The bottom line is this: If someone is asking you for money to help you get your script produced it’s a scam. No question about it. It doesn’t work that way. Ever.
If you know of any other tricks that scammers use by all means list them below in the comments section.