This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 020: An Interview With InkTip Founder Jerrol LeBaron.
Welcome to episode 20 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyer, screenwriter and blogger over at Sellingyourscreenplay.com. In this episode’s main segment, I’m going to be talking with Jerrol LeBaron. He is the founder of Inktip, a place for screenwriters to connect with producers. He’s got some great tips about how to use the site as well as some general marketing tips to help screenwriters to get their work out there. So stay tuned for that.
If you find this episode valuable, please help me out by giving me a review in ITunes or if you’re watching this on YouTube, please give it a like and leave a comment. I want to improve this podcast with some honest constructive feedback. It’s very much appreciated. Please also share these podcast episodes with anyone who you think could get some value out of them. I had a bunch of nice comments this past week over at YouTube so I want to thank those folks, Maria Carasako, Stanford Crane, Bob Keeley, and Yvonne Guiles. Thank you very much for leaving some nice feedback on YouTube.
A couple of quick notes, any website or links that I mention in the podcast can be found on my blog and the show notes. I also publish a transcript of every episode in case you’d rather read the show or look at something later on. You can find all the podcast show notes at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcasts. Also, if you want my free guide “How to Sell Your Screenplay in Five Weeks”, you can pick that up by going to sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. It’s completely free; you just put in your email address, and I’ll send you a new lesson once per week for five weeks along with a bunch of bonus lessons. I teach the process of how to sell your screenplay in that guide, how to write a professional inquiry letter, how to find agents, managers, and producers who are looking for material, really is everything you need to know to sell your screenplay. Just go to sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. This free guide is a great way to get a handle on my overall approach to how to sell a screenplay, pretty much everything I know is in the guide, and I talk about the exact ways that I’ve sold numerous scripts in it. So if you haven’t checked it out, please do give it a quick read.
Also, I get a lot of general questions about how I started out as a screenwriter. I did a podcast where I detailed exactly how I sold my first few screenplays so give it a listen if you’re curious. It’s Episode 2 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. You can find it by going to sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcasts and then just look for episode number two.
Also, I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I was invited to speak on a WGA panel for unrepresented writers. They recorded the panel and they just released a highlight reel from it. I allude to it in the show notes. I actually met Jerrol from Inktip at that panel, and he’s the person who I’m interviewing on this podcast. Anyway, the video that the WGA posted is a pretty good summation of how it went and might have some interesting tips and tricks for you. Again, I’ll link to it in the show notes.
A few quick words about what I’m working on. The option finally came through on my limited location female protagonist sexy thriller script. I’ve talked about this numerous times on the podcast. The producer is very busy so it took a little while for the contract to get settled, mostly just little small issues, but the bottom line issue, he did pay me a bit of money for the option, and the check is in the bank. So as far as options go, I would say it’s official.
I’ve mentioned my baseball comedy a few times in this podcast as well. I really like the script, but the market for baseball films is fairly limited since most of the world doesn’t play baseball so it’s a tough sell because there are not a lot of overseas opportunities to sell the movie once it is completed. But in any event, I did a blast for this baseball comedy last June which is coming up in almost a year ago, and while a bunch of people liked the script, no one stepped up and optioned it. But I did have a producer in Delaware who liked it enough to take it out and try and get some talent attached. He wasn’t really able to get firm commitments from talent, but he had a connection with a minor league team. He had done some work for them shooting some commercials or some trailers or something. He’d shot some films, videos, commercials, something in the stadium so he had a pretty good contact at this minor league team. And this film takes place almost entirely at a minor league stadium so he went to them and he’s talking to them about possibly using the stadium. He’s also got a few ideas on trying to raise the financing. So, in any event, he is now going to option the script. He’s sent it over, and the contract is now with my lawyer. All the terms are basically agreed upon so I don’t see any problems. It’s basically a free option so I can’t see it not going through. So there are a couple of considerations when giving free options. First, I try and limit the timeframe as much as possible, typically 90 days but sometimes six months, but I’ll try to never go much beyond that, much like my limited location female protagonist sexy thriller screenplay that I just mentioned, that was also a free 90-day option, and again, it did turn into something. So, the free option to start with a very short amount of time, as I said, 90 days, maybe up to six months, and then the producer if they want to re-option it after that, they have to pay a decent sum of money. Now, when I say a decent sum of money, I’m talking a figure that’s in the 500 to 2000-dollar range typically. Very rarely am I able to get a lot more than that for an option. Honestly, it doesn’t usually matter because these sorts of independent producers aren’t going to spend even 500 dollars if they’re not pretty serious about it. So, that’s one big factor. If the timeframe is really short, I really don’t mind giving a free option, but there are a couple of things that I consider when I do this. (1) The producer has to have done a few films in the past. This is a really big consideration. I’ve optioned many scripts over the years, and in all cases, when the option actually got exercised and the film got made, in every single case that I can remember, the producer actually had some credits. Whenever I’ve optioned a script to someone who didn’t have any credits, it never went anywhere. So this is really at this point in my career probably the single biggest consideration when I consider free options or very inexpensive options. The other big consideration is he’s a really nice guy who I genuinely like. I’m actually from Maryland. As I said, he lives in Delaware, and I think there’s a subtle bond just being from area. This is hard to put your finger on, but I feel like I understand what he’s trying to do, and I trust him, and I think part of it is that since I’m from that area, there are certain nuances just in the way he talks and how he talks that I kind of get. Also, I really believe that if he makes the film, he’ll do a good job with it. This is a huge consideration as well. I’ve turned down cash offers on scripts because I didn’t think the producers were going to do a good job with the material. So, at this point in my career, I have a bunch of credits so getting another credit on a terrible movie really isn’t going to help me that much. So I really do have to look closely at the producer and exactly what they’re going to do with the finished product. So anyway, that’s that. Hopefully he’ll turn into something, and we shall see.
I’m still pushing hard on my new limited location horror thriller script. I’ve started to get some lukewarm interest in it. I talked to one producer last week. He’s going to show it to some of his distributor contacts and see if they feel like they could sell the finished film. Also, I mentioned that I had uploaded to the blacklist. Well, I did get my first paid review back from the reader, and I would say the reader did not like the script even a little bit. The reader gave it a three out of ten which is actually the worst score of all the scripts I’ve ever uploaded to the blacklist. So I really do think that this is one of my best scripts so there is really no accounting for taste. The one odd thing, most of the criticism, when they give you maybe about half a page of notes when you upload a script to the blacklist, and the one odd thing was most of the criticism that the reader gave me wasn’t something that I’d heard before, and I’ve put this script through my writers’ group. So, you know, numerous writers have given me notes on it. And no one mentioned kind of the problems that he saw so I’m not really sure what to do with these notes. I’ll probably mull them over. One thing I do know, though, which isn’t subjective—and actually the reader even mentioned this—is that this film can be made on a very small budget so I think I’ll be able to find someone who wants to make it. I have had pretty good luck with these types of scripts in the past, but only time will tell. In any event, it did bother me more than I thought getting the three, but I’m just brushing it off and continuing to move forward. One thing I’ve noticed is I’ve had a bunch of download requests recently from screenwriters. I’m not sure if it’s because they know me through the blog and podcast, but for whatever reason, other writers have downloaded it a couple of times now. I’m happy to let anyone read any of my scripts so I always approve them. This is actually a great feature of this site, and you don’t need to pay anything to use it. Many writers allowed their scripts to be downloaded by other writers, and I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Reading lots of screenplays really is one crucial thing that you must do to get better as a writer, and a lot of times you can look at the scripts on the blacklist and you can see the ratings. So they have like a top list. What I’ve been doing is I’ve been going to the top list, clicking through with it and—I don’t know—maybe a quarter of the scripts, the writer will actually let other writers download it. So it’s a good way to read some scripts for highly rated scripts that are on the blacklist. So it’s a good resource even for that. And again, I don’t think you have to pay anything. You just create an account and sign in and you can scroll through their top lists and download scripts. So this is definitely something I recommend even if you’re not uploading and paying for their services.
So now let’s get into the main segment today. I’m going to interview Jerrol LeBaron. He is the founder of Inktip which is a place where writers can list their scripts, and they can be found by producers. It’s a great service, and I highly recommend all screenwriters check it out. Here is the interview.
Ashley Meyers: Welcome, Jerrol, to the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show.
Jerrol LeBaron: Oh, happy to be here.
Ashley Meyers: So, to start out, I wonder if you can just give us a quick overview of your career in the entertainment industry, how you got started, and kind of how you got to where you are today.
Jerrol LeBaron: Sure. Well, basically I was doing construction, and I got my contractor’s license and was doing that for a number of years, and I felt that I didn’t want to do construction for the rest of my life; for whatever reason it just wasn’t for me. Then I found a business to buy and it had to do with jewelry sales, and I’d never done sales a day in my life before that. And it was actually pretty tough getting used to it. I did very well at it actually, and then I decided I really didn’t want to do that anymore, and I wanted to do something in the arts. I dabbled a little bit in acting which then inspired me to write a screenplay. So then I wrote a screenplay, and then I tried to sell a screenplay. Now granted, I had no experience in writing so it was not a good screenplay. It was my first draft kind of thing, but still, like everybody else—you know—you’ve got that screenplay, and you want to market it; you want to get it sold. You want to get in made into a movie, and this was back in 1999. I was just having the most difficult time doing that, at which point I came up with the idea of why don’t I create an Internet business where I can help writers sell their screenplays. And one thing that I found when I was actually trying to get my screenplay sold, is I found that producers were having just a hard time finding the right screenplay as writers were having trying to find the right producer for their screenplay. So with that mentality I built Inktip. Within Valentine’s of 2000, is actually when I opened up Inktip.
Ashley Meyers: So, just take a step back, what sort of jewelry sales was this. Was it like going to jewelry stores trying to sell like a jewelry line or you had a store and people were coming in and you were selling like retail sales?
Jerrol LeBaron: It was direct sales. I was—you know—you go out and you say “I’ve got some jewelry I’d like you to buy like you see to beauty salons, going into offices. It was pretty much about the hardest type of sales for one to do.
Ashley Meyers: That’s great experience. I’ve heard a lot of podcast interviews from the people that start out with door-to-door sales and it’s like if you can get through that and bee successful at door-to-door sales, literally your chances of succeeding in life are almost guaranteed because it’s just such a brutal business. If you can come out on the other side, you’re in good shape.
Jerrol LeBaron: It really is. I remember I went to a building one time on Wilshire Boulevard to sell some jewelry and I nearly wussed out several times, and so finally I brought my wife with me. And we went up in the elevator, picked a random floor, picked a door, when I looked on the office building door and it said “no unsolicited—you know—some kind of thing about not wanting solicitors. I told my wife, no one is ever going to buy this. Let’s pick another door and she said no, go through that door and go sell them some jewelry. And I said no, why go there, they’re not going to want to buy, and somehow she just persisted and got me to go through that door, and I sold. But I couldn’t do that on my own. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it, but then after I did that and I did a few more doors with her, I was then able to take it from there. But it was not easy.
Ashley Meyers: So let’s talk a bit about Inktip. Can you kind of give us the two-minute elevator pitch for how it works and what it is?
Jerrol LeBaron: It’s a script-linking insurance. It’s basically you place a script on Inktip, and you fill out a whole bunch of different—check a bunch of boxes regarding elements that are in your screenplay, and then producers come log in and search for that type of screenplay. If you’re looking for a dark comedy face with a strong female lead that takes place in 1920’s in Europe by W. G. Writer who lives in Canada, this play has dinosaurs, if there are those scripts on the site, a producer is able to find them. And then the producer reads the pitch, if they like it, they can read the synopsis and thus the writers place the entire script on the site. And then right then and there, at that point the producer then contacts the writer and says hey, I’d like the screenplay. I’d like to work with you on it. I’d like to make you or I’d like to option it or whatever. And it’s between the writer and the producer from that point on. Everything is tracked so if someone is looking at your work, you know who’s looking at it. We don’t believe anybody should be looking at a writer’s script unless the writer knows who that person is. And that in a nutshell is how it works, and through it last year we had 38 movies made from scripts found on Inktip. The year before that was 28, the year before that was 29. So the last three years almost a hundred movies were made alone from scripts down on Inktip. It’s the elevator pitch.
Ashley Meyers: No, that’s fantastic. So, a couple of questions. As I’ve mentioned to you, I’m a screenwriter, and I use Inktip. And so one of the things when I’m uploading a script, I’m always sort of hesitant like as an example, there is a little section that says where’s the script or where does the script take place, and I think it’s like Southern US, Europe, and these kinds of things, I’m always, like, a lot of my scripts are not necessarily that location-dependent. They could take place and these other things. So I’m always a little concerned that if a producer wants something that he can shoot in let’s say, Louisiana, and I haven’t checked Southern US, I mean, it just kind of takes place in let’s say, a city or a rural setting, what do you recommend for those kinds of—how does a screenwriter choose what to check when it could take place in Europe, but it’s not necessarily set in Europe.
Jerrol LeBaron: I recommend that the writer check the box that seems to apply the most. You understand that a lot of these producers—you know—some of them are very specific about what they want, but you don’t have lots of producers—you know—selecting ten different items on this checklist if what they’re looking for is generally they’ll pick a genre, they’ll oftentimes pick a budget range. They’ll pick, for example, a strong female lead, a twist at the end, and that’s about all they’ll choose. They’re not really go that deep. Now there are a few instances where it is important, but like I say, the percentage of the producers who go that specific is pretty low. For example, we’ve got some producers in Australia, and they’re specifically looking for scripts that take place in Australia, and there’s no point in looking for any scripts that take place anywhere else because it’s a different culture. They have different sayings; they have different mindsets, and it’s just like comedies don’t translate well in other cultures because it’s a culture. Do you understand what I’m saying? So producers who aren’t specifically looking for that—and most of them are not—it’s just not an issue. Do the best you can.
Ashley Meyers: That answers my question perfectly because that’s what I’ve kind of suspected. I was curious to see if producers really drilled down and had ten criteria because then they would miss a lot of scripts. But I suppose that if the producer wanted to shoot Louisiana, so okay. So are there any specific tips you can give people sort of how to use Inktip? Are there any mistakes that you see people making when they’re using Inktip. I mean, one of the things that I get your email saying it’s been six weeks, do some sort of edit so you move back up to the top of the listings, are there any sort of little tips like that, that you could give us just to make sure we’re using it as efficiently as possible.
Jerrol LeBaron: There are two: (1) The way it works is you put your script on the site and every script is placed close to the top. As weeks go by, the ranking or listing goes lower and lower and lower because others go on the top because we try to keep it fair to everybody as much as can all the time. So every six weeks you do want to take a look at your log line, and you want to compare how many synopses you are getting and scripts you are getting from the six weeks and on and try and discern where there might be a link line. For example, you get 20 log line viewings and from those 20 log lines you get ten of them actually go and on and view synopses but don’t go any further. Well, that’s an indication to you that your synopsis needs some work or vise versa. You get one log line, you get 20 log line viewings and only one synopsis viewing, that synopsis viewing then turned into a script viewing. Well, that tells you the synopsis is great, and it leads a person on to reading your script but your log line needs some work. You just kind of have to work kind of the ratios there. There are emails that say hey, I’ve got a piece of my stats, what do you suggest? And then we’ll provide whatever input we can on that. But they should be updating it every six weeks to bring it back to the top of the list so they can get more exposure.
Ashley Meyers: Do you have some sort of benchmarks—and maybe what you just rattled off were the benchmarks—but, like, if you get ten log line views, how many synopses views, typically does a writer gets so you know like if you’re below the average or above the average?
Jerrol LeBaron: I would say that if you’re getting 20 log line views, and you’re not getting one single synopsis viewing, you’ve got to work on your log line.
Ashley Meyers: Okay.
Jerrol LeBaron: That’s a certainty. It varies a lot but certainly 20 and then one synopsis, you need to work on the log line.
Ashley Meyers: How about synopsis views to script downloads.
Jerrol LeBaron: That would be a ratio of more than 3 and 1 because they read the log line and they go, “Oh, that sounds kind of like what I’m looking for. Let me read your synopsis and see if it actually is what I’m looking for.” If they did a proper search and they selected actually what they’re looking for, you should have somewhere between a one and three, maybe one in five synopsis to script views. If the percentage is greater than that or if it’s further than that, then you’ve got some work to do.
Ashley Meyers: Okay. That’s good to know. So let’s talk a bit about the films. You mentioned that in the last three years almost a hundred films have been made. Is there any that you kind of maybe could highlight, some specific highlights. You know, what sort of budget ranges are these films typically, and, as I said, maybe you could even mention a film or two that we could just look at.
Jerrol LeBaron: Let me just look at my successes page on Inktip. We just had a movie starring Danny Trail made, it’s called “Bullet”. That was last year I think it was produced. I don’t know if it’s been released yet or not. Honestly, I don’t see—we’re not involved in the negotiation process and so we really don’t—I mean, I have no idea what the budgets are for these films. I know they’re not hundred million dollar films, but I imagine that Trail films got action, etc. And it’s got to be several million. We have so many I really don’t think—that should give anyone enough information so that they can see the caliber of producers and the budget ranges, but I know who they are.
Ashley Meyers: One of the things that I’ve always found—and there is very little talk—I mean, the American film market is a real good example where a lot of these sorts of genre films, and as you’re saying most of them are probably less than two million or less, certainly less than five million dollar budgets. But there is not a lot of people talking about these movies. But I think those are some of the best opportunities especially for new writers or even experienced writers just because those producers are typically much more open to working with unrepresented writers or new writers. And there’s a tradition in Hollywood for people starting out with these types of films. James Cameron worked on—I think one of his first directing gigs was Parana 2. So, a lot of these films don’t get talked about, and the other misconception I find is that when people say independent films, they typically think Sundance Art House Films, and really there is a whole—like—90 percent of independent films is not Sundance Art House Films, it’s these genre films like exactly what you just mentioned. And I’d kind of be curious maybe to have a producer or something on and really talk about these. That’s what I’ve found with Inktip is I’ve interacted with several producers sort of in that realm. There are legitimate producers making—you know—solid movies, and the nice thing is many of them have a business model that actually works and so they’re going to be producing movies for a long time in the future. So if you can get that relationship, it could lead to a lot of scripts.
Jerrol LeBaron: That’s a hundred percent correct. Actually, if you really look at it, how many moves are made every single year? It’s not that many. A studio such as Disney or Fox or Paramount, these guys only produce like one a month. So you’ve got fifty thousand writers vying for one movie a month from each of the major studios, and some of them do less. Some of them only do five or six, but those are all huge budget. These movies that are coming out from the studios, a lot of them are now comic book-based from Marvel or DC Comics, and so that brings the percentage down even further or they’re based upon a best-selling book so the odds of a writer actually getting their movie made in a major studio without having already several films under their belt is really slim. So I will definitely concentrate on the producers who are able to actually get movies made right now as opposed to getting it into the studio system. One should always shoot for it, but one shouldn’t just say it’s that or nothing because the odds in the studio work are so slim.
Ashley Meyers: And that’s really as a screenwriter, that’s where I’ve made my career. Most of the movies I’ve worked on, as I said, they’ve all been less than five million dollars, but I’ve got several movies that have actually been produced.
Jerrol LeBaron: Have you gotten paid for it?
Ashley Meyers: Yeah, exactly. And there is some decent money to be made. So, let’s take a step back, as someone who interacts with a lot of producers through Inktip, can you give us some screenwriting tips. What are producers looking for and even some just general writing tips.
Jerrol LeBaron: Here’s the first thing on what are producers looking for? It vacillates. It goes the gamut depending on what’s most successful. So in other words, as soon as Little Miss Sunshine made its heyday and was just doing incredible, then we had producer after producer saying I’m looking for the next Little Miss Sunshine. But you have to understand that at the point of they’re looking for the next Little Miss Sunshine, that screenplay already has to be written. It’s got to be fully fleshed out and those producers are looking for the ones that have already been written so that they can immediately tap into this market and get that thing produced in the next year or less. So if you’re trying to follow trends, you’re going to have a lot of time with it. What you should be doing is if you have a genre you like, write what you love to write. The only suggestion on it is try to write them so that they can be done on a smaller budget so that you’ve greatly increased your odds of you being able to get the movie made. But don’t try and follow the trends. It’s just not going to work. By the time you try and recognize that trend and start to write a screenplay for that particular trend, that trend will be gone. Write what you love.
Ashley Meyers: I totally agree with that sentiment. One of the things is I also—and you haven’t mentioned it yet—but I get your weekly newsletter of what producers are looking for, basically producers requesting scripts. And one of the things that I find so valuable about it is that after reading it—and I’ve been getting it now for a year—so after reading it every week I do feel like you can see some sort of patterns that I feel are useful, and I totally get what you’re saying about—you know—sort of the hot script, Little Miss Sunshine, you wouldn’t want to start writing that right now. But there are some trends like, for instance—and I’ve also been getting this by talking to producers, but I see it a lot in your newsletter, and this is a real specific for instance—is producers are looking for stuff that can be shot in China, that might even have a Chinese cast. It seems like there’s a lot of money right now coming out of China for independent films. I don’t think that’s going to change in certainly the next two or three years. To me, I’m starting to sort of keep that in the back of my mind as I come up with new ideas. Another for instance—and this is another Hollywood truism, but reading your newsletter every week has really helped to bring it to the forefront. At least my mind is I see a lot of producers looking for scripts with female protagonists, and that’s not something I have ever written, and last year I actually wrote one. It was really directly because I get your newsletter and saw a lot of requests for this. And I actually did option the script, and the producer said I’ve been looking for a script with a female protagonist. There is not a lot out there. I think that there are some trends at least that I get out of the newsletter and also interfacing with producers.
Jerrol LeBaron: You’re right about that. You’re actually right about that. As far as trends and stuff go, in all honesty, I don’t really personally keep track of that. And the reason why is because when we’re talking to producers, we ask them what they’re looking for, and then we take them to our site and we show them how to find it and that’s as far as we go because we haven’t found it useful for us to know what the trends are. I know it’s useful for a writer, and you’re right, the newsletter does kind of show a trend there. But we don’t personally track that because it doesn’t for us help us get more scripts optioned or movies made. Does that make sense to you?
Ashley Meyers: Yes. Absolutely.
Jerrol LeBaron: I might have spoken out a hundred percent. I mean, I can tell you in the last month more or less what trends were in terms of what was searched for most. Thrillers were definitely searched for most, and then horror, and then comedy, and then drama, and those were the priorities that our producers searched by in that sequence. It was thrillers, horrors, comedies, dramas. So one would think that dramas were much lower on the list, but they actually weren’t. So if that helps, I do know that.
Ashley Meyers: You said that from last month. Would you say over the course of the last year or two years, do you see that ebb and flow quite a bit?
Jerrol LeBaron: It ebbs and flows. Sometimes horror is much higher; sometimes comedy is much higher. It does change. But thrillers are a pretty consistent mainstay and so are horrors. Really it’s thriller, horrors, comedies, those are in the top three and will always be the top three and they have been for years. And there are other elements like strong female leads, you’re right. There are a lot of people who do search for strong female leads, but natural fact, that isn’t as high a priority as it was, say, four years ago. We had a lot more people looking for strong female leads three or four years ago than we do now. It is something the people do look for.
Ashley Meyers: Just taking one step back—and I’ll just kind of—you know—play devil’s advocate here for a minute because you hear that response a lot like write what you’re passionate about and running selling your screenplay, I interface with a lot of writers that have completed these passion projects, and a lot of times I look at them and I’m sitting here thinking no matter how well-written this thing is, it’s not going to go anywhere, and I’m hesitant to give that advice. And I’ll give you an example, a lot of writers write civil war epics or My Summer at Such-And-Such a Camp. It’s like those are very tough sells and just exactly what you said, thrillers and horrors, and when you talk to producers like thrillers and horrors, they can be done on a budget and they play internationally. Most people—but I don’t know that those are the scripts that most people are as passionate about writing as sort of the passion project of some little story that happened to them in high school or college or as I said, some sort of a historical epic. But can you speak to that at all?
Jerrol LeBaron: Yes I can. Historical epics, that’s a tough sell; there is no question about it, but what I’ve found on our website is—I’ll give you an example—Not too long ago we had a writer put one of their passion projects on the site, and producers actually looked at it and read the screenplay and what they did was they then contacted the writer and hired the writer to write a script for them. So a lot of the time, if a writer expects that a specific script is going to get sold and get made, you actually can get sold and get optioned and maybe it will get made. But often as not, what you’re doing is you’re establishing a relationship with that producer and the producer ends up going this writer is just exactly what I’m looking for. These stories don’t work for me, but this writer is just great. I think I’m going to have work with this writer for an idea that I have and then they end up getting that made. And that’s why I say write what you love. Even if you don’t get that one sold, you will have producers check it out and then those producers will then contact you and say write this for me or do you have anything else because I liked your writing style. Or I’ve got a deal with so-and-so to make such-and-such movies per year and this is what I need. Can you help me out with that? I see it more often as not, I think the first screenplay put on the side doesn’t necessarily get filled option and is basically a writing sample, but then just write another work. That’s why I say write what you love.
Ashley Meyers: Certainly I agree with that and obviously that does definitely happen. I guess from sort of my perspective, I’ve always just looked at as, and I think everything is sort of a numbers game. And so if your chances of getting hired to write a thriller for a producer are greatly increased if you write a thriller to begin with. And same thing, if you write a thriller to begin with, your chances of actually getting that movie produced are probably a lot greater. So if the writing is good—obviously the writing has to be good no matter what—
Jerrol LeBaron: You take a look at a drama, if they’ve got a passion about a part or aspect of their lives, and they write that, the producer doesn’t think it’s marketable, but it’s still a drama and they like the writing. So then the contact the writer and they say write me a story about this. I mean, obviously if you’re going to write a historical piece, you have to know from the get-go that you’ve drastically reduced your chances. But when I mean write what you love, if there is a particular genre that you like such as horror, comedy, or drama, and let’s say it’s comedy, you move out of writing comedy, but the trend right now is for thrillers so you decide to write a thriller even though you don’t like to write thrillers, there is not much point in that. So if you love writing comedies, write comedies because the trend will eventually go back to comedies. That’s more what I mean.
Ashley Meyers: So let’s take sort of maybe a little more of a macro view. You and I were on a panel last week and kind of got to chatting about this idea of how much time a writer should spend writing and then how much time spent marketing, and I wonder if you could speak to that because I know as someone who again who runs a site, and I interface with a lot of writers, I’m always amazed at how little time screenwriters spend. You know, they might spend six months or a year writing their script and how little time they actually spend marketing. So, what’s your sort of stance on that?
Jerrol LeBaron: My stance on it is that you take any success, success is ten percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration. Now for writers the ratio can be different, but let’s now just stick with ten percent, 90 percent, right? So we’ve got to define first what is that ten percent inspiration? And here’s what the ten percent inspiration is. It’s coming up with the great idea for scripting you really want to write about, and then you write it. Then you rewrite it, and then you get some input on it and you write it some more and you slave and slave and slave and slave and finally there’s a polished masterpiece ready for producing, ready to be shot. That’s your ten percent inspiration doing what you love to do. The 90 percent is marketing and a lot of them don’t seem to understand that there are two jobs, very distinct jobs. One is that of the writer, and the other is that of the networker, the marketing person, whatever you want to call it which results in getting your name out there so the producer can know about you. That we call the other 90 percent. Now the ratio is different. It’s actually more like 40:50 or 50:50. So, in other words, if you’re going to spend a hundred hours writing a script, by gosh, you’d better spend at least a hundred hours or a hundred fifty hours marketing that screenplay, and then you’ve got a really good chance of getting that money made. Now there are some schools of thought who disagree with me.
Ashley Meyers: I’m definitely not one of them. I’m definitely with you on this.
Jerrol LeBaron: If you don’t mind, I’d like to go into it just a little bit further.
Ashley Meyers: Sure.
Jerrol LeBaron: We’ve all heard this school of thought where a great screenplay sells itself. That’s utter hogwash. It’s like going to any Fortune 500 company and being in charge of the marketing or PR and saying a great product sells itself. No. Yes, it does help, but before it can sell itself, you have to get that product into a consumer’s hands, and you’ll never find a Fortune 500 company that doesn’t have a PR and marketing department; you’ll never find it. Google has it, Yahoo has it; Facebook has it. Any successful business has that department.
Ashley Meyers: I think Apple Computers is a prime example. They literally make the greatest devices ever created by mankind and they literally spend billions of dollars on marketing.
Jerrol LeBaron: That’s right. You look at a movie. You get a movie that costs a hundred million dollars to make. How much is that studio going to spend on promoting that movie? They’re going to spend a hundred million on marketing. So a great script does help sell itself—yes it does—and once you get that great script into Jerry Bruckheimer’s hands, it’s going to sell itself. But before that you have to actually get that script into his hands and that’s what marketing is all about. And so you need to understand that that’s what needs to be done. And if you’re going to spend a hundred hours on that script, and you’re going to spend one hour on sending out a few query letters, your mindset’s not right and it really needs to change. I’ll take this further if you don’t mind. It’s another bold statement that people are going to disagree with as well. Show me a writer who I sold on an agent or a manager, and I’ll show you a writer whose career is stagnant. What I’m saying is just because you have an agent or a manager, does not mean you’re going to be successful. If you’re doing nothing except riding on them solely, you’re going to be a stagnant writer. I can tell you endangered writer after endangered writer who basically told me, for example, the writer/director of Shoot Em Up. He finally said hey, they’re great for putting on your resume to help open some doors, but there’s no question that I have to do most of the work. So it doesn’t matter how big a writer you become, you’re still going to have to do that work and get your name out there. Some writers are even going to disagree with that, a very well-known writer may tell you all that is hogwash, but when it comes to award ceremonies, they go to the Oscars, they go to the Golden Globes. Now why are they going to the Golden Globes if they’re not even mentioned in the awards. They’re not even a contender, but they’re still going there and they’re still going to the after-party. Why are they doing that? For networking. They all network. It’s vitally important that the writer have that mindset that they have two jobs, and it’s not something where you are going to write a great screenplay and then work on your marketing for one or two weeks or three weeks and write another great screenplay. You’re going to write a great screenplay and while you’re writing that great screenplay, you’re going to start marketing, and you’re going to continue marketing. You’re going to finish that screenplay, and then you’re going to continue marketing weeks after week after week while you’re writing your great scripts. That’s how you become a successful writer.
Ashley Meyers: I totally agree. Another point that I would add to that is I was reading sort of about Inktip and how that was created and how you talked to a lot of producers before you actually created it. In the entrepreneurial world, that’s called customer development, and I think that’s another thing that a lot of screenwriters miss is that marketing begins before you start writing your script and interfacing with producers, talking to them, doing stuff like what we just talked about, getting the newsletter, seeing the trends and great marketing is baked into the product. That’s part of the evolution of the writer is getting better at understanding what producers want and starting to write scripts. Just like you tried to build an online tool specifically for producers, writing a script that actually has a market and actually has producers that want to read it and want to potentially make it.
Jerrol LeBaron: Exactly.
Ashley Meyers: You mentioned basically a 50/50 split, and that’s kind of the number I generally give people just in terms of time. Once you have a couple of scripts going, I do also usually tell new writers who are literally just beginning, I usually tell them at the early stages, spend your time just writing for the first year or two. Write two or three bad scripts, and then once you kind of have maybe a third or fourth script, and you feel like you’re getting a handle on it, that might be the time to start to turn up the screws on the marketing. What do you think about that approach?
Jerrol LeBaron: I think overall that’s a good approach. A writer should have a few scripts written. There is no way for me to put a number on it. There are some writers who just happen to have just written the perfect script the first time. That does happen. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. But they should get a little experience in writing; they should have gotten coverage on it or at least had their writer friends read it and get a feel for it. So, yes, overall, I think you’re pretty much on the money there.
Ashley Meyers: So, again, talking about this 50/50 split, what else besides obviously Inktip, what else should a writer be doing in your estimation to market their work in addition to Inktip. I mean, contests, other services like Inktip, just general networking, what other sorts of advice would you have for writers.
Jerrol LeBaron: Think outside the box. Certainly use the Internet. When I first started Inktip, there were maybe 150 producers who were actually even using the Internet at all to look for screenplays; now there are thousands of them. So I would definitely recommend that they use any service that they can that can help get their screenplay into producers’ hands. The only caveat that I would have on that is that you should do a little bit of research on the Internet service and see what results. Are scripts sold or optioned as a result of others using that service? Are movies getting made, and if they are, then I would definitely pursue it. But there are also so many ways that a writer, even if they don’t live in LA can market their screenplay. Let me just give you an example. Let’s say you want to get your screenplay into Jerry Bruckheimer’s hands or any number of well-known directors or producers, you can first—and I would first always go direct and try and approach the company that represents Jerry Bruckheimer. You may not get anywhere. The next thing you do is look at the films that Jerry Bruckheimer has made and you look at all the other producers on those films and you try pursue these guys. And then you approach the UPN, the production managers on those various films. You look at any movie made, and you’re going to find out that the bottom line is no one producer—with rare exceptions—very rarely are you ever going to find one producer having produced a film. There are generally six to a dozen or more associate producers, executive producers, co-producers, co-executive producers, supervising producers, etc. Every single one of those producers knows other producers. The reason you’ve got co-producers, associate producers, executive producers is because they know other producers that provide us some element, and they have contacts with the main producer that you want to reach, Jerry Bruckheimer. So if you can’t reach Jerry directly, then you reach the other contacts which he has through his agent, through his manager, through the UPM who worked on his last production, through the director, through the producers or directors of other films and so on and so on. So that’s a great way to do as an example. There’s another way to look at it too. Let’s say you just found out about a movie by a producer, and that producer has a movie, they just produced it. And it was right along the theme line as the movie that you just produced. And you submit to that producer. You never hear from that producer, but you know it’s right along the lines of what he does, that is his signature film. So what are you going to do? He didn’t respond to you. Well, you then contact the producers that he’s worked with, and you submit the screenplay to those producers because maybe one of them will read it and go, wow, this is really good. Let me go and contact my producer buddy who specializes in this. So that’s a great way to market and be strategic about who you’re submitting films to. You find one producer and then you find all the producers that producer is connected to and you submit to all of them the screenplay.
Ashley Meyers: That’s a great tip. Just as you were describing that, I was thinking about what of actually the specifics? In this day and age, you can probably Google someone’s name. You might be able to find some of these producers on places like Facebook, linkedin, Twitter so you could friend them there and try and interact with them there. IMDB Pro is a real good resource for having phone numbers. Sometimes they’ll have fax numbers and email addresses. Are there any other tips you have for the logistics of actually finding the contact information and contacting these people?
Jerrol LeBaron: You just named them.
Ashley Meyers: That’s a good tip. The gears are turning in my head some of the things that I could do to potentially get my own stuff out there. I really appreciate your time, Jerrol today. This has been very enlightening. I got a lot out of it.
Jerrol LeBaron: May I comment on one other thing?
Ashley Meyers: Yes. Sure. Go ahead.
Jerrol LeBaron: Okay. Cool. Another thing is that let’s say you submit a screenplay to a particular producer and the producer kindly says this isn’t quite for me or they’re going to read the screenplay. They’ve read the screenplay and they’re going to pass on it, but they were real nice about it. That’s not the end of the road for you as a writer. The next step for you to do is to send them a quick little email and say okay, great, I understand, no worries. By the way, I’ve got another project I’m working on, and it’s such-and-such. I wonder if you might be interested in that or by the way, I’m spending a lot of time writing; I’ve got three of them I’m working on. One of them I’ve been developing for a year now and it’s just about ready. I wonder if I might once every couple of months get you up and let you know what’s going on and see if there is something that you might be interested in. And most of the producers are going to say sure. Go ahead and do that. You are starting to establish a relationship, and that’s what you want to do. You want to establish relationships with these producers and directors and agents and managers, etc. And you should most assuredly be sending an update to your guys once every two months, maybe once every six weeks but absolutely you should be updating them every two months. I’m giving you a real life example of this. One of my guys who worked for me for about five years and now is a full-time producer, but even before he became a full-time producer, and understand, he is not a big guy yet. The movies that he has produced are somewhere between the 250 and 500-thousand-dollar range. But he’s been networking and he has this one producer on the movie called “Filth” which I believe just completed production starring James Macavoy. So this is a 50-million-dollar movie, way out of his range, but the producer of that movie will send down updates once a month, once every couple of weeks, whenever he has some new information, that producer would send him updates and lo and behold, the producer needed some finishing films for “Filth”. And it just happened that even though he is only a 250 to 500,000 dollar moviemaker, he had a particular contact and he was able to help get that film that final financing. And so it’s not just writers who are involved in networking, it’s producers too. And producers, the smart ones likewise do updates so that’s just an example of you never know what can—and there were like forty emails—I think after all was said and done before the money actually changed hands and went into the film, there were 65 emails. So networking is part of establishing your newsletter. Anyway, I just wanted to add that little tidbit as part of marketing yourself.
Ashley Meyers: So what’s the best way for people if they just want to learn more about you or get in touch, what are some of the good ways for people to do that.
Jerrol LeBaron: Just go to inktip.com. Check out the services there and check out the successes. It’s interesting to get more familiar with it. If you’ve got a question, there are links on there where you can just contact and send us an email and we’ll respond to you.
Ashley Meyers: Perfect. I’ll link to that in the show notes so that people can get directly over there. Once again, Jerrol, I really appreciate your coming on the show. It’s been very enlightening. I really do appreciate it. Thank you very much.
Jerrol LeBaron: Yes. You’re welcome. Thank you.
Ashley Meyers: Just a plug for my upcoming class how to write a killer first act for your screenplay, I’ll be running this online class May 31 at 10:00 AM Pacific Standard Time. It’s all on line so if you an internet connection or even just a phone line, you can participate. You can listen to the audio portion of the call through a normal telephone so you don’t even need to be on line. I’m going to be doing a deep dive into the first acts of Back to the Future and Legally Blonde. Both of these screenplays have great first acts, and in this class we’re going to talk about all the reasons why and how you can apply those lessons to your own writing. Just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/classes to learn more about it.
In today’s writing words section, I wanted to reflect on something that Jerrol talked about. I think building a list of people who have read and liked your work is so important. Using something like my blast tool is a good way to kick start this and actually start building your list and getting some feedback. Hopefully you’ll get some requests, a few people emailing you back after you’ve done a blast saying that they liked your work but it wasn’t quite right for their current needs. These are your contacts. I’ve been doing these over the years but not nearly as much as I should. After listening to Jerrol, I went back and dug through a bunch of old emails from people who have read something I wrote and seemed to like it. So I really expanded this list. For whatever reason some of these emails had just gotten lost, and I hadn’t followed up properly. I think with some of them, they were just two or three years old, and I was afraid to email them since I hadn’t heard anything for a long time. But I went back and added these people to my list and emailed them about my recent limited location horror thriller screenplay. It’s interesting reconnecting with people. A lot of them are working on projects and getting stuff done so it’s good just to hear what they’re up to even if they’re not interested in reading my script. I use G-mail and it’s great for adding labels and searching old emails. I created a label called “Liked something I wrote” and then I just flag all these emails with that label. So next time I finish a script, I’ll be able to go through that and be in an email everything the new log line. Once again, I think this is just a great thing that all screenwriters should be doing. It’s a great way to get your script out there and get some people reading it. Most of the people on this list will read the script or at least get back to you and say no. So it’s a real nice tailored very personalized group of contacts that can really help you.