This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 022: An Interview with Spec Scout Founder Jason Scoggins.
Welcome to episode 22 of the Selling Your Screen Podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Myers, screenwriter and blogger over at sellingyourscreenplay.com.
In this episode’s main segment I’m going to be talking to Jason Scroggins. Jason runs Spec Scout and publishes the Scoggins report which tracks the Studio Spec Screenplay market. So, that’s coming up.
If you find this episode valuable please help me out by giving me a review in iTunes or leave me a comment on YouTube or re-twitting the podcast on twitter or liking it on Facebook. This social media shares really do help spread the work about the podcast.
I want to thank Adriana B., Roseanna K., Maria C., and Benjamin T. who re-twitted episode 20 of the podcast. Thank you very much for that. It is greatly appreciated.
I want to thank Stephanie N. who gave me a like and left a comment on Facebook; thank you for that.
And I want to thank Stanford C., Maria C., Babs B., Rihan M., and Ridyl N., who left me some nice feedback on YouTube.
I also want to thank Jason S. who left me a very nice comment on iTunes. It sounds like Jason is having some success putting my marketing strategy into action. This is incredibly rewarding to read this sorts of comments. It’s really nice to know that what I’m doing is actually having an impact on people’s lives. So, thank you Jason for that. Jason, if you’re listening to this please send me an e-mail. I’d love to hear more about how you got this first option.
A couple of quick notes:
– Any websites or links that I mention in the podcast can be found on my blog in the show notes
– I also publish a transcript with every episode in case you’d rather read the show or look at something later on
– You can find all podcast notes at www. Sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcasts
– Also, if you want my free guide how to sell a screenplay in five weeks you can pick that up by going to sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide; it’s completely free, you just put it in your e-mail 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 whole process of how to sell your screenplay in that guide; how to write a professional LOG ON COVER LETTER; how to find agents, managers and producers who are looking for material; it really is everything you need to know to sell your screenplay- Just go to sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide
A few quick words about what I’m working on; nothing really new to report in terms what is going on with my various scripts. One thing I’ve been working on is updating my book – ‘Selling your screenplay’; it needs an update since I wrote it back in 2006. I’ve e-mailed a bunch of publishers to see if I can find a publisher who might be interested in it. I originally self- published the book back in 2006. It was actually the genesis for this blog and ultimately the podcast. It’s kind of what got me started and the reason I created the blog initially was really to promote the book. If anyone out there has any connections in the publishing industry let me know; I think it’s a good book and I think there is a market for it;
One thing, that is interesting, as I’ve been e-mailing publishers – I’ve had a lot of publishers e-mail me back that they don’t necessarily publish this type of book, but they are actually aspiring screenwriters; so I’m thinking they might be some cross over on that front; maybe there are some aspiring screenwriters out there who are in the publishing world and may be able to help me get this book out there. So if you know anyone in the publishing world please do drop me an e-mail. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the book.
Yesterday was actually a really fun they for me. Sci-fi script I optioned at the beginning of the year was doing some tests shoots. It was a very small crew – just the director, the cinematographer and 3 actors but it was fun to see some of the scenes come together. The director’s very respectful of me and the screenplay so I’m really hoping that the film gets produced because I think he’s going to do a great job with it.
In the evening I went to see a film I wrote called ‘Ninja apocalypse’. It’s finally finished and we had the cast and crew screening of the film last night. This is really what being a screenwriter is all about. The cast and crew screenings are incredibly fun to attend because the audience is so pumped up – every little joke gets a huge laugh so it’s just a lot of fun to finally see it get on to the big screen.
So now, let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m talking with Jason Scoggins. As I mentioned earlier Jason puts out this report called ‘The Scoggins report’ and it tracks the Spec market. It’s really become kind of de-fecto report card on studio specs screenplays. It’s a free report, you can actually just check it out and I’ll link it in the show reports; you can go to this website and sign up for it. I do get it and I look at it. It’s just good to kind of put your finger on the pole – so what studios are buying what and what sorts of spec scripts they are buying;
So here’s the interview;
Ashley: Welcome Jason to the sellingyourscreenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show.
Jason: It’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Ashley: So, to start out I wonder if you can give us a quick overview of your career in entertainment industry and kind of how you got to where you are today.
Jason: Sure, I’ll give it a shot. So I started up in the business as an assistant at ICM. I was in the television department; I worked for the head of world- wide television at that time. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do but within a couple of months I fell in love with the television business and decided I wanted to be an agent so I got in that trainee program at ICM and I was assistant first couple of years, got promoted a couple of times and then I left ICM to become an agent at the ‘Cursie’ agency. I was there a couple of years and went to writers and artists and then I left the business. The siren called, the internet was happening at that time and a friend invited me to come and do business with him and that was in 2000. And I started taking one step further and further away from the business in the course of 6 or 7 years. Well, let’s call it 7 years.
I moved to Park City, started a family and did a bunch of sales in marketing and tech related jobs. But then when my daughter was born in 2005 I started thinking about what I really wanted to do in my life and I kept coming back to the entertainment business in my head and decided I needed to come back and give that another shot.
So I have been a TV lit agent previously and I had sort of client representation skills so when I came back I’ve decided to start a small management business; presenting screenwriters, feature screenwriters.
I still had a day job at the time when I first started, and a good friend of mine had started a management company while I was outside the business and he let me build a book of business under his umbrella. That was a company called ‘Protocol’.
So in 2007 my timing is perfect. I came back to LA and started doing that and the ‘Writer’s strike’ happened. It really shook everything as you know for a couple of years there; So sort of fast boarding through that period.
At the beginning of2009 I started writing ‘The Scoggins Report’ which tracks the Spec market which we can talk about and then later that, you know, I started thinking about ways is to make money from entertainment industry data and I came up with the idea for ‘It’s on the grid’ which was a spec script and overriding assignment and open directing the assignment database. So I got that up the ground in the summer of 2009 and launched it that winter and really started focusing on that in 2010 and sold it to the Rap in 2011 and then sort of when that ended in 2012, working for the rap and ‘ It’s on the grid’, adjacent consulting and then started my current venture “Spec Scout” that fall, and worked on that for six months full time basically and then for last almost a year, i have been working at ‘Baseline’, which owns a studio system and I’ve been spearheading a new plant integration and product placement database for them. so…
Ashley: Say that again, they own a studio system, what does that mean?
Jason: Well ‘Baseline’ is a company that owns a product called ‘Studio system,’ studiosystem.com is the website. It’s sort of the super pro version of IMDB pro. Basically every agency studio network management company, basically every major company in town has been a client of the company for decades really. It’s been around since the late 80’s that used to be distributed on CD-ROMs way back in the day and then transition to the web in the mid 90’s when the internet started to come up. And so it’s really sort of the 800 pound gorilla in the space, like i said every major company in the town subscribes to it. So, about a year ago they started looking at the idea of building a new product, a brand integration and product placement database. So using the studio system data, but adding opportunities from brands, and film and TV and digital and they hired me to spearhead that. So that’s been my day job and “Spec scout” is still my baby on the side and my partners and I still push that.
Ashley: I see. That’s perfect, that’s perfect. So let’s dig in a little bit to your years as an agent and then also a literary manager. I am sure you got this question a million times, you know; how do I get an agent? That’s always what people want to know. I mean, what advice do you have and maybe there is some specific examples you could give us, you know, this is how you found this client and you know just some basic, you know, tips, people always want to hear those.
Jason: Well, let’s see, the place to start is always with recommendations. So the longer shot of it is that most agency managers that I know really rely on recommendations for their clients from the people they trust. So people they trust can be a relatively broad, a broad bucket, it could be you know, their assistant is usually or colleagues can be sort of the first place or other agency managers. If you are an agent you rely on recommendations from manager, from producers and executives, there is sort of that sort of core classic set of recommendations. Everybody is looking for a great material, everybody is looking for new clients all the time, you know, people’s list tend to go up and down, how actively they are looking for new voices to represent can change from month to month according to the quarter. But generally speaking everybody is always looking for that fresh new voice that they can introduce to the market place. So, recommendations again. But then, lately over the course of the last I guess 5 years in particular some other avenues have sort of fallen in that bucket as well and I am specifically thinking of screenplay competitions, like, Black List I guess would technically be in the category, so, that’s sort of a separate thing we can talk about in a second, and the Spec Scouts would be in that same bucket as Black List. Then screenplay competitions like the Nicholl or trackingdashboard.com or trackingb.com, there is half a dozen to a dozen really good ones so, agents and managers are looking at those competitions as sources of potential clients as well.
Ashley: And you literally found, just as a breakdown, when you started your own management company almost all of those people came to you for referrals. Did you ever go and for example, lok for the Nicholl fellowship winner or scripts on the Black list?
Jason: Sure. You want to spend your time where it’s most valuable and so there are some screenplay competitions that mean less than say the Nicholl or the other ones I mentioned, but yeah, as long as you have a vested interest in finding your clients in the first place; especially as I was when I first started out I was willing to do pretty much anything and you can tell pretty quickly whether somebody is the real deal or not and then it comes down to taste and whether I like this person, can I work with them, all of that stuff is secondary, but, yeah, if you’re looking for new clients in the first place then you are willing to look pretty much anywhere. I mean if the guy that washes your car or mows your lawn says ‘I know this writer, their stuff is great,’ you may not sort of value that recommendation or that referral quite as highly but for the most part you owe it to yourself if you’re in that mode to look everywhere you can. So, yeah, you spend a lot of time kissing a lot of frogs so to speak.
Ashley: And you read like three, five, ten pages and make some sort of a decision, if it’s,-
Jason: I tend to read a little bit more than that. I think you can tell within a three or five pages, certainly there have been times where within a page or two or three pages you know that writing is simply not competent, but that is usually not what you’re faced with, usually you are sort of looking to see am I still engaged after five pages, okay, I will read another five and suddently if you find yourself on page 30 you sort of cruise to the end. So, yes, definitely there are times where you put something down because it’s not simply good enough and other times it’s sort of like I said a taste thing.
Ashley: You mentioned the Black List, obviously there is two different things, there is the original Black List and this online service. I mean the original Black List, pretty much all those writers on there were already wrapped, so, as an agent and manager did you somehow try and maybe cherry pick them from other agents?
Jason: Well, first of all poaching clients from management company to management company I think, well, I mean maybe I am a bit pollyanna about it, but that tends to happen less than other agencies going over other agencies’ clients, so for the most part when you are looking at the Black List if somebody has a manager maybe you note that and sort of keep an eye on the situation, but you know, there is plenty of people who have an agent but not a manager or vice versa, so, you are looking for opportunities. I firmly believe that if somebody is signed by a manager then as a manager it’s not worth my time to go after them. If they are looking for a change then people around them will make introductions or there will be sort of an activity around looking for a new manager. But if you are just sort of trolling for potential opportunity it’s for the most part a waste of time to be focusing on people who currently have representation.
Ashley: When you talk about getting these scripts through recommendations just again, this is in part a casual answer, but what kind of percentage would you say, how many scripts would you, you know, at least read the first three, five pages of before you found one to sign, just roughly. Are we talking about a hundred, two hundred?
Jason: That’s a good question. So, I’ve been in different modes, so, as a baby agent starting out, baby manager, you know, that’s all you have to do, if you don’t have any clients, you’d spend all your time looking for potential clients, so the viewer’s filters sort of, so you are looking at maybe dozens before you find one that is interesting. That’s probably closer to a ratio like dozen to two dozen, somewhere in there and also it’s hard to control because it depends on who’s doing the referring, whether that person who is doing the referring has access to a lot of good material and knows what they’re doing. Other times it’s somebody who has fewer or less experience, you never know what you’re going to get from a particular source. But I think it’s probably fair to say somewhere I would guess closer to twenty to one, something like that. Not in the hundreds, because I think if you are reading a hundred bad scripts, or, let’s not say bad. I think what happens is if you are reading something that’s good then it becomes that taste thing and personal interaction bit, but for the most part in this sort of realm that we are talking about, you are not really reading hundreds to get to the one. I think the hundred to one ratio is probably closer with the query letters where you really don’t know how high the quality is going to be, for the most part it is not nearly as strong as something that’s been recommended by somebody.
Ashley: So, I am actually a writer myself and I’ve had agents and managers over the years. I wondered if you can give me some tips just about what, how to be a good, you know, writer when you have an agent and manager. I found, I have one manager who was excellent at helping me develop material but had no real ability to get the stuff out there once it was done. And then I’ve had I think three agents over the years and it was the same thing, they just reeally didn’t get my stuff out there. I was able to do a lot more for myself and frankly in all three cases the agents would get annoyed with me because I was so agressive marketing my own stuff and they would be telling me I need to do re-writes on this stuff and like ‘Yeah, I will just keep sending it out.’ And in two out of three cases I actually sent out stuff that they didn’t want to send out because they wanted to have it re-written and theey thought was not developed enough so, they got annoyed with me and ended up dropping me. So, I wonder if you have some tips for writers who have agents and how can they be good writers with an agent or a manager, what can they expect from their agent and manager?
Jason: Well, so there are a couple of questions there. How to be a good client is one, how do you find a good rep is a separate one and then how do you help, if that’s the right word, promote yourself and build your own career in tandem with your representatives. I think, to take those in order, I think finding or being a good client really boils down to being professional, so you hear, you know, in fact I have been this manager who has been irritated by the client who is not acting in what I saw as a professional manner with how they interacted in sort of the norms of the industry there are certain rhythms and stuff that you do and don’t do, things you say and don’t say, so if you have a client that isn’t sort of, doesn’t get it, who is I guess short -handed for that than that can be very irritating. But, I would say that for the most part if you are just professional about it and are taking your career seriously and also taking your relationship with your rep seriously then your rep, yeah, there will be times where your agent or manager doesn’t get back to you on the phone or doesn’t respond to e-mail quickly enough, I think there is a level of intensity that writers can bring to the mix where they’re really expecting a certain level of activity, so that will get to the second piece of how we interact, how to find a good agent or have a satisfying relationship with them.
I will touch on that in a second, but to just sort of wrap up this first part, really, being a good client boils down to being professional and being persistent so, if you are not getting your phone calls returned then there might be nobody calling, so two hours later, not even the next day you have reasonable expectations for a turnaround time. And there is a difference between ‘Hey, I sent you my script this morning, what do you think of it, can you call me in the afternoon?’ that is probably unrealistic but if you send a new piece of material in on a Thursday, there is probably reasonable expectation to have it read by a following Monday, they will be able to start thinking about you know what shape it is in and what comes next. I think how to find a good agent in the same context; let me sort of re-frame the question, how to have a satisfying relationship with your rep, whether it’s an agent or a manager, kind of boils down to setting expectations, so, what I would do as a manager is I would set the expectations for all of the stuff that we are talking about here. What sort of a turnaround time they can expect and I was always sort of, pretty upfront with how many other clients I had, so if I had only a few then the turnaround time would be much shorter but as my client list grew and the demands of my time grew then I had to sort of reset the stage for how long it would take me to return the phone call, return the e-mail, you know, there is generally an expectation on return call within 24 hours and that’s just as much about managing the writer’s nervousness particularly when you are going out with a piece of material. But really it sort of boils down to, at the beginning of the relationship, just set your expectations on both sides.
So, it’s up to the rep to do that as well as the writer and if the expectations aren’t aligned then maybe it’s not going to be a good fit and should consider, sort of, either moving on or not jumping into that relationship. And I’ve already sort of lost track of the third piece, oh, about pushing your own career. Uhm, it’s really about working in tandem, I think where I would get irritated as a manager or an agent when I felt like my client wasn’t, I don’t even need to say unprofessional in this context, really it boils down to this if I am the rep, if I am the agent or the manager, I’m in charge of the strategy and I am in charge of executing the strategy and I really don’t want the client to be going around the strategy or sort of undermining it with a bunch of extra activity. Now, that’s not to say that you don’t reach out to the people that you know, that’s not to say that you don’t put yourself up for opportunities when they arise, but I think keeping your communication wide open with your rep is really important in order to make sure that, you know, you are pushing your career just hard as your rep is.
Ashley: Thank you on that. So, let’s move into the spec market, I think I first heard about you years ago, Scott Meyer with his blog he re-publishes a lot of Scoggins report and stuff, so that’s where I first started seeing the specs rep sale. So, let’s just talk about Scoggins spec sale report for a minute, first of all how do you collect that data, I’ve always been curious how you get it, I mean it is not anything that is really available, it’s just a bunch of calls to the studios, calls to your contacts and trying to build it up.
Jason: Well, yeah, when I first started it, it was a little bit easier, you are right that it was not publicly available, although it’s not like it’s private either, but this information is more, the phrase that I use is it’s not widely distributed, it’s not like you can just google specs grid and have the latest happenings on the spec market there. But when I was starting there were more and more active tracking boards, basically the groups of people whose job, not job but their hobby was tracking the spec market and sharing information amongst themselves and so, I really relied on that quite a bit in the outset as I was sort of building the newsletter up until what it is today. And really since the first couple of years as I started doing that, as you say, it sort of became a thing, I am getting incoming calls and e-mails from people saying ‘Hey, I am out with a piece of material or I just sent something up’ and I am getting that information on incoming basis more than I did when I first started. So, these days it’s a combination of the trades so spec sales get to be reported fairly well, so the trades and just sort of keeping an eye on the tracking boards that are out there and also relying on incoming calls and e-mails. And then ocasionally I will send an e-mail out, for example if someone is out there with a spec by a writer who has sold specs before than it’s probably realistic that at some point there will be some activity around it and it will get set up and ocasionally I will send an e-mail out and just follow up and see if there is anything going on with this piece of material and sometims the answer is yes and they just haven’t announced it yet, so that’s the other ways, outbound calls and e-mails as well.
Ashley: I mean it seems like there is an incentive for the agents to, I mean with failure especially, to hide, I mean if they send a client out to pitch and it goes nowhere, or if they send a spec out and it seems like there is an incentive for them to not own up on it if it doesn’t hit and it seems like your numbers actually count how many went out, not just how many sold.
Jason: That’s true, there is really not a huge stigma within the context of what we are talking about right here, there is not a huge stigma around ‘I took a piece of material and it didn’t sell,’ because you can’t really control whether something is going to resonate with everybody in town or even within enough people to generate the momentum and heat around that that would result in a sale. These days, and in fact this has always been true I think, if you take a spec out as often to introduce the writer or re-introduce the writer through his piece of material, as much as that sells his material, the first choice is always to sell this.
The second choice is if you get a dozen people who read it and love it you want to have a meeting to re-introduce or introduce themselves to that writer and talk about project that needs to be worked on. That’s a win in itself as well. There is less material going out to the market now than there was five years ago or so and I think that is more, and actually the intro to the Scoggins report, not this one but the one from last week, talked about dynamics of less material going out, why less material in general is being taken to the market place, partly because the business has changed, studios are buying fewer scripts than they used to and their expectations of the status of that project when it comes through the door has changed. So, they are looking at director to be attached, a star to be attached or at least a producer to be attached, that they know that they can rely on to deliver a piece of material to be much further down the pike of development than it used to. So, a decade ago they would buy a piece of material that they might throw out anything but a premise and start from scratch, these days they are not spending money on those kinds of projects, they are really looking into material that they intend to make with basically a polish.
Ashley: So, let’s take a quick step back just in case people don’t quite understand sort of the gist of what you are talking about. Define, like, what does mean to go wide, I mean what exactly is that and I mean, there is, you go down on AFM and there is a thousand movies out there, those are not the movies you’re tracking, so let’s just define that for people so they understand exactly what you are talking about.
Jason: Sure, well in a nutshell, when I say a phrase go wide that means I want this piece of material to be seen by everybody in town simultaneously. And by everybody I mean that initial set of e-mails and phonecalls that you make is to producers. What you are looking for at the outset is a champion who is going to take a piece of material into a studio, who will buy that piece of material for that producer to produce. Some writers or some agents might be positioned to go straight to buyers themselves but I think what you are seeing more and more of is material getting packaged up. So, anyway, the idea is you want everybody in town to see the piece of material at the same time and the idea there is you create some urgency around turnaround time, you expect people to read it fairly quickly and you get to pass and give you a quick this isn’t for us so that you can focus your energies elsewhere or to say I really want this, please allow me to take this into a particular territory and let me have that exclusively and to unpack that a piece.
That word territory really refers to buyers and by buyers I mean both the studios that are literally writing a check for the material, it could be non-studio buyer, so companies with production money the production financing so that if they bought the material they could go make that movie, that’s what I mean by territories. The producer might read it and love it or go my overall deal is at Sony and I got these great relationships at Relativity and Legendary and Universal so, I want all of those territories, and your job as a rep is to sort of figure out strategically which producer should have each territory such that that you can create work between the multiple buyers. You have that strategy at the outset, you know you are not going to call fifteen different producers that have an overall deal at Sony for example, you are going to pick one or maybe have a back up in case that one passes. You are trying to figure out a right producer for the piece of material before you go out there, otherwise you are wasting a lot of people’s time and nobody appreciates that.
Ashley: So, now let’s ask the obvious question, how do you get yourself as a screenwriter into a position that your script goes wide and sort of gets in this pool of, you know, top level, studio level of scripts?
Jason: Well, really the only thing you can do as a writer is to write a great piece of material because this whole market place that I am describing, first of all it is not an actual market place, it’s not like there is a NASDA for spec scripts, that would be great if that existed, if there is somebody out there developing that I would love to talk to them because I think that there are interesting possibilities out there. But that’s not the way the business works right now, the way it works now is agents and certain managers not every manager is sort of positioned to do this, but some are, mostly agents take the material out and they put together a stategy that either includes going wide or you might slip it to half a dozen people, either to just sort of get some feedback to see if it is ready for public consumption so to speak, or some combination thereof. You might even say, I know that this write is only for five different buyers so let’s put a strategy in together that just goes one by one and let’s give that company a week to take a look and then if they don’t respond then we will move to the next one.
There is lots of different ways to approach this. But as a writer, this is not something that writer can do. For the most part buyers are not even going to; I mean they will take a phone call or e-mail from somebody they know but for the most part what they are looking for is that buffer that the agent or manager represents, so it is really about agent or manager taking the material out. So, as a writer, all you can do is write a great piece of material.
Ashley: And we answered that at the beginning of the podcast, we said how do you get an agent, so the first step is to do that networking and lay that groundwork. So, let’s just talk about sort of some specifics, and you have been doing this now I guess since 2009 that I am really following the spec market, so are you seeing any trends that are changing or any trends that have been constant over the last five years. You know, any tips, and again it’s sellingyourscreenby.com so the audience is screenwriters. So do you have any tips what they should potentially be writing, anything like that?
Jason: Let’s see, so, trends wise, and this is not some special thing related to the Scoggins report per se but you are looking for what studios are doing and I think it is important to have a sense of what the market place is doing like, in general what movies are getting made and who is making them and how many. So from a trends perspective the studios have been producing and releasing far fewer movies than they used to. On the order of the third fewer. So, where they used to release a hundred and fifty and hundred and sixty movies themselves, now it is down in the hundred, hundred and ten, hundred and twenty. So they are making fewer movies.
Ashley: And that is a five year period, over the course of the last five years. It’s a about a third less.
Jason: And it has been consistently down between a hundred and I don’t know the actual number, I’d have to look at it but it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred and twenty movies across the major and mini studios. So, they are making fewer movies and for the most part what they are looking for is stuff that has an opportunity to make a billion dollars, not to put too kind a point on it, so what movies make a billion dollars? Well, there aren’t that many, there are giant studio temple sized movies and that’s action and thriller and few comedies here and there, I don’t think we have seen of a billion dollar comedy but you can still make a relatively handsome profit on a movie that costs forty or fifty million dollars, so even a studio comedy can be in that realm.
But really, from a trend perspective they are really looking for stuff that can travel, which is to say that will be successful abroad, so that is also another reason why action and thrillers tend to be the first stop when buyers are looking for a new material. All that said, if your voice and your talent takes you in the direction of smaller movies, dramas, that is not to say that there aren’t opportunities out there as well. You just sort of have to know what you’re in for. And also as a rep, it changes a texture, like when you get a drama in for example, you are not going to approach the sales prospects for that piece of material as you would, some big action temple. I don’t know if I answered the question; I feel like I went a little broad.
Ashley: It’s a little broad but, I guess just to bring it back a little bit, are there any specific tips, you know, one thing I get from the producers, and you are kind of touching on this, is, you know, thrillers play well overseas, they seem to be kind of timeless. One of the things, I mean I am kind of in the front of line of interacting with some screenwriters, is that they are at the beginning of stages with their career, I get a lot of, you know, civil war dramas, you know, ‘My summer at camp’, you know this dramatic summer campees and I look at it and I think and you know people are always pointing at these Sundance movies or you know, these movies that were successful and there are those movies out there, but there is not many of them and they are really a tough sell, so, I mean, is there any advice in terms of like what specs are best for new writers to write?
James: You know, I’ve never been an advocate of writing to the markets, so the first thing I always say and I think that it’s still true is, you have to write so that you have to write, I just think it’s important to have you know like a realistic sense of the market place, so if you are writing a civil war drama or some small movie and by small I mean contained and without a broad appeal, broadely speaking, you have to have realistic expectations about what you can do with that piece of material. Now, if it’s a fantastic piece of writing, people are going to read it and go, wow man, I’ve got to meet this girl or this guy who wrote this piece of material but the chances of it getting sold for a bunch of money is fairly slim and then that whether that movie will ever get made is also you know is as much of a crabshoot or more of a crabshoot than the normal crabshoot than getting the movie as it is at all. Basically, my advice is just keep walking into any piece of material or any new scripts that you are writing with your eyes wide open and I definitely don’t think that you should only write super broad commercial appeal projects, but if you are only going to write the, sort of, corky stuff that not everybody is going to want to see then just have realistic expectations about how far you can get with those samples.
Ashley: So, you just released the pitch score card and I am curious if you notice a lot of differences between pitch sales versus spec sales you know, in terms of genre, in terms of really any differences that you might see and has it changed over the years. Do they kind of correlate each other or are they different?
Jason: That is a really good question, sorry for looking off screen now but I got them up on my other monitor here. So, what I was interested to see about pitch sales is how few thrillers so far have sold this year, I am looking at so far, for the first four months of 2014 there has only been one thriller pitch sold. Intrestingly, also, on the spec set there has only been three that have sold this year. Usually thrillers are up there with action adventure on the specs side. Last year there were 32 adventure and action specs and 34 thrillers, so these are the top two genres, whereas over on the pitch side it’s comedy that tends to be the top genre.
So, I am not a hundred percent sure exactly where that lies, why comedy pitches tend to sell as a group better than comedy specs. One reason is probably how difficult it is to write a good comedy script and it is either working or it’s not on the page, whereas with the pitch you have the promise of something super funny and great and whether it pans out or not at least you are relying on hopes and dreams at the time, you know, a writer who has a track record for funny material comes in and pitches you his next hilarious idea. That’s really the one that jumps out of me, the difference between pitches and specs in terms of genre really is that, the comedies tend to be the strongest genre for pitches whereas action and thriller are the strongest ones for specs.
Ashley: I am sure I already know the answer to this question but I figured I would ask it anyways. How do you get yourself into a position that you are pitching to the major studios?
Jason: You write them a script that turns into a giant success. It really is what’s your box office track record. From time to time, you know, there are outliers so it could be an amazingly effective agent or manager, it could be a piece of material that didn’t sell but that got you a round of forty or fifty general meetings and you have a piece of material or a project that you want to work on and pitch in the room or you have a general meeting and they say come back and pitch us your next thing and you take advantage of that opportunity . For the most part though, the people that are selling pitches have a track record of success so it really is how much money has your last movie made.
Ashley: So, let’s dive in a little bit to a specscout.com and talk about that and really maybe tell usa two minute elevator pitch for what it is and then tell us how we can best use it as screenwriters.
Jason: Sure. Why don’t I start with what I was trying to do so I partnered up with a couple of guys a couple of years ago and my original idea was I thought it would be great to have a scoring system for screenplays so that you can compare material by professional writers and stuff that goes out to the spec market for example with material by aspiring writers so that you would have a handy way to tell whether the aspiring writer material is strong enough to warrant somebody’s time. So, it was really about the idea there is lots of bad material that goes to market and there is lots of bad material that is looking for a home but shouldn’t be, there is a lot of sort of noise in the system. S
So, that was sort of a core idea and what my partners and I came up for Spec Scout was a website that combines a coverage libraries so the screenplay coverage that has a scoring system, it’s a hundred point scale, where we’re covering the spec market doing coverage of the scripts that hit the market so that we have that bank, that baseline of what’s good and what’s not so good. And we also provide that coverage service for screenwriters and the good material we are putting in the coverage library alongside with the material that goes to market. So in its core the service that we are providing for a fee is the coverage service so we have three readers read every piece of material and their scores are put together and that’s how we can sort of credibly say that the material that is above the certain score compares favorably with that from the pro.
Ashley: And is the process the same, I mean I was just on your web site and you know, Will Pharell and Adam McKay are doing something, does that piece of material go through the same process, the people that are reading it, are they blind to the fact that Will Pharell was attached as a producer to that, they read it so the scores are really apples to apples and there’s nothing, there is no extenuating sort of things that influence the readers, it’s just the material.
Jason: So, what the readers can see is the cover page of the screenplay so, and let me actually take us back and make sure that I am not misconstruing this. For the Scoggins report I am tracking in the spec market. So, I know what is getting taken to the market and what is selling. We put that information in Spec Scout and then when we can get our hands on those scripts, which is fairly about two thirds of the time, when eventually that script will be available we’ll grab that and our readers will cover it and we’ll come up with the score. Now, it gets to what you are asking. They don’t know who the attachments were they can see the cover page but most of the time the cover page is just the title and the writer’s name, the producers that were attached at the out set and maybe a phone number or something for the agent. So, they know that it’s a pro scirpts, they don’t know anything else about it and most of our readers are not tracking the market like this, like they could if they wanted to like, pay very close attention to the Scoggins report and know that when I write that DJ sells and they see the script up there and they grab it they might know a little bit about it but for the most part, no, it’s pretty blind and they apply the same rubrique to those scripts as they pay to our writer clients. And that’s really the key thing, the lens through which they are looking, how they are thinking about this particular screenplay is the same from a pro script to an aspiring script to a pro script.
Ashley: I am curious do agents or managers, if you know that the script is getting some momentum in the market place and you guys give it a less than stellar review, have you had some nasty calls from agents or managers?
Jason: You know, we are worried about that but practically speaking we are not grabbing the script that early, it takes a certain amount of time to turn it around as well, so, practically speaking there is no scenario that we are getting in the way of somebody’s business at all. So, we are tracking it and the fact that it is in the market place is available on Spec Scout but we don’t have any coverage in that time frame that would make a difference. Later though the high-scoring scripts, something like pretty much, most of the times scripts don’t sell, right, so, high-scoring script might catch someone’s attention, later they are looking for comedy or whatever, industry pro subscribers go through and sort of take a look at what is still available, and continue to track stuff after it has been in the market. So, if anything, we can help as opposed to hinder.
Ashley: Okay, so, let’s talk then specifically about exactly what you offer. There is a fee and then three readers read it and then you get into this library, can you talk a little bit more about that?
Jason: Sure. So, again, yes, the key thing is that we have three readers read every script and the idea, rememeber the core sort of mission is to come up with this score. And what we are trying to avoid, one thing that I have long known, everybody who knows anything about coverage knows that one person’s opinion is simply that. Practically speaking when you take a piece of material to market, you might think it’s fantastic, we were talking earlier about the materials where your reps think need more help, well that is just one person or a couple of people’s opinion and as you have discoverd yourself other people have a completely different opinion, they might think it’s great as is, yes it needs a polish but I will go ahead and buy it and work on it. So, as a manager and also as a TV agent in a subjective nature of one person’s opinions what you are battling over almost all the time. And what we are trying to do is come up with some objectivity and sort of come up with the way to have subjectivity be a factor because you cannot remove it, at least minimize it as much as you can .
And so the approach we took was to have multiple people read the script. We test it having two people, three people, four people, five people, read it to see what would happen with the scores and this magic numbers is three, so that’s what we have gone with. The price is 197 dollars , so if all you are looking for is feedback just by one person on a piece of material to get a sense of what one person thinks about it, you can get that for fifty, or sixty or seventy five bucks, that’s perfectly great. But, what we’re trying to do is give you sort of a mini wisdom of the crowd, assessment of the script, have multiple people read it, again with the same rubrique so that you can, if there is something wrong with the script and all three people are noting that same thing and that is probably what you should look at for the next draft. The idea is to give as useful a set of feedback as we possibly can. And to sort of take to the next step which you also alluded to, scripts that score above a certain threshold and it turns out that 68 on a hundred point scale is sort of the average of the spec work material, so for our writer clients if their script scores 68 or better, we offer, we let them put their material or the coverage of their material in the coverage library alongside with the spec market stuff and we tag it, we sort of promote it through my mailing list, the Scoggins report mailing list, in fact I was working on one before we jumped in the call today.
The couple of scripts from April that scored high enough and they were blasted out to my mailing list, we put it on the home page of the site as well. So, we are promoting it to our industry subscribers. And there are a couple of other advantages that as a writer with the piece of material that we included, we call them our scouted writers, you can create a little mini profile so that if someone clicks on your name on the site they can sort of see who you are, what you are about, who is your rep, how to get a hold of you. And then they can also upload other material that we haven’t covered and have it here as well so, if they are interested in a piece of material by you already they can see what else you write and then download that material as well.
Ashley: Do you have agents, managers, and producers coming to your site and going through this database?
Ashley: And is it mostly agents, mostly producers, is there any break on that?
James: It’s a good question. I haven’t analyzed it like that, it’s probably in the neighborhood of fifty or sixty percent on the producer and executive side and maybe, thirty, forty percent-ish on the agent or manager side. Of the sixty or so, it’s going to be 62 scripts that we put on the site, scouted scripts, six of them have gotten offers from producers they’ve, I think about a couple of them have gotten set up, and couple of them actually said no to the option offers that they’ve got, we have only been doing this for about a year or so. We’ll be continuing to promote the success stories. But it is agents and managers and producers and executives.
Ashley: And you mentioned that 68 is kind of a bench mark. Do you, off the top of your head, know what percentage of the scripts that are submitted actually get above that 68?
James: It’s pretty low, it’s probably in the neighborhood of somehwere between ten and fifteen percent, it’s one of those things that we can’t really control the quality of the material that is getting submitted which is a knock on it, it is what it is, it’s a whole purpose of this, to provide the feedback and let people know what; you know, often times we will get the first draft and then get a sense of what the people think they can, where to focus their efforts for the re-write.
Ashley: And how detailed are the notes that the readers bring back, one page, three page?
James: Each reader provides roughly three pages of notes so to be more specific what they do is, each of the three readers collaborate on a synopsis, so not each of them is not always writing a synopsis from scratch, the first person always has to, but we have a way to make that not very honorous. And then they are providing comments on ten specific aspects of the script plus certain overall what did they think of the script in general. Each of those ten categories gets a full paragraph and the readers are required to support any of their opinons with references to the script itself. So, if they think that the dialogue is weak for whatever reason then they would be specific about why they felt that and that’s a little less concrete than for example, references to spelling errors and grammar and punctuation and format, that is much easier and the readers are required to have page citations to the stuff that they notice. So, for each of the readers it ends about being a three page per reader so the whole package ends up being about between nine and ten pages.
Ashley: Perfect. Can you talk a little bit about who these readers are, you know what is their experience, typically.
James: Yeah, they all have some level of experience prior to working for us. We put them through a twenty week, it is more like a twenty script program. The crucial thing about the product that we are providing for fee to our clients is that we want it to be very, very consistent and so training our readers to be able to do exactly what we want them to do the way we want them to do it takes between a dozen and two dozen scripts before we are ready to put them in the mix and have them write coverage for our clients.
Ashley: Are there any just sort of general tips like a lot of mistakes that you see from; I guess these would be general writing tips really, but are there any tips you’d give writers who are thinking about using the service, things to clean up or do to make their chances better.
James: Well, that’s a broad question, we have a whole page on the site so if you don’t mind I will go back and look at the URL’s that I’ve got, so the site is called specscout.com and then in the top of the page there is a big score button so if you click the score button, we are answering that question in great details, so each of the ten categories that we take a look at are listed there along with the questions that we ask our readers to ask so by extention writers themselves should be asking themselves the same question about their character, or is it about confict, about the dialogue, logic, originality and pacing. All of the sort of main things that you are looking for, that any professional is looking for in a script, that’s what our readers are assessing and the questions that we just ask ourselves are shown and renumerated there.
Ashley: Perfect, perfect, so I can link to that stuff in the show no risk. You have been very generous with your time. I really do appreciate it, I wonder if you just want to give a quick, tell us how people can contact you, you know, your twitter handle that kind of thing, we’ll link it in the show notes, but just give us a shout out on how people can find you and contact you.
James: Sure, thanks. So, let’s see, let’s start with the Spec Scout, so specscout.com is the website, we have a twitter feed that is @specscout, let’s see, I do the Scoggins report so you can sign up and it’s free, by the way it’s a weekly thing and we cover the spec market as well as the pitch market and we put out one newsletter per week, and that’s completely free. To sign up for that you go to specscout.com/scogginsreport, now that I say that, let me double check.
Ashley: You can send me the link and I will put it in the show notes, so we will get it.
James: So, right at the top of that page there is a box and you get a free weekly Scoggins report just give us an e-mail adress and we will do that. And I never do any spams to that mailing list at all, so zero risk there. And my personal twitter feed is @Jscoggins and that is pretty much me.
Ashley: So, Jason as I said you have been very generous with your time, this has been very informative and I really do appreciate it.
James: Oh, no, it is my pleasure, happy to do it.
Ashley: Just a quick information for my e-mail and Fact Blast Query Letter Service, just in the last year I’ve optioned four scripts, sold one script and got one paid writing assignment and all of this came from using my own e-mail and Facts Blast Query Service. Here is how it works, first you join SYS select then you post your log name and query letter in the SYS select form, I review your log and the query letter and help you make them as good as they can be. Then you purchase the blast and I send it out for you. It’s really that simple. The e-mails are sent as if they were from your e-mail address so all replies go directly back to you. You can exclude companies if there are specific companies you don’t want to send to. Check out www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com to learn more about this and all the other SYS select services.
In the next episode I am going to be interviewing director Jennifer Steinman. She recently directed her second feature film, she was involved with the whole process raising the money, shooting the film and then in marketing and distributing it. And she is very open about how each part of the process worked for her. So if you are someone who thinks they might like to shoot their own script you will definately want to check this out.
I want to talk a bit about Jason’s site Spec Scout, right after I did the interview with him I submitted my horror-thriller script to it. I did not mention this to Jason, I paid full price and I have no reason to think he gave me any sort of preferential treatment. My script received a score of 55 so it is a long way from 68 and it needs to get a recommend from him. One thing I’ll say though is that the notes that they supplied were pretty good, there was some consensus on some of the issues and they even listed a bunch of typos, if you are looking for notes it is about cheapest way you are going to get three readers to read your material. I haven’t found that the notes from the Black list readers are particularly useful so if you don’t get a good score on a Black List there is really not much value to it, but with Spec Scout I think the notes are worth the price, so even if you don’t get a good score, at least you can potentially improve the script. If you really need a deep dive into your screenplay though I wouldn’t recommend going directly to a script consultant. I have actually several listed on my site, but if you are looking to get some good notes from three sources this is probably the cheapest, quickest way to do it, so definately check that out if you want notes on your script. One thing I would like to point out, I haven’t been getting great scores on this new horror thriller script but I still believe in it so I am still agressively marketing it, I really feel like I’ve written the script to be produced it is so simple with just one main location and only six actors that I think I will eventually find the producer who likes it. The script I sold last November I wrote in 1998 so it literally took me 15 years to sell it and trust me there were more than a few people who didn’t think their script was ready and you know what, they might have been right too. But I didn’t think so and I just kept pushing it and I eventually sold it. Mark my words, it may take me 15 years or longer to sell this latest horror thriller script but I will sell it I know the markets’ and the producers’ ideas that they are working with and this script has been written with that in mind.
My main point to telling you all this is that you shouldn’t give up just because you are getting a few rejections, it only takes one yes. If you really feel like your script is ready, you’ve got to just keep marketing. So, good luck and wish me luck too. That’s the show, thank you for listening.