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Are Screenwriting Websites Exploitive? (2003)

The Practicality of Screenwriting Websites

Article by Erica M. Hughes

Are websites capitalizing on your dreams? I know it may seem oddly hypocritical for me to ask such a question, given the fact that I am writing for a screenwriting website. But after touring this flourishing online market and lingering for a few days… My tour got me wondering… are screenwriting websites useful to the writers they claim to help? Or are they exploiting writers to earn a quick buck?

Projectgreenlight, Zoetrope, MovieBytes, Triggerstreet, ScriptWriter’s Network, and literally hundreds of websites seem to offer the goods that will help struggling screenwriters get their hole-filled shoes in the door. But how many [screenwriters] have actually made it?

We’ve seen thousands of people submit scripts to the projectgreenlight contest and walk away empty handed. A writer by the name of Pete Jones won Projectgreenlight’s first contest. An even bigger slap in the face was watching him fumble and churn out a movie not worth watching, much less mentioning. Where is he today? He’s making his second [low budget] feature with little or no buzz at all. Did he learn anything from his experience on HBO? I would hope so.

This year’s Projectgreenlight winner is Erica Beeny. An experienced writer who some claimed penned an episode for the Disney Channel PB J & Otter. Oddly enough, Miramax is owned by Disney. Coincidence? Projectgreenlight’s latest contest required a 30.00 submission fee. As a result. contestants walked away feeling not only disappointed, but jipped. Some threatened a class action suit claiming they were mislead. Surprisingly the HBO aired Projectgreenlight reality show was a success. The movie was not exactly a flop but the fiasco surrounding the poorly written and executed Stolen Summer makes it impossible to take any movie coming out of Projectgreenlight seriously. Still, Battle Of Shaker Heights, along with its cast in some small way proved that projectgreenlight can make good movies. But is this group a real rag tag team thrown together by chance and a lottery win from an online contest? Or a group of professionals thrown together by Miramax? The winning directors [Kyle Rankin and Efram Potelle] of Projectgreenlight’s latest contest were not exactly amatuers. They are listed on IMDB with movie credits, and they also used popular actor Ray Wise, a man with over 50 acting credits and a career dating back to the seventies in their projectgreenlight submission. Ray Wise also had a prominient role in the Battle Of Shaker Heights. To many it seemed the little guys didn’t win the contest after all. Three professionals were handed another opportunity instead of unknown directors and writers with better scripts.

Triggerstreet.com, Kevin Spacey’s effort was an even bigger misfire. The vicious competitiveness of the site made an honest critique from peers next to impossible. Writers and Directors rallied behind friends and offered glowing reviews to material that didn’t deserve it while blasting some of the better scripts and short films. In turn, Triggerstreet overhauled it’s website and made some worthy changes. They now have a watchdog group called the Hall Of Justice. Writers and Directors can now post their scripts in peace. But where does it get them? There have been claims that a few writers from Triggerstreet have sold their scripts after posting it on the website for a peer review. But the number of scripts sold (under ten) versus thousands of scripts submitted is woefully unbalanced.

Aside from websites that offer peer reviews, there are other websites that offer dozens of services [including script analysis] supposedly designed to help screenwriters squeeze through Hollywood’s backdoor. But many of these websites want money upfront in return for their services. So writers end up spending hundreds of dollars a year and getting nothing in return. Even with access to the address of hundreds of production companies, without an agent or Attorney no one will read their unsolicited scripts. Some writers choose to give up. Others choose to shoot their own films. Just think. Some of the money spent on screenwriting websites and contests could go toward funding one’s own effort. Not a bad idea if you ask me.

How practical are screenwriting websites? My guess is that they are not practical at all. I can already hear the responses coming “What’s the harm in participating anyway?” The harm is that many writers become addicted to the crack machine (The internet) and spend more time posting cryptic or useless messages on messageboards and forming bonds with complete strangers. On many websites, the message boards are full of inane postings that have nothing to do with screenwriting.

If you want to join an online peer review group you may get valuable feedback. If you pay a screenwriting analyst for a review, he may give you valuable feedback and pages of notes on the do’s and don’ts of screenwriting. In the end what you will have is a nicely written script that no one will see but you. Online screenwriting websites can be a colossal waste of time. You want to sell your script? Move to L.A. And schmooze. Hollywood is knowing people, and you won’t meet anybody hiding behind your computer screen. So get out there and do it.

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