Pitch Your Dream to a Star
© 2001 Christina Hamlett
"I've learned my lesson. Explore every possible avenue. Don't wait for Hollywood to come to you."
Actors, like sharks, need to keep moving forward in order to survive. No sooner does their current film wrap but they are already in production on their next project or on a hungry quest for a new screenplay they can really sink their teeth into.
So what kind of scripts are they looking for? Some actors like to stick to tried-and-true roles or those genres in which they have already won recognition and acclaim. Others like to explore new ground, which will not only stretch their boundaries as performers but will also maximize their options for future employment. Most of these new scripts come to them through their agents, who also need to keep moving forward. They accomplish this by (1) screening and forwarding those scripts which best meet the actor's interests and parameters and (2) aggressively pursuing specific roles which they know have not yet been cast.
Actors additionally create opportunities for themselves via media outside of film, i.e., falling in love with a book and deeming that the lead character is one he or she would be perfect to recreate on the big screen. In cases such as these, the next step is to seek out the author, option the novel, and either engage the author himself/herself to adapt the actual screenplay or turn the book over to an existing screenwriter for development.
If, like me, you have a published novel that you think would be right for a particular star, don't hesitate to send it out yourself or, if you have an agent, request that your agent make the appropriate inquiries to the star's representative. You may or may not be asked to adapt the script. That's not what's important. What's important is that you still get credit on the screen ("Based on the novel by _______________") and furthermore, have put your storytelling abilities under the nose of an actor who, if the film is a success, just might ask you to write something new!
It should also be kept in mind that actors -- like everyone else -- have passions, pet projects, and worthy causes which they endorse (for instance, animal rights, research funding for diseases, environmental issues, etc.). Not only does this provide a ready-made forum for initiating communication apart from their glamorous day-job, but creates an opportunity to deliver a tailored script which offers a unique set of merits.
Fellow screenwriter Jenna Glatzer is the webmistress of the popular Absolute Write (http://www.absolutewrite.com), a lively website with articles, interviews, and links to publishing, playwriting, and screenwriting. She also used her initiative to pitch a contemporary script on a subject dear to one actor's heart:
"Never overlook any possible source for publicity. If your script is ready to roll, tell the world about it. I wrote a TV movie called "Seeing the Light" about a young man with Down Syndrome, and my father suggested that I send the script to the National Down Syndrome Society. He said, 'You never know. They may have contacts in the film industry.'
"I thought it was a long shot, but I did it, mostly to appease him. A few weeks later, I got a phone call from Chris Burke, the actor who played Corky on the TV series "Life Goes On." He introduced himself and told me that he wanted to play the lead role. We met a few weeks later, and he is now attached to the script. The funny part of that story? I had already contacted Chris's agent. He wouldn't even look at the script. The Down Syndrome association had saved my script, so when Chris walked in their door for a presentation, they handed it to him personally.
"I've learned my lesson. Explore every possible avenue. Don't wait for Hollywood to come to you. Think hard about any special-interest groups, communities, or organizations that might have an interest in your story, and ask for their help in promoting your script."
Stymied on how to reach the stars? The following sites on your computer are an excellent jumping-off place.
Star Archive. One of the attractive things about this database is its built-in report card of the success that users have had. How many times have you had mail returned to you because either the address was insufficient or just plain 'old?' Arghghgh!
Eagle i: Website launched by Lone Eagle Publishing. Updated on a weekly basis and at the current cost of a $20 subscription, this is a site which allows you to search a database of 6,000+ working actors.
Fan Sites. This site runs the full gamut of actors, musicians, authors, and athletes, and includes links to webrings, film reviews, bios, photos, upcoming projects, etc. Targeted more toward garden-variety fans seeking autographs than working writers seeking a cast, it nevertheless provides a lot of background with which to initiate correspondence demonstrating that you've done your homework.
Screen Actors Guild. This is generally the organization that first springs to mind when one is seeking information on specific actors. Suffice it to say, it is not as user-friendly to authors as one might assume. There is, however, an Actor Locator hotline at (323) 549-6737 which enables screenwriters to make three requests at a time regarding those agents amenable to reviewing new scripts for their clients. Given the number of other resources available on the Internet, I'd personally save this route (and save the long-distance charge) as a last resort.
Film Partners. There is no charge at this film site, which allows you to do a star search and find out who is representing whom. Even better, if the star you are looking for isn't in the listing, there is a feature that enables you to query the Film Partners staff; they can generally get back to you with a name and contact info in less than 48 hours.
Mr. Showbiz. What are you favorite stars up to? This is not only a gossip- and biography-laden site to stay on top of their latest projects but also glean insight on what they'd like to do next. A number of agent addresses are also listed here, along with extensive links to celebrity websites.
ScriptSales. One of the best links embedded at this site is an extensive listing of film- and television-production companies. What's pertinent about this list is the fact that many of them are owned by actors and actresses who, in addition to using them as tax write-offs, wanted to establish companies which could produce films consistent with their individualized tastes and interests. Jodie Foster, Antonio Banderas, Jason Alexander, and Sigourney Weaver are just a few of the names you'll find there.
For those who prefer to do their browsing in books instead of the Internet, be sure take a look at Michael Levine's The Address Book: How to Find Anyone Who Is Anyone or Alan Gottlieb's Celebrity Address Book. Although both are well organized and comprehensive, please be advised that the lead-time for publication may render some of the entries obsolete by the time they find their way to your bookshelf.
A friend of mine who has collected sports trading-cards for about 30 years still follows the advice given to him by his grandfather when he first started out: Go for the unknowns. Just like movie stars who have yet to hit the bright lights of stardom, newcomers to the football field or baseball diamond simply don't receive as much fan-mail as those who have already established themselves as major attractions. Flattered that someone/anyone has noticed their performance, they are particularly gracious and prompt about responding to requests. (Which probably accounts for why my friend has in his coveted collection both a card and a personal letter from a rookie who later went on to a different kind of fame: driving a white Bronco on network television.)
While specific celebrities may be ideal for the cast for your script, don't discount the lesser-known talents who are currently lurking on daytime soaps or playing minor roles in sitcoms. A similar strategy works for film directors, which brings us to a final website to bookmark for future reference: www.directorsnet.com. It's here that you'll find bios and interviews with the industry's upcoming movers and shakers -- individuals who don't as yet have as many accolades as Spielberg but nonetheless started out in the same way: with a very big dream.
© 2001 Christina Hamlett
Excerpted from Christina's latest book, It All Begins with the Script: Writing & Selling Your Screenplay. Available now at Zeus Publications, Australia: www.zeus-publications.com.