Q&A: Why Are Unsolicited Submissions Policies So Brutal? 2012/10

Q:  For some 10 years now, I’ve been trying to penetrate the 10 foot thick wall called “unsolicited.”  How do I get through it? I have no agent.

A:  We can answer your question, but frankly, you may not like what we’re going to say.  Unfortunately, that 10 foot thick wall is probably as old as the Great Wall of China and is equally as impenetrable.  For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of submitting a script to an individual, production company, studio or, god forbid, law firm only to have it returned to you with a letter classifying it as an “unsolicited submission,” we can give you a little background.

Most people or entities that are involved in entertainment production have a blanket policy of not accepting unsolicited submissions, which are scripts or other materials sent to them by people with whom they haven’t dealt in the past.  When an unsolicited submission is received, it is generally returned to the sender with a letter advising that the script has not been read.  Most responses also advise that the only scripts that will be considered are those that are sent through an agent.

While the average Hollywood exec enjoys curbstomping the dreams of strangers as much as producing a hit, the unsolicited submission policy is actually based in reason.  In the interests of full disclosure, we should note that our firm often receives unsolicited submissions.  We, like others, have a strict unsolicited submission policy, for the following reasons:

First, without such a policy, studios, producers, law firms and other entertainment entities would be inundated with scripts.  Even with such a policy in place, our firm probably receives at least one unsolicited submission every few days, and we’re not even in the business of producing.  While the policy may seem unreasonable to you and others reading this blog because you are actually writing decent scripts, the sad truth is that a large number of unsolicited submissions are written by people who have as much business writing scripts as we have entering body building competitions.  When the majority of unsolicited submissions are lacking in formatting, spelling, dialogue, and plot, it’s ruining it for the rest of you.  Requiring that the scripts be submitted by an agent is an imperfect way to whittle down submissions to cut out those that clearly don’t belong.  This unfortunately also cuts out writers with talent but no talent agent.

The second, and most important, reason for unsolicited submissions policies has to do with the avoidance of liability (sorry to get all lawyerly on you).  One of the key questions in a copyright infringement lawsuit is whether the supposed infringer had access to the work that was purportedly infringed upon (which makes sense considering you can’t copy something if you’ve never seen it).  As we all know, Americans love to sue.  The last thing a studio wants is to pour millions of dollars into a project only to be sued later by someone who claims that the movie is similar to a script they submitted to the studio three years ago.  If someone at the studio read it at some point, even if the script went straight into the trash (or, hopefully, recycling bin) and the studio didn’t use anything from it when making their movie, the screenwriter may at least have enough of a claim to give the studio problems and affect the release of their film.  All this pain due to some mysterious, three year old script filled with gibberish that is currently residing in a dump (or, hopefully, is currently being utilized as a recycled-material coffee cup holder at Starbucks).  The studio obviously wants to avoid this at all costs.  Therefore, studios and other entertainment entities have decided to lower the likelihood of anything like this being an issue by strictly adhering to a policy of not reading the hundreds of unsolicited submissions they receive every year.

Unfortunately, when it comes to unsolicited submission policies, you can fight the law but the law’s gonna win.  Our recommendation is to concentrate your focus on engaging an agent.  There are a lot of them out there; you can spot them because they’re always younger, cleaner, thinner, better dressed, and more annoying than you are.  Once you get an agent, you can scrub your script free of that dirty “unsolicited submission” label and get it in front of the people who need to see it.

This blog was originally published as part of Legal Ease, Film Independent’s weekly column on legal matters pertaining to the entertainment industry. To see other LEGAL EASE columns please click here.

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4 Responses to “Q&A: Why Are Unsolicited Submissions Policies So Brutal? 2012/10”

  1. Edward Learman says:

    Hi,

    I’d just read your article, as I’ve been researching what to do about penetrating this wall of unsolicited policies which the majority of agents and companies seem to subscribe. I’d guessed the reason for this policy was for the reasons you’ve described, and the fact the every script is essentially a product which is copyrighted by the author, and therefore to set up a meeting or read the script would require some type of lega garrantee or precodure. Plus it saves time and allows agents to do the ground work and sell the script to the execs. The odd thing I found so far is that most agents have the policy of not accepting unsolicited scripts, they ask that you provide references and a list of credits as well???? Writers on ScriptAngel and Danny Stack blogs have just suggested sending an email to companies telling them who you are and asking if they would read an unsolicted script, just on the off chance that someone might consider reading it and then set up a meeting with an agent for you. The other strategy I’d read on Creative England is simply to write a body of short films or theatre shows, which you can then persuade the agent to represent you with – easier said then done if writing theatre or short films was that easy, right?

  2. Dan Stanton says:

    As a new literary agent I get told, for the talent with scripts I represent, “we don’t accept unsolicited scripts.” So it isn’t just get and agent, “you can spot them because they’re always younger, cleaner, thinner, better dressed, and more annoying than you are,” it’s get an agent that Hollywood recognizes.

    Thanks for all your excellent information.

  3. Dan Dassow says:

    Mr. Saivar,

    I would like to thank you for a well written article regarding submitting unsolicited story ideas and scripts. I references your article in order to discourage someone from submitting their story idea to a production company.

    Dan Dassow

  4. Jay says:

    The real reason is Hollywood has their favorites already. The same crew and genres over and over again that writes the same stuff over and over again with the occasional switching of actors for roles. It’s the same Spider-man redo’s over and over again. It’s a White run mafia style dugout full of phonies that see money and don’t want to open the door for others. Who makes them geniuses? Because they made some money? Wherever money is in the scope you can bet they are adjusting the lens. They are a bunch of phonies. They cover themselves by “we do not take unsolicited material” because they have been sued many times for actually stealing others works and not giving the credit where it should be given. So now agents and producers and managers do not take material. Not just the actors anymore. It used to be just the actors wont accept the material. Now the agents wont either. lol. So to protect themselves they have their favorite cronies on hand to keep writing crappy movie scripts over and over again. How many times are you going to do Spider-man and Fantastic 4? lol. It’s all a joke. This is why i do not pay to see any films in the theater and I do not pay to watch any films anymore. I’m not giving them devils my money. I bet this wont get printed. lol. Let’s see.

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