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Full "MOON" over Compuserve
By Bob Stone, Associate Editor of Hollywood Scriptwriter
What does a former Top Gun flight instructor and Marine fighter pilot do in his retirement to recapture the danger, exaltation, fear and drama of his past career? He goes into the jet plane repossession business. Then he writes a screenplay about it ó and he tries to sell it, from San Diego, using an on-line service for networking and making contacts.

First, Bill Jones mentioned his idea for "Smugglerís Moon" on-line, on Compuserveís Showbiz-Media Forum, in the Screenwriting Section. Itís a buddy tale of men in the jet plane repo business. No one had even known such a job existed, but it does. The on-line consensus was that he should write it.

Once finished, Bill sent out about 120 letters to agencies trying to get it read. Eighteen replied they wanted to see it. Only two wanted to sign Bill. He met both of them, and decided he couldnít work with either one. Bill wasnít going to settle for just any deal, he was willing to wait for the right one, one that his work deserved.

One agent asked to read it and sent the usual hold-harmless to sign and return with the script. He did. Four days later Bill got the script back with a note scrawled on it telling him they didnít accept unsolicited material. He mailed them a copy of their letter asking for the script. They sent him an apology. So he sent them the script again. Four days later he got a letter asking for the hold-harmless. He called and told them it was in the script. They couldnít find it. He sent them another copy. Four days later he got another request for the hold-harmless. To quote Bill, "By now I figured these people couldnít sell me Bo Derek after a six month deployment so I forgot them. Besides Iíd already spent enough on postage with these bumblers. Then, the other day I got this letter from them that says they arenít interested in the script. I guess they finally found the hold-harmless. Maybe they can find todayís Variety."

What did Variety say? "Warner Bros. has purchased an action thriller spec script titled "Smugglers Moon" for Witt-Thomas Films from former top gun fighter pilot Bill Jones. . . . The low- against mid-six-figure deal, Jonesí first screenwriting sale, is a buddy pic about a pair of Navy pilots who are kicked out of the service during the Gulf War for trying to protect Kurdish refugees without authorization. To make a living, the discharged pilots hire themselves out as aircraft repo men."

So how did Bill get from the bumblers and sharks to a six figure deal a Warner Bros.?

Enter, Rob Gallagher. Rob has been a member of CISís Showbiz-Media Forum for several years. When he was working as an agent at Major Clients, he mentioned online that he would be willing to read log lines, on three by five cards, from anyone in the forum. He said heíd ask for any scripts that he, or associates, might be interested in. Bill met with him about another script, and mentioned "Smugglerís Moon." Rob was interested, and asked to see it when it was done. When Bill finished it, Rob had changed hats and was now working as a manager, but he still wanted to see the script. Bill sent it, and Rob liked it enough to vault over all the gatekeepers in the agencies and got it to people who not only would read it themselves, but also had the ability to take it to a studio.

Once all the prodcos were interested, Rob got Bill appointments with some of the top agencies and he signed with William Morris. They took over the negotiations and the rest is history. Hereís how Rob described his part in making the deal.

"To set up [Billís] spec properly, I spent a couple weeks before the planned release date calling my friends at the production companies with studio deals and pitching [the] spec. Out of the sixty or so pitches I made, over FIFTY companies requested to be included in the release (an unprecedented high response) and sent runners to pick it up which speaks highly to how great the concept was . . . and how easy [Bill] made it for me to pitch! Out of the fifty or so production companies that read [the] spec, over thirty-five of them were enthusiastic fans and it consequently went into about twelve studios (again an unprecedented high response). . . . Once word got out on how great [the] script is, every major agency in town called and asked for a meeting with [Bill], so it was very easy for me to place [him] with William Morris."

The next script of Billís that Rob wants to promote is one Bill co-wrote with a partner he also found online, and started collaborating with before they ever met face to face.

Obviously this isnít "THE" way to sell a first script, but is "A" way to do it; by making Hollywood connections online. Bottom line, though, the material has to be of high quality, or else the best salesman in town wonít be able to move it. Bill and Rob and others online know how to use the medium. Do be careful, though. For every honest agent or producer who posts that he is looking for material, there are those with connections from few to none.

There are many places online where screenwriters, experienced and future, gather to trade shop talk, gossip, experiences, and to network. They are great places to go, to observe, and then jump in with a question or comment. I say observe (we call it "lurking") because some people know little, but comment on everything. It takes a little time to figure out who has the experience and the knowledge, and who doesnít.

At various times Iíve been on AOL, Prodigy, and Compuserve, and have settled in with just Compuserve, and its Showbiz Forum, as one of my favorite online locations. The Screenwriting section is moderated by long time screen and TV writer John Hill ("Quigley Down Under" "Quantum Leap" "L.A. Law"). Members of the section cover the spectrum from people who want to write a film, people who have, and those who have produced credits. One of its features is that members often post five to ten pages of a screenplay, and then accept all comments from the others.

There is also the Internet, which has thousands of newsgroups, several of which are for screenwriters. In a group called misc.writing.screenplays you can meet all kinds; a writer of films in Hong Kong, a Florida based writer/producer of his own short films, several Hollywood based writers, and flotsam and jetsam from all over the world. The Internet is also an excellent source for research. You can even log on to the Writerís Guild home page and get their list of agents, among many other things (www.wga.org).

Finally, I highly recommend a local Los Angeles bulletin board (BBS), named PAGE. It is available at (310) 273-8947, or free of phone charges on the Internet, at pagebbs.com. It was started by refugees from the WGA BBS, and limits its membership to those who can show they make at least part of their living from writing.

So, go online, shmooze from wherever you are. It worked for Bill Jones. You never know who youíll meet, or what you can do for each other.

(Bob Stone is Associate Editor of Hollywood Scriptwriter, and for many years has been a writer and performer of comedy for corporate clients. One of his many email addresses is bobstone1@earthlink.net)
 
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