"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
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