Friday, December 9, 2011

What Happens to Your Manuscript in Hollywood? Part One: Solicitation

by R.S. Mellette

Since the late 1980s I've worked in just about every department at Universal Studios, including Motion Picture Development—which is where your manuscript would land if you were to submit it to a studio. I thought you guys might like to know what would happen to your novels, screenplays, treatments, stories, etc. after you've put them in the mail or hit send.

First and foremost, no unsolicited material will be read by a studio without a release. So many writers obsess over the release that they miss asking the question, "What does 'unsolicited' mean, and how do I get my script to be solicited?"

A project (which can be anything from an unpublished manuscript to an idea written on a bar napkin) is solicited when a production executive asks to see it. So, say you're riding in that mythic elevator with Ron Meyer who says, "You're a writer? What have you written?"

And you say, "A novel about an elephant that gets into the New York City Ballet Company."

"Really? I'd like to take a look at that, can you send me a copy?"

Your work is now solicited. You get to write in the cover letter, "Per your request..."

Anything else is unsolicited. Most of an agent's job is to get their client's work to be solicited, or at least sent in as a writing sample.

So let's say you know that your novel about the dancing elephant is exactly what Hollywood needs, and you only dreamed about the elevator ride. Still, you're going to send it right to a studio no matter what. When you do, it lands on the desk of an assistant who opens your package, looks at the cover letter and sends your manuscript back in your SASE with a form letter stating the Studio will not read unsolicited material without a signed release, which is enclosed. The release basically says, "There's a good chance we have a project in development that's exactly like what you're sending us, so if we read your work and pass, you have to promise not to sue us."

You sign the release and send the manuscript back, where the assistant eagerly awaits its arrival.

Said assistant will then log the submission into the studio's tracking software. When last I did this job, the standard was a program called Studio Systems from a company called Baseline. The program is huge, and each studio and executive has it tailored to their needs.

Once logged, your work will go to the Story Department. Here it will be assigned to a reader. Of course, since your novel has no one "attached," it will sit in a pile for a long, long time. Having someone attached means they have agreed to work on the project. This isn't always a good thing.

"Charlie Sheen has agreed to star in the film version..."

Attachments can be directors, production companies, stars, or to a lesser extent famous cinematographers or executives. If you're reading this for advice and want to cut to the chase, the rule is that you should never submit a project to a studio without major attachments.

What happens to your words in the Story Department and how do you better your chances in Hollywood?

Stay tuned...


JeffO said...

This looks to be a very interesting series, I'm looking forward to more.

Darke Conteur said...

Heh, I'm using this for future reference. :D

Christopher Hudson said...

I figured it's all about getting the right pair of eyeballs on your project ... and the odds on making that happen are similar to winning the lottery ... but, hey, if you don't buy a ticket, I can guarantee that you won't win.

RSMellette said...

I'm glad you guys are getting something out of it.

Happy Holidays!