Avoiding Screenwriting Scams

Yesterday, I received an email from an interested production company, however they had an unusual claim for me.  Here’s what they wrote:

I have just read your script and it’s something we could look at developing for our slate of films. However the script has some errors and should therefore be fully proofed by a professional script editor. I would also like to see an independent script report before I proceed with escalating this up to our investors.
So send me an edited final copy and script report with no errors this time and I will contact you regarding buyout options. If you’re unfamiliar with professional script editors I can recommend some.
Now, I have never come across this in my life so it sounded suspicious to me.  I asked a few writer friends what they thought and the resounding response was, “Scam!  Stay away!”  There were several things about this email that disturbed me:
  1. My initial reaction was, “what errors?”  Maybe there may be a few things he disagreed with, but there were no ‘errors’.  To even use the term ‘errors’ was unusual because to me, an error indicates a mistake like your master scene headings are wrong or your spelling is terrible or you moved a scene and left half of it behind.
  2. He requested for the script to be ‘fully proofed by a professional script editor’.  I have known production companies to option scripts with massive problems without asking for the writer to a) have it ‘proofed’ or b) even re-write it.  So for them to ask me to hire someone to fix these so-called ‘errors’ seemed odd to me.
  3. He insisted on having a ‘script report’.  No producer I’ve ever spoken with has ever asked for a script report.  Most production companies have in-house readers they put scripts through for their own coverage to determine whether or not it deserves a serious look and they do this without charging the writer because it’s in their own interests to have someone review it before spending more time on it.
  4. The condescending tone of his email was irritating, but it also played on my emotions.  It made me think ‘oh, someone’s interested’ then he bashed me on the head with ‘but it’s not good enough yet’.  Just like an advertiser, he was playing me, trying to make me think I needed to hire someone and of course, dangling the ‘we’ll give you a deal if you do this’ carrot in front of my face, it’s easy to think ‘why not?’
  5. The fact that he had a list of people he could recommend.  It sounded helpful, but the real reason he’s offering is to pay him to review it.  Why would a writer go to someone a production company doesn’t recommend only to be told you need to get it done again?  So obviously, the easiest thing to do is to ask them to recommend some.  My writer friends said this is a typical scam: these so-called producers recommends you to a consulting firm (which they also own and operate), you pay them, then they pass on the script.
  6. He offered buyout options.  This didn’t make any sense.  Most producers at his level option a script, they don’t buy it out and in my email, I said I was looking for a producing partner not a buyout.
  7. If it was that riddled with ‘errors’ why would he want it?  If I read a script that had a fantastic story and was well-written except for spelling and a few ‘errors’, I’d either option it and make sure the writer wasn’t involved in future rewrites or I’d pass.  Why would you want to work with an amateur who has such terrible grammar and spelling that you make a point of addressing it?
  8. They got back to me in record time.  I emailed them the day before and they had already read it and considered it for development in one day?  The fastest turnaround I’ve ever had was two weeks.  Most production companies have PILES of screenplays to review.  And sure, we can give them the benefit of the doubt by understanding they’re a new prodco and have very little experience, but it seems clear to me that they never even read it.
What I think we need to be careful of is labeling people as scam artists too quickly.  First of all, not everyone trying to suck a buck out of you is a scam artist, they may merely be ignorant or arrogant.  Many scam artists are ignorant of the fact that what they’re doing isn’t legit.  It’s like modeling agencies asking you to pay thousands for photos then hooking you up with their photographer.  If a modeling agency believes in you, they take you on, send you to some photographers for testing for FREE then send you out on go-sees and continue to build your book through testing.
So, I hope no one gets conned into scams like this.  There are times when we need a professional to review our work especially if we don’t have a circle of writer friends willing to do the work, but a production company won’t ask you to pay for it.