By: Ashley, Detroit
A.B. Replies: You ask for truth. I supply it to you. In this case, I napalm you with the acid-hot cruelty of a thousand fiery suns. Of truth.
The answer: Probably not.
If you must write to me for advice on how to break into our maze of production offices, half-hidden as they already are behind the candy-striped security gates of our studio lots, you probably are hopeless. I say this not to be cruel--mostly--but because producers tell me so...even producers who have written books for people like you, on how to do exactly what you want to do.
First of all, you can't just get paid for submitting an idea. If people got paid every time they merely dropped a piece of paper on another person's desk, we would all own personalized supersonic luxury cars that glide silently on diamond gas and get us to work with ridiculous speed, so that we could drop more pieces of paper on still more people's desks.
"It's hard to get paid for ideas, as the air is literally filled with them, going digitally in all directions," says producer Ken Atchity, coauthor of Writing Treatments That Sell. What gets you paid in Hollywood is selling an idea. That could mean writing up a treatment--that's Hollywoodese for an idea--and selling it to a producer or studio, which then retains the right to transform the treatment into a film.
It could mean selling the rights to an article, life story, short story or novel. Or developing your idea into a script and then selling said script, which is usually more valuable than a treatment alone.
What won't get you paid is just calling George Clooney's office and ordering the receptionist to consider a movie about, say, uncannily smart crickets who save the earth.
More bad news: Even the smartest treatment isn't enough to get a producer's attention. You usually must be some sort of proven or trusted entity, even if it's just being the daughter of a gardener of a neighbor. Consider: At just one of the major studios, about 10,000 scripts--full scripts, mind you, not just mere treatments--get submitted every year. Only about 10 percent even get read.
"It's almost impossible for an outsider to do it," Atchity says. "It happens rarely, and almost always it's someone within the business who does it--sells an idea 'ripped from the headlines.' "
One incredible exception: A man named Steve Alten, a writer with no connections to speak of, managed to sell his idea about an ancient killer shark. He bought a book on how to get published, sent a two-page query to 65 agents and got one hit. Just one, but it was the one that counted. Now Alten's bloodthirsty Meg the Megalodon is being groomed for a feature film by Atchity's people.
You may not be so lucky. Instead, try this approach: Take your idea and make it something optionable, something the wider public can access first and maybe get excited about. Create a short story around your notion, or a novel. If the ideas are about your life, create a blog or write an autobiography, and then start shopping your creation to agents.
Scarlett Johansson just wrapped filming on an adaptation of The Nanny Diaries, a novel written by two former child-care workers to the stars. They wrote the story based on their own experiences, which are certainly more interesting than yours. But go ahead and try anyway.
So, make your idea into something people can read, and then start pinging agents. Your chances still aren't high, but at least they're better than sending all those faxes to Clooney about crickets.