Web Sites Hook Up Writers, Producers

Nov 10, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Nathan Nipper is a writer from Grand Prairie, Texas, who was beginning to think his chances of breaking into the entertainment industry were between slim and none. He had written query letters to producers and agents, composed writing samples and entered his work into contests-“All the usual routes,” he said.
Then last October he found InkTip.com, a Web site where scribes post scripts online in hopes of attracting Hollywood interest. Mr. Nipper paid $40 to post a romantic comedy script called “This Time Around.” A few weeks later, the script was optioned by Wildrice Productions, which in turn sold the project to ABC Family Channel. In July “This Time Around” aired as a two-hour telepic.
Thanks to InkTip, Mr. Nipper went from Lone Star anonymity to credited writer in a mere eight months.
“I would definitely recommend it for people in my position who don’t live in L.A. yet and are trying to break in,” Mr. Nipper said. “I’m definitely light years ahead of where I was a year ago.”
Not a Sure Thing
Of course, Mr. Nipper’s experience is the exception rather than the rule. InkTip-as well as sites such as Scriptshark.com and Scripts-and-Coverage.com-post hundreds of scripts from around the world. Few are read by credible professionals and fewer are sold. Some sites offer “coverage” of a script for a substantial fee, though the value of such coverage is often disputed. InkTip is unique in that it attempts solely to facilitate connections and boasts several prominent industry endorsements.
InkTip owner Jerrol LeBaron started the site in 2000 after writing a screenplay. The script never sold, but the difficulty he had generating interest in it led to his creating InkTip (formerly called the Writers’ Script Network).
“I discovered how difficult it was for writers to get known,” Mr. LeBaron said. “It became apparent to me that producers also had the same difficulty in finding good scripts. It’s like a hourglass where there’s a wide top and a wide bottom with this narrow spot in between where you can’t get through.”
For industry professionals, InkTip offers an array of menu options to narrow a search for fresh material among the site’s 4,000 scripts. Genre, writer experience and format (half-hour pilot, movie-of-the-week, feature film spec, and so forth) are among the available filters.
“If you want a dark-comedy farce that takes place in the 1930s by a Canadian writer with an agent, you can find it,” Mr. LeBaron said.
Writers can view, in turn, a log documenting who has viewed their material, which is a helpful gauge of the effectiveness of the site and of the popularity of their idea. The possibility of intellectual thievery is, however, still a serious concern. Though scripts on InkTip must be registered through the Writers Guild of America or the U.S. Copyright Office, an idea has no legal protection. Many writers are therefore wary of posting their writing on the Internet.
Mr. LeBaron argued that theft is an inherent problem in the business, whether or not writers post on his site.
“Most all writers are nervous their ideas will be plagiarized or their script will be stolen,” he said. “But you’ve got a choice: you either get your scripts out there or you don’t. It will never get stolen if it never gets out there, but it will never get sold if it never gets out there.”
On the flip side, producers and agents worry that writers unfamiliar with the homogeneity of ideas in the marketplace will falsely accuse them of pilfering their scripts. Though InkTip posters must sign a comprehensive release that provides readers with protection from liability, Mr. LeBaron noted, “If a writer really wants to sue, they’re going to sue.”
Industry professionals also worry about gaining a reputation as an easy mark for new writers. Though stalker tactics from an InkTip member will result in a canceled membership, veteran telepic producer Lee Levinson (Showtime’s “Out of the Ashes”) noted that he has been inundated with amateur queries since purchasing material from InkTip writers.
“My take on the Web sites is that some are more legitimate than others,” Mr. Levinson said. “Some are terribly gimmicky and are just making a quick buck. I rank InkTip high. … I’ve used it from time to time, though, quite frankly, not as much as I had in the past because I get so many queries daily.”
The queries, he noted, are not necessarily from InkTip’s members, but have been generated by his name being added to widely circulated producer mailing lists due to his participation on InkTip. Such consequences are perhaps unavoidable once a producer wades onto the Internet, where so many writers are desperate to make an industry connection.
“To a degree, the sites are like a vanity press,” Mr. Levinson said. “Some of the writers are very talented, no question about it. Others will shoot themselves in the foot.”