Screenplay Chat: Adam Merims
Networking Strategies for Writers:
How to Make Contacts and Keep Them
Transcript of a live chat with
Baumbarten Merims Productions, Inc.
Moderator: Welcome to tonight's chat. We want to welcome you all and introduce you to Adam Merims. He's a producer with Baumgarten-Merims Productions. Adam, why don't you start by telling us how you got started in the industry.
Adam Merims: I got my start in physical production; first doing industrials and then becoming a DGA Trainee. I moved up the ranks of physical production, got hired by a studio, and then was asked by a producer to become his development person. That's how I moved over to the "creative" side.
RDigestWriter: Adam, when you say "making contacts," what is the unconventional way, if any, to do so?
Adam Merims: The main thing I would emphasize about making contacts is to be different than everyone else, though not to the point of being silly.
Moderator: What marks somebody as being different?
Adam Merims: I think as writers you should first of all develop a list of inspirations-directors, writers whose work you admire. Then try to contact them. I really believe earnest and informed fan letters are vastly underutilized. I get letters all the time that are clearly cookie cutter, but virtually everyone established person I meet likes to talk about his/her less well known or earlier work. The point is to be compelling in some way.
Moderator: How does somebody find a way to get in touch with that director, actor, producer who's work they admire?
Adam Merims: Good question. Much harder to contact actors/directors than producers. DGA and SAG sells information but is usually agent/manager. Go to the seminars if you're in NY/LA. F/u with a personal letter to the person's office. Exploit alumni networks. The trick is to find any point of contact that you share with this person. Producers are accessible. All of us are listed in the Hollywood Creative Directory.
Moderator: What is the best way to make that initial contact with a producer?
Adam Merims: If someone wrote me a letter and said something about FREEWAY or HONEYMOON IN VEGAS that wasn't a cliche, I guarantee I would get in touch. Obviously, classes/chats/seminars/film festivals are great. I always try to say hello and then follow up via letter/phone the next day. You don't want to be one of thirty people mobbing someone. Interning is also a great way to meet people.
Arnold: Are you accepting screenplay submissions? And if so, what kind of scripts is he looking for?
Adam Merims: I accept query letters via fax. If I like the sound of the idea, I'll request the screenplay with a release if the writer doesn't have an agent or lawyer. I also take queries via snail mail. I kind of hate them on email.
Moderator: What is the first thing about a query that grabs your attention?
Adam Merims: As to the types of movies I look for: either original mainstream movies that are marketable or uniquely edgy indie films. The concept and how well written the concept is. If it's a comedy, the query better make me believe the script is funny.
Brian: When you request a screenplay, how long does it usually take for you to respond?
Adam Merims: Depends. Sometimes within two weeks, sometimes within a month or two. Every now and then a lot longer. Depends on what else we have going on. This year we got lots of drafts in before the WGA contract. So I couldn't deal with any of these "solicited" scripts for a while. I'm pretty good about letting you know if we have read them and we'll always send a pass letter if we're not interested in pursuing.
LAstudent: Can you expand on a non-typical way of making contacts and BEING NOTICED -- in terms of meeting someone in person?
Adam Merims: Well, I'm approached lot. I just came back today from doing a three day conference for CineStory. All the writers come up to you and want to submit their stuff and pitch their screenplays. The best ones ask "how can I best query/submit to you?" What method works best for you?
Phia: What suggestions would you give to a student with a screenplay written/in mind? What's the best way to network?
Adam Merims: If it's a screenplay to sell as a mainstream movie, student should try to get it read by a producer or agent or manager.
Terri: So, in your opinion, what method works best?
Adam Merims: I like a smart query when I have time to read, so I like writers who say I've got a quirky comedy that reminds of "Honeymoon" or an edgy movie like "Freeway" or better I'll send you a fax to your office tomorrow or a letter. Better yet, if the writer reads the trades and/or web sites and knows what we have in development and refers to that, he/she probably will get my attention, cause they've done their research.
WinstonStud: Adam, when a script is "not that good," do you give them the honest response?
Adam Merims: My pass letters don't go into much specifics unless I believe the writer has promise, in which case I usually call them or email them and begin a dialogue and try to give some encouragement and constructive feedback. By the way, following up via letter stuff you've seen in the trades is great, cause you're probably ahead of the curve. You're also not just someone looking for a job. Yet, anyway.
Brian: Since a writer's strength lies in writing, do you forgive for "nervous" pitches?
Adam Merims: Good question. certainly once I have read a writers work and become a fan, I do forgive this, but it's a problem when you're not established. You have to learn to pitch concisely and effectively. If you don't, you have to write spec scripts until you sell one. Or at least get an agent/manager/producer who can do the pitching for you.
Moderator: How often do you get pitched to on the spot? Like when you're at a conference.
Adam Merims: Well I have a done a bunch of pitch fests and conferences and in those cases it's kind of non-stop. From a networking standpoint, you as writers should try to maximize any opportunity when you're not doing the same thing as 20 others writers at the same time.
Terri: Adam, what is your opinion on entering these film contests we see all over the Internet?
Adam Merims: I think it depends on the cost and who is running them and what they promise if you win. Nicholls is great. Cinestory gives the winners a three day series of panels/one on ones with 8-10 industry professionals like myself. I don't know about many of the others.
sjo: RE: Pitches - some people recommend using "props" (photos, drawings, etc.), others say it's a "no-no." Your thoughts?
Adam Merims: I hate props with the rare exception if the story is based on something that I won't get without it. Since the pitch is for a script, and scripts don't get read with props, why have them? One exception would be if it's a location photo- movie about Bali, you might want to have one photo of Bali, for example.
Moderator: I've often heard that assistants can be a writer's best friends. What other kind of contacts should writers be looking to make?
Adam Merims: Well assistants at agencies and management companies are generally people who want to become managers and agents, so they need clients. Also, some will go on and become buyers. Probably a good idea to become friends, but don't overstep.
Moderator: What do you mean by don't over step? Wait for them to ask you to submit something?
Adam Merims: Be cognizant that assistants are often busier than their bosses. Let them indicate how frequently to talk to them. Try to use fax or email whenever possible. Don't call right before lunch time or right at the end of the day.
Terri: How can you tell the "real" contacts from the gimmicks?
Adam Merims: I'm not sure I understand this question.
Moderator: I think Terri means how can you tell if somebody, an assistant per se, is really going to be a legitimate contact? How can you tell if you're being bs'd?
Adam Merims: Tough to tell. Ask what's in it for the contact and what are they saying to you. Also do they have legitimate credits or are working at legitimate companies. I would be suspect of anyone who asks you to pay for any kind of service unless it is a contest admin fee run by legitimate people.
sjo: Once a contact is made (either at a function or a "solicited" script - but rejected), what is the most appropriate way to maintain it without being pushy?
Adam Merims: If you've submitted and been rejected, you can't really reconnect until you have something new. Then requery with the "new" emphasized. F/u on stuff that isn't yet read is harder. Your script is one of many things going on in any of our offices and most of the time unless it's from someone I know directly, I get to it when I get to it. Did I answer your question fully?
Moderator: To sort of follow up, what is appropriate for checking to see if a submitted script has been read? I submitted it and now I'm waiting, how long should I wait?
Adam Merims: Two weeks to four weeks, via email or fax. Phone calls are not good. except to assistants.
Moderator: Well, time's about up. In a business where who you know is so important, why don't you give some final words of wisdom to our audience about making these all important contacts.
Adam Merims: The main thing is to maximize your opportunities and try to differentiate yourself. Don't just send query letters. Research who you are sending to. Try to get a name of someone at the company. Find out what they do and what they are interested in, if possible. Make your emails and faxes brief and to the point. Most of all, think up truly original and interesting stories and work on your craft. it sounds like a cliche, but it's true. Great scripts always find a way to people who do something with them.
Moderator: Thank you Adam. Adam encourages new writers with fresh ideas to fax him queries. His fax number is 310-996-1892. And you can always chat in our public rooms any time of day or night. Good night everybody.