Saturday, December 8, 2018

Dear Friends,

I hope 2018 has been a productive one for you. As the Christmas season descends upon us and we prepare to close out the year, we look to the future -- 2019 and beyond -- with fresh eyes, hopeful dreams and, of course, new goals. If you're a writer, perhaps one of those goals is figuring out new ways to get your work seen. It's not an easy road, but the bumps can feel a little less, well, bumpy if you have an advocate in your corner. Below is an article I recently penned for the website Funds for Writers on how aspiring screenwriters without significant credits can get the attention of representation like agents or managers. Hopefully it provides you with some insight as you seek to make 2019 your best professional year yet!



Five Ways Aspiring Screenwriters
can get an Agent’s Attention

By Mark Heidelberger

I’m constantly meeting aspiring screenwriters from around the world, whether on social media, in academic settings, or via professional networking events like Pitchfest, and one question I hear a lot no matter where I am is, “How can I get an agent (or manager) if I have no produced credits?” It sure seems like cause for vexation, especially in Hollywood where chicken-and-egg conundrums abound. It’s true, yes, that agents and managers are integral to success in the literary screen trade because they provide access to opportunities not otherwise available to fledgling writers. And since this is widely known, they put up walls to prevent the inevitable deluge of middling material from every wannabe who calls himself a writer just because he learned Final Draft. Fortunately, though, they left a few small fissures in their walls where truly talented and resourceful writers might squeeze through, even if those writers have no credits.

Perform Well in Competition

Screenplay competitions are a viable path to reaching agents and managers – and this includes platforms like The Black List ( – but you have to be selective in which ones you submit to and you have to do well in them. Only a small handful of competitions are going to provide access to literary reps with any real cache. (See more details about these competitions in my previous article, “The Pros and Cons of Screenplay Competitions”: Typically, semi-finalists in well-respected contests will get phone calls from reps interested in seeing their material while finalists and winners will get in-person meetings.

Get a Client Reference

Writers should speak with their friends and colleagues who have representation to see if they can gain entry that way. And that friend doesn’t need to be a writer either. She can be a director, actor, editor, cinematographer, whatever – so long as the agency she’s with also has a roster of writers. Your friend should at least be able to tell you a little about the agency’s culture and whether she’s had a good experience there so you can determine whether they might be a fit. If so, offer to treat your friend to a nice dinner or some concert tickets if she can get you a face-to-face.

Attach a Name

Tinseltown loves “names.” A project with a recognizable actor, director or producer attached will often draw the attention of reps eager to sign the writer before the project sells and that big payday comes. The agency that reps your attached figure is the most logical choice since they have a vested interest in seeing the project materialize. Resourceful writers who have no agent connections but know others working in the industry should brainstorm ways to reach desirable names. Once a name is attached, generate heat by announcing the attachment in a trade paper like Variety or The Hollywood Reporter and then cite that article in agent queries.

Leverage Other Successes

Many writers get a literary agent after achieving some modicum of success in another area of the business like directing, acting or editing. Let’s say you’re a fairly prolific editor, but wish to transition to screenwriting. Use your past achievements as a bargaining chip with a prospective agent who wishes to represent you as an editor by letting him know you’ll only sign on if the agency also represents you as a screenwriter. Just be sure to verify that the agency is competent in both areas. If you’re a published author, you may be able to leverage solid book sales to similar effect.

Network, Network, Network

At the end of the day, Hollywood is still a networking town. The whole reason the old adage “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” got to be an old adage is because there’s so much truth to it. Attend industry events where agents and managers might be present like parties, seminars and pitch sessions. Strike up a conversation and generate a rapport. Notice I didn’t say pitch your script, at least not off the bat. Just get them to like you first because it’s really you they’re representing, not your script. If you hit it off and they happen to be looking for new “development clients” with fresh stories to tell, they may just request your script.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

It's been a while since I posted an update on my work, so I thought I'd share a little about what's been going on in 2018. It has certainly been eventful so far, with lots of projects and possibilities zipping around the old entertainment ether. Here are some of the highlights:

- Produced a series of five docu-style Facebook ads for music rehearsal app Playyo, all featuring actual musical artists, which have been running since March

- Served as a producer for the LA unit of feature documentary "Lil' Buck Renaissance," featuring prolific dancer Lil' Buck and interviewees such as choreographer Benjamin Millepied and director Spike Jonze

- Currently assisting longtime friend and collaborator Nathan Ives on his feature documentary "Somewhere in the Middle" about working artists and craftspeople

- I guess you could say 2018 has been the year of the documentary, as I've also been working on researching and brainstorming ideas for my own feature documentary in addition to all the other projects mentioned above

- Turns out "The Basement," a horror feature I produced in 2016-17 with Mischa Barton will get a limited theatrical release by Uncork'd Entertainment next month followed by a release to home entertainment

- Was featured in a number of interviews and profiles this year for a variety of media outlets including Movie Vine, The Movie Elite, Film Courage, From Page 2 Screen, We Are Cult and Inquisitr (the latter named my film "Comfort" the "best romance story you haven't seen" from 2017)

- TDP Films was a stone's throw away from locking production financing for the techno-thriller "LITU," with an MG from ARRI Media and private equity coming from investors in India (I would have started prepping the film back in late May/early June), but it looks like the Indians pulled out at the last second, leaving us scrambling to find a new source of funding :(

- Continue to work with various clients on advancing their feature projects toward the starting line, including "Walking on Palmettos" for FreeWill Films (we have partial financing committed from Weathervane Productions); "Worth the Fight" for Flyweight Films (we were able to attach actor Tony Lo Bianco and have director John Hillcoat reading for consideration); and "P27" for Allen Media Group/Windsor House Entertainment (my newest client; we're working on script development)

- Continue to act occasionally when the urge hits me, and this year I had a speaking part in the HBO series "Big Little Lies" with Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman and Laura Dern, which I believe airs in early 2019

Naturally, I'm always happy to entertain new clients, whether they're looking for an experienced producer to execute a funded feature, help handling marketing and distribution, assistance with packaging cast, or just a knowledgeable line producer/UPM to run a budget. More information about me and what I do can be found at

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Here's an article I recently penned on how screenwriters can avoid getting scammed. Hopefully it proves useful to those who are just starting out...

How Screenwriters
Can Avoid a Scam

By Mark Heidelberger

One downside to being a producer in Hollywood is that all the bad producers, the shady ones, the guys masquerading as professionals when they’ve never made so much as a YouTube video, give the rest of us a bad name. I don’t know how many times a screenwriter has told me of their reticence to do a past script deal because the producer seemed untrustworthy. Unfortunately, quite often, they were right. There are more than a few wannabes out there willing to spend 20 bucks on classy-looking business cards in hopes of bilking writers out of fees, credit and other rights they deserve as creators of the material. However, there are a few things you can do to make sure you’re not a victim of one of these silver screen scammers.

Check Their Background

If a producer requests your material, do a little digging on them. The internet makes it easy to see what they’ve produced and how long they’ve been doing it. Places like IMDb and Wikipedia are fairly comprehensive media databanks, and anyone with even the smallest track record should have some footprint in a Google search. Moreover, viable producers have no problem providing references of other writers with whom they’ve had productive working relationships. Don’t be afraid to ask for them.

Arrange a Phone Call

A lot of phonies avoid the phone. Why? Because it’s much easier to spot red flags in a one-on-one conversation where they not only have to nimbly field a barrage of questions, but also provide sensible answers. Therefore, many of the more dubious types prefer email where they can concoct believable presentations and take additional time to navigate pointed inquiries. Always insist on a phone call to generate a rapport, discuss terms and address questions.

Hire an Agent or Lawyer

The old thinking went that agents got 10% of the fee because they did 10% of the work. While you’ll have to give up a small commish, it might be worth it to avoid some bamboozling from a questionable character, especially if you’re concerned about your inability to spot warning signs. An entertainment attorney or agent is much better equipped to negotiate key deal points anyhow and will be more likely to assume the task when they know it’s a paying gig.

Don’t Work for Free

Unless, of course, it’s not a paying gig. It’s one thing for an indie producer to give you some notes to address before he takes the script out, but asking you to write an entire script for free is something altogether different. Many promise pie-in-the-sky results in exchange for your sweat equity, like a juicy deferment or back-end. Don’t do it. Any producer capable of getting the film launched is capable of paying you a few bucks for your time and skill. Similarly, don’t sell or option spec material for free.

Don’t Pay Them

There’s a flip side to that coin. Don’t sign your material over to someone who says he’ll get it made if you just slide him some green. You shouldn’t have to pay a producer to get your material produced; he should be paying you. There are viable producers-for-hire who perform production and development services for clients (heck, I’m one of them), but the difference is the payer’s the boss, retaining ownership and control of the material while getting some specific, guaranteed result in exchange.

Insist on a Contract

If someone says they don’t do contracts, be afraid. Be very afraid. Contracts mitigate the risk of some future dispute by ensuring both parties know exactly what they’re getting and when. Just as important, they provide legal protection in case there is a dispute. Make sure the contract specifies your payment terms, residuals, the details of your credit, any reserved rights, and options for retrieving the material if it’s not produced in a given time frame. Never forego these rights just to get your script made!

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Any aspiring screenwriters out there know how important a good query letter is. I saw some great responses to my Writer's Weekly article that came out back in February titled "Writing an Effective Screenplay Query," so I decided to craft a follow-up piece with some more detailed information. This article was published in late April on Hope Clark's FundsForWriters website. It's a nice easy read, so see what you think.....

What Producers Look for in a Screenplay Query

Mark Heidelberger / 2018-04-21

In my decade or so at Treasure Entertainment, I literally received thousands of query letters from fledgling writers desperate to claw their way to the top of the read pile. Want to guess how many I responded to? If you said less than two dozen, you’d be a winner. This is not to discourage you from querying producers, but rather to drive home the reality that competition is fierce and many letters get tossed. However, there are a lot of things you can do (and avoid doing) in your query to increase your chances that a producer will actually request the script. Here are some of the most prominent:
Know Who You’re Querying
Research the company you’re sending the letter to. Know what kind of pictures they produce. The information is out there if you do a little digging. Look at the company’s credits on IMDb or Wikipedia. Google their films’ budgets. Treasure produces niche genre films under $10 million, but I can’t tell you how many times I received queries about a $75 million period drama. If you pitch something that’s in their wheelhouse, you have a much better shot at a response.
Start with a Solid Logline
Don’t meander through some circuitous introduction that forces the producer to find your story. Start with “Dear _____, I would like to submit the following screenplay for your consideration.” Then go right into the logline – a concise, one-sentence description of the plot. A good logline will reveal the protagonist, the antagonist, the conflict, the protagonist’s goal, and what’s at stake if the protagonist fails. It should also infer the genre, tone and scope of the piece. You want the producer to be able to glean from the logline whether it’s a big-budget action film or a dark indie drama. (Read Ashley Scott Meyers’ article “Writing a Screenplay Log Line” here:
Other Key Elements
After the logline, follow up with a paragraph describing any enticing background about the project such as attached cast or a director, noteworthy awards or competition wins, whether the script is based on preexisting material like a book or magazine article, and whether any amount of funding is in place. This is your chance to really sell it. Follow that up with a short one-paragraph bio on yourself that details your entertainment or writing background and/or any relevant connection to the material (i.e., the main character is a boat captain and you used to charter sailboats). End by asking the producer what you want from them (to read the script), offer to sign a release if necessary, and thank them for their consideration.
Keep It Short
Seriously. Like no more than a page. Any producer who is even remotely capable of getting your picture made doesn’t have time to weed through a six-page treatise. Overly long queries appear daunting, don’t look professional, and may give the impression that you tend to overwrite.
Read, Edit, Re-Read
Thoroughly proof your letter for spelling, grammar, and formatting mistakes, either through your word processing program, an app like Grammarly, or a capable colleague. If your query is riddled with sloppy mistakes and awful grammar, the producer will presume your screenwriting is just as bad or worse. (If you can’t write a one-page letter, why would a 120-page screenplay be any better?) Also, don’t send your query right away. Sit on it a day, then go back and re-read it. You’ll often find issues you didn’t notice before, allowing you to take that extra opportunity to clean it up and make it shine.
A Few Extra Thoughts
Never send a treatment, script, or even select pages of the script with the query. Most companies won’t look at unsolicited material, which means it has to come from an agent, or they have to request it. Don’t include photos, videos, or gifts, either. If supporting material such as documentary footage or a pitch deck exists, mention it in the paragraph after the logline and offer to send it with the script.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Here's another article I wrote recently for WritersWeekly about the do's and don'ts of crafting a proper screenplay query letter. Hopefully someone out there finds it useful...

Writing an Effective Screenplay Query By Mark Heidelberger

Writing an Effective Screenplay Query By Mark Heidelberger
In my 18 years as a content producer, I’ve certainly gotten my share of query letters. Thousands, in fact. I’ve seen every gimmick in the book from writers desperate for a response. Some have included script pages, gifts, photos, videos, or lengthy dissertations on why their life story needs to be told. Everything but showing up at my office, and forcing me to read the script at gunpoint. The funny thing is, all of these shenanigans are not only unnecessary, but actually detrimental. There are a few very simple do’s and don’ts that, while not guaranteed to elicit a response, will certainly make your query more effective.
Research the Company – Take a few minutes to look up background and credits on the production company you’re querying. Make sure your material is a fit. A company that makes $100 million action films isn’t going to request your $5 million high school drama.
Engage a Specific Individual – Instead of addressing your letter “Dear Development Executive” or “To Whom It May Concern,” get the name of the actual flesh-and-blood person at the company who would be reviewing the material. The less generic it feels, the more willing they’ll be to engage.
Keep It Short and Sweet – Overly long query letters not only look unprofessional and ask more of a producer’s time than he’s likely to give, but also allow the impression that you’re verbose and long-winded. Not exactly the way you want to come across in an industry where brevity on the page is prized.
Write a Good Logline – This is the single most important part of your query – a concise, one-sentence description of the plot. It informs the producer of the genre, scope, tone, characters, central conflict and stakes in your story. Make sure it’s right near the top of the letter.
Supporting Info – After the logline, include one short paragraph detailing any key supporting information about the project, such as cast attachments, competition wins, preexisting material it’s based on, or whether there’s partial funding in place.
A Relevant Bio – After selling the merits of the project, now it’s time to sell yourself. Include a one-paragraph bio referencing any relevant background such as past credits, entertainment industry experience, education or personal connections to the material.
Proofread – Go over your letter several times. Then, proof it with your spell check program. Then, have a friend read it. Make sure it’s free of typos and bad grammar. If a producer doesn’t think you can write a one-page letter, they’re not going to feel very inspired about your 100-page script.
No Solicitation Policies – If a company’s legal policy specifically states that it does not accept unsolicited submissions, don’t bother querying them. They won’t even read the letter. Companies like this only read material they request or that’s submitted by a bona fide agent.
Gifts – Don’t waste your time or money. It doesn’t work. Producers care about the quality of the story and your writing ability, not token trinkets.
Script Pages – Never include the script (or even the first few pages of the script) with your letter. If a producer wants to read the material, he’ll request it. And, most producers will require that you sign a liability release before they read anything anyway.
Photos, Videos and Back-up Material – If you feel there are important supporting documents or media that will help sell the script, mention it in the letter with the rest of the key information. If the producer wants to see it, he’ll request it with the script.
SASE – Don’t bother sending a self-addressed stamped envelope with a written query. Just put your phone number and email address under your name. No one snail-mails responses back anymore.
Chastising – Don’t insinuate that the producer would be “foolish” not to request the material. It comes across as arrogant and presumptuous, especially if you have no real credits.
Quitting – Don’t ever give up. You may have to send out 100 queries before you get one response, but that one might be the first step in getting your project off the ground.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

If you're an up-and-coming screenwriter who is interested in entering competitions, check out my article that was recently posted on first...

The Pros and Cons of Screenplay Competitions

Mark Heidelberger / 2018-01-05
Screenplay competitions have long served as a means for fledgling screenwriters to call attention to their talent, especially if they have little else to draw from in the way of Hollywood relationships. As a former literary manager and screenplay competition judge, I can confidently say that the most skilled storytellers will ultimately get noticed in such settings. However, there are a few thing screenwriters should know before submitting.

First, not all competitions are created equal. In fact, only a small handful will truly mean anything when it comes to advancing your career, and even then, only if you place in at least the top 10 percent. So, what competitions are worth your hard-earned 50 bucks? Below is a list of what I believe are the top 10 screenplay competitions today based on credibility and access they provide to the industry:
What makes these competitions so widely trusted compared to others in the marketplace is their long history of rewarding quality writing and the high caliber of judges they hire – many of whom are respectable producers or managers. This translates to greater industry access for top finishers in addition to generous cash and other prizes. Several of these competitions, such as Slamdance and BlueCat, also provide written feedback to all entrants; so even if you don’t place, you get some constructive criticism that can be used to better your material for the next one.

Another key takeaway: it means more to do well in one or two highly respected competitions like the Nicholl or Sundance than to do well in dozens of lesser-known competitions. Industry types are more apt to trust the informed opinion of a few accredited peers than a bevy of unknowns. Furthermore, entry fees for preeminent competitions aren’t higher on average than less notable ones, meaning you’re spending less and getting more value for your dollar by simply picking quality over quantity.
So then, what scripts typically do best in competition? Readability is key. Proper formatting, spelling and grammar alone will elevate your material above half the submissions. After that, the focus is on craftsmanship. A coherent three-act story structure coupled with compelling characters, clever plotlines and crisp dialogue will catapult you to the quarter- or even semi-finalist stage. Reaching this level is all but guaranteed to generate reader requests and perhaps even some phone calls from interested parties.
However, the screenplays that advance to the finalist level and beyond – the ones that get you in-person meetings – often have one very special, very ironic ingredient: they boast unfamiliar ideas and storylines that may not be marketable enough to get the film made. Numerous colleagues of mine, from Nicholl judges to professional script consultants, have confirmed as much. Essentially, there’s a disconnect between scripts that place highly in competitions and those that get produced because competitions look at creative writing skill over marketability and reward highly original ideas that eschew the very market trends and genre conventions production companies seek.

Bottom line, screenplays that win competitions are less likely to get made than they are to serve as calling cards for agents, managers and producers who want talented writers-for-hire. While it may not be the path you planned, it’s still a step toward becoming a professional screenwriter. And a very viable one for those with real talent.