There are plenty of online scams just waiting to fleece struggling screenwriters out of their money. Here’s how to be careful.
The first key to remember is that nobody should make money from you until they make money for you first. If you can remember this single point, you’ll protect yourself from all the major scams on the market, targeting navie screenwriters.
Many novice screenwriters are afraid that someone will steal their idea. While this happens, registering your screenplay with the Writer’s Guild can provide you with evidence that you had the idea first. Paying for an additional copyright on your screenplay with the government further cements your story idea and characters as your sole intellectual property. If someone does steal your idea after you’ve registered your script and copyrighted it, you’ll have a firm legal foundation for getting the money you’re owed (and maybe much more).
The real scams targeting screenwriters aren’t people stealing your ideas, but people giving you false hope and taking your money while giving you nothing in return. The simplest scam is a fake agent who requests a “reading fee” or offers to edit your screenplay for a fee to make it more marketable.
Your agent should be focused on finding a market for your screenplay, not taking fees to edit and read them. If you need outside help, hire a script doctor to criticize your work, but no agent should charge you a fee. Agents must only make their money when they sell your script, never before.
Many “agents” who ask for upfront fees do nothing but get rich off such upfront fees while never selling a single screenplay. The scam is to give you false hope and separate you from your money. Not only will this waste you money, but more importantly, it will waste your time as well.
Stick with Writer’s Guild agencies. These agencies make their money selling scripts, not reading or evaluating them. As a result, these agents are most interested in selling great scripts, but conversely extremely hard to contact since they can’t waste their time with amateurish scripts handwritten or lacking normal screenwriting formatting. As a rule of thumb, if an agency is hard to reach, they’re probably legitimate. If an agency is too easy to reach, they may or may not be legitimate, so watch out.
Just remember the number one rule. Never pay money upfront. If you stick by this rule, you’ll never get fleeced by a scam artist (although you could still get fleeced by a deceitful agent). When there’s money involved, everyone has to watch out for themselves.