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BPS 146: How to Succeed as a Screenwriter with Thomas Dever

Today on the show we have head of writer success at Coverfly, Thomas Dever. Thomas has been helping screenwriters for years. I wanted to have him on the show to discuss what he’s seeing in the film business, from a street level.

Thomas works with all the major agencies, top end producers and managers. If anyone knows what Hollywood is looking or he’d be the one.

We also discuss how screenwriters can better position themselves in the marketplace, debunk a few myths many screenwriters believe and much more.

Enjoy my conversation with Thomas Dever.

Right-click here to download the MP3

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Alex Ferrari 0:00
This episode is brought to you by Bulletproof Script Coverage, where screenwriters go to get their scripts read by Top Hollywood Professionals. Learn more at covermyscreenplay.com I'd like to welcome to the show Thomas Dever. How're you doing, Thomas?

Thomas Dever 0:15
I am doing well. Thanks so much for having me.

Alex Ferrari 0:17
Oh, man, thanks for coming on the show, man. You know, you and I have been working together in a in a way for a while now. Because you guys work. You work with coverfly, who works with me on bulletproof script coverage? And why this hasn't happened earlier? I have no idea. So I'm glad you're here. Now we're going to talk all things about the business and how to, you know, I hope that you have all the answers, Thomas, because all of the answers because, you know, there's a lot of screenwriters listening right now who want to know how to make it. And I was told, you know, so we're gonna get into this.

Thomas Dever 0:52
No pressure.

Alex Ferrari 0:54
But how did you get started in the business?

Thomas Dever 0:57
Oh, I mean, I feel like I've got a pretty usual story that I grew up in the Midwest and film industry was just this mythical thing way out on the West Coast. And pretty much as soon as I finished undergrad, I packed up my stuff and moved out without really kind of any clue of what I was gonna do, how it was gonna work. Just like I think as soon as I realized, oh, people like actually do this for a living. And these are actual, like businesses, and I can work at them. Just kind of that was all I wanted to do, you know, started internship to then reading with a production company that had first look studio deal. So we're really fortunate to get that was my crash course on development and coverage and everything that goes into a film before it gets made. And then from there, I started working for a producer that was working on a Fox Searchlight film. So then, that was my crash course on how a film actually gets made. And then after that, I think everybody was kind of telling me, you know, you really got to work at the agencies, the agencies is what you do, that's kind of the way that you get into it. I interviewed at two of them, I won't say which scared the hell out of me, like, genuinely, the interviewer scared the hell out of me. I remember walking out in my, like, nicest suit that I could find and telling the HR person like, Yeah, I think you can take my name off the list, I don't think because I a little too thin skinned and little to reset from the Midwest. So then, yeah, so then I just kind of, I think I use the Verba, mid 20s my way around around the industry for a little bit of producing some things continuing to sort of work and freelance capacity taught at a film school at one point, before eventually finding my way to this, you know, this little world where we found each other, which, you know, the competition and the coverage space. And truly, I went into it, thinking, you know, I remember the scripts that I would write coverage on at the production company with the with the studio deal, and like, they weren't great. They really, I remember thinking, being a professional screenwriter is very attainable, based on me samples. And so when I went into the competition, I was expecting, like, Microsoft Word documents and typos and incoherent stories. And I started reading for them. And it was like, Oh, this is, this is really good. And this one's really good. And this writer is amazing. And these writers are every bit as talented like, what, what's like my brain couldn't process. And I think that's where it all sort of clicked to me of the like, all at once the sort of barriers to entry, not necessarily being your skill sets, or your quality of your writing or your dedication or your discipline, it's all of these other sorts of things, you know, be it geographic or socio economic, or, you know, you know, there's these sort of cliches of who you know, in the industry. And then I think the the rest is history kind of just really dedicated to this competition space. And then ultimately, the the platform that became cover fly, and, and creating those opportunities and providing that level of access and insight and resources to the writers that, you know, weren't fortunate enough to just have that readily available.

Alex Ferrari 4:33
What was what's so fascinating thing a lot of screenwriters don't understand this, they think that good writing and good screenplays are are unicorns, where, I mean, you've read 1000s of scripts, probably in your career. I've read a ton of scripts over the years and I've read some stuff from really accomplished screenwriters, people who have published like, have produced screenplays, some of them even with Some Oscar nominations, I've read some of these scripts, and they can't get them financed. They can't, they can't get them in. And then it just like, it's disheartening. I'm like, wait a minute, this thing is sitting on someone's shelf for the last 10 years. It is amazing. It's one of the best scripts I've ever written. And no one's financing this with with talent attached. And I'm like, What? What is going on, let alone the unknown scripts that I've read from screenwriters who are so talented? And I'm like, why are some Why do some pop? And why do some don't? And it's, I mean, I'd love to ask that question to you. Like, why do and it's a hard question. Like, why does one guy or one gal make it? Oh, get the opportunity to door opens for them? And the other one doesn't? If their talent is at the same level, you know, is you know, give or take?

Thomas Dever 5:49
Sure. Yeah, I mean, it's a it's a strange thing, right? I love a good craft panel or lecture. And I love like craft is undoubtedly more fun than the business. But the business considerations are what are deciding it? Because like, of course they are, you know, that this is a, you've brought commerce into it. And these are, these are companies that are distributing projects. And that doesn't mean that they're all Philistines that hate art. It just means that there's their considerations and what happens here, other than simply what is on the page, and I think that you can find a ton of examples of those of projects that were, you know, not in demand, and then you know, wait a few years, and suddenly they they are and your script that everyone was passing on is is aligns with that. Because the one thing I would say to your question is, you can't like so much of it is out of your control, like so much of it is out of your control. I don't know anybody that can write fast enough to either anticipate or accommodate like the trends, which of course, you're going to be changing on a regular basis. And they also don't know if I've met a screenwriter that can pander, you know, that can write something just because they think it's popular, and not really have

Alex Ferrari 7:16
It's too hard, it's too hard.

Thomas Dever 7:18
I recycle the cliche that like, Look, if it wasn't fun for you to write, it's really not going to be fun for me to read, watch or watch, or watch, right. And I think anybody can see through that. So really, I think our approach to it, you know, if you sort of consider whether your goal is getting staffed on a series, or signing with representation, or getting your project option, or sold, like the last step of that is a decision maker reading it and responding to the material. And there's nothing that you can do to make that happen. Like there's literally nothing that you can do, they're either going to like it or they're not. And so if you accept that, like the final stage of this, you have zero control over, it sort of puts in perspective, put your energy towards the things that you can control, right, which is the material that you're putting out the putting out the best possible version of it networking, creating those opportunities, getting in front of those decision makers, I guess, to increase the odds of responding to it and increasing the odds of this scenario that you have no control over. Because I would say the two the two most common things that I have seen in the sort of writers that quote unquote, make it which is maybe like a separate discussion of what making it. But the two most common things that I've seen is one, they they just they worked their ass off, like they truly just went when I meet the sort of more six most successful or busiest writers or highest level writers that I know. It's like, oh, hey, what have you been up to? And they're like, Well, I just did a draft of this feature. And I'm doing a polish on this treatment. And I'm also going out with this other thing, and that's just in like the past couple of weeks, you know, that is just you have to crank out the material and and it is just, um, it's a really the discipline and the dedication to it. And then the other tree is just a clear focus, like a really clear kind of focus on what their strengths are, what their goals are, what they want to do, what they're good at. And this kind of on this knack for not ever getting knocked off of that, that that not having a sort of like 10 step plan that goes to hell, if Step Two doesn't go as you thought it was going to that is just like, Yeah, I'm going to be a staff writer and oh, this didn't pan out. So I'm going to try this pathway and getting an opportunity that's not like a literal one to one of what they're trying to do, but seeing like, Okay, here's the parts of this that can move me towards my goal. So that's what I'm going to get out of this opportunity. Um, and and so that that's the closest thing that I can sort of I Identify in terms of commonality.

Alex Ferrari 10:02
Yeah. And again that that I love that you said that what is the definition of success? And so many screenwriters think it's getting that million dollar spec script or $2 million spec script or, but, you know, I always look at success now and this is maybe just because I'm a bit older now it's just like, can I make can I? Can I make a living doing what I'd love to do? Can I keep my roof over my head? You know, food on the table, send my kids to school, you know, live a comfortable life. I don't need millions can I do what I love to do? And that's that's a disconnect for a lot of screeners because they're sold so often only they're sold the lottery ticket. I always use the term lottery ticket mentality. They're sold, you know, and it goes back to Shane Black and Joe Astor house back in the 90s. When they were pulling in two, three $4 million. A picture or a script? Do you know your story? Do you know that Do you know the the story? I have to tell I haven't sold the story on the show?

Thomas Dever 11:02
I don't. I don't know just to that like what you're gonna say that like the industry that Blake Snyder describes and save the cat was just kind of like popping off ideas. Oh, yeah. Like that's the industry that I want to work in because that's dope

Alex Ferrari 11:02
God that was it was seeing at the moment. No, it's great. There was a story I heard from from a friend of mine of a house Shane Black and his lot that movie Last Action Hero which has got his the record 4 million you got 4 million for that. He Do you know that he sold that? That script off of a cocktail napkin idea.

Thomas Dever 11:43
It rings a bell. It sounds like I read this in our Grantland article way back when it was

Alex Ferrari 11:49
I just heard this. I was at afff the other day and I was talking to somebody at the bar and I know that I know that. You know, I know. It's it's a reputable person I'm talking to so they're like, this is how it happened. Apparently, the agent of Shane said, Hey, do you have an idea for a movie? And he's like, Yeah, I have a great idea for movie goes. Write it on this cocktail napkin. He wrote these logline on the COC that no script logline on the on the cocktail basket and then that agent called every studio head in Hollywood and said, I've got Shane Black's next script on a cocktail napkin. And you need to come to my office, and you can read it in my office. And wait a minute, and he goes, You can't send anybody it has to be you. So all the six or seven major studio heads all came down to the office read it and there was a bidding war off of over a lot of the cocktail napkin logline and ended up being 4 million for Last Action Hero, which then of course did not do well. And Shane Shane had a little rough time for the next decade. Until he came back.

Thomas Dever 13:01
We got we got nice guys, eventually.

Alex Ferrari 13:03
We know what brought him back was kiss kiss, bang, bang.

Thomas Dever 13:06
There we go. Sorry.

Alex Ferrari 13:07
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang brought him back.

Thomas Dever 13:09
It's like 20 25 years,

Alex Ferrari 13:11
But he was out when he was out for about I think it was about 14 years. Like he was like he couldn't get arrested. He couldn't get arrested. It was serious. But then he finally got Kiss Kiss Bang Bang made and then that launched him back into the good graces. But that was an I use that story as a as an example of the insanity. That I think that was the height of the the the being drunk. I think it was just being drunk on the spec scripts situations back then.

Thomas Dever 13:39
Sure. Yeah. I mean, well, that stories. That story is way sexier, right? Because super sexy if you're if you're sitting at home because writing is such an isolating thing, right? It's literally you you in the screen and the keyboard it is it's so low and some that I feel like it's more romantic to picture just coming up with this once in a generation idea and then the millions of dollars based off of that. I think that's maybe a more enticing story to hear then just yeah, you just like you work your ass off every day and you take these sort of progression these progressive steps with with your career, and you sort of grind your way up to that's

Alex Ferrari 14:22
Not sexy at all. That's not I don't want to hear that. Thomas. I want to hear the cocktail napkin story times I don't want to hear I have to work hard for this.

Thomas Dever 14:31
No, and that's I mean, that's the thing is it's and you know, even with even with that, I feel like it's not like it's not like they pulled shame. Blacks name out of a hat right? You know, he he was already exactly 10 to 15 years before that of the of the grind to get to it. But no, I absolutely and I think that that is the I understand the allure of thinking like that but but the truth is, or at least the more common thing that we're seeing as he is just, it's a job like anything else. And it's difficult, but

Alex Ferrari 15:05
You know, and so I'll give you another another story that might illustrate what we're talking about when Shane was passing around Lethal Weapon. Every studio passed on Lethal Weapon, every studio passing Lethal Weapon. It was a young from my understanding was a young Chris Moore, who is the Oscar nominated producer of Goodwill Hunting and Project Greenlight did all that stuff. He read it and said, This is great. And he forced it up the ladder and got someone to finally take a real look at it again and got it financed. But it was passed on everybody passed it because it was such a Buddy Cops were essentially the new the buddy cop really came in with in 48 hours. And that was only probably a couple years prior to that. So it wasn't a thing yet. And people passed on it. So it was just like he had a champion. And then of course the talent was there. And then everything else blew up. Yeah. And

Thomas Dever 16:01
I think that that kind of goes back to it. Right, which is what I was just saying a few minutes ago though, like, hey, the last step of this you have no control over that was even a script as incredible as lethal weapon. It's getting to exactly that or just not responding to it. But you keep you keep sending it out. You keep sending it out. You keep working on it until it finds the one and you just find that one champion, and that's really kind of all you need sometimes.

Alex Ferrari 16:24
Well, yeah, I mean, finding that finding that champion and finding we all need champions, everybody needs a champion. Spielberg had a champion, you know, Nolan, Shane, everybody, all these guys have champions. You know, if it wasn't for Steven Soderbergh, Nolan wouldn't have gotten I think was insomnia, which then of course, got him Batman. And then the rest is history. Right? Yeah, you know, so but you need someone to just go, Hey, it's okay. But you got to keep grinding. And that's the thing that people the screenwriters specifically don't understand is the grind. It's the grinding day in day out, do the work. I think the other thing is too, I always tell I always tell screenwriters this that if you if you have if you've been working on a screenplay for seven years, you're not a professional screenwriter anymore. You should read. You need to have 10. At seven years. Yes, like 510 screens?

Thomas Dever 17:16
Yeah, I mean, even to like what you were saying earlier, though, because I think that's one of the things that like we so cover fi with, we have a dedicated to you and people and we offer free consulting for screenwriters. And that's whether you're a professional screenwriter that's hit a, you know, hit a rut or you're just an emerging screenwriter, we'll you know, we'll consult and we'll help kind of come up with a focus and a plan moving forward. The first question I asked everybody is, what's the dream like genuinely what's, what is the dream if I could stop, not like, what you think you're supposed to be doing based on trends, or what you think is realistically attainable? Given your circumstances? Like genuinely, if I could, like sprinkle pixie dust or snap my fingers? What would you be doing? Because, like, let's figure out a way to do that, you know, that if your dream is to just make indie films that you write direct produce, that's an awesome dream, let's figure out how to make that happen, you're probably not going to make that happen by cranking out pilot samples and trying to get staffed in a room because you think that that is like the more viable pathway. And you're gonna do a lot of work and probably be unhappy. Right? Even with that your goal is to write and direct your own. And like, Look, if you can find a way through that, that it's like, okay, I'll use this to ultimately get back to the goal. Do that, but it's, you know, do Do you know, like, what you were saying, then like, finding a way to be happy with it. And I think if your goal is to just sell finance and make your own projects, like, do it, instead of living up to this, like that the only measurement of success is selling studio specs or something, it's, you know, that's, that's some person's dream, but that doesn't have to be yours.

Alex Ferrari 19:06
Right! No, and I think that what you said it was so wonderful, is being happy doing what you're doing. Because, I mean, I always wanted my goal, my dream, if you were gonna ask me that back when I was 22, I want to direct feature films. That's all I want to do. I want to direct feature films, but I jumped into post production, because that was a way to make a living. And I was very grateful for that. But I was probably in there a lot longer than I should have. And I should have really fought a lot harder to get out of just doing editing or color grading or post supervising or the other stuff that I was doing to make a living. To the point where I got so unhappy. I was bitter I was angry. I was I always tell people to angry and bitter story which anytime I speak, I speak in front of audience. How many people here know an angry and bitter screenwriter? And then everyone raise their hands and like if you didn't raise your hand, you're the angry and bitter screenwriter everybody else knows. So So But it's because you become angry and like that person's like, Oh, I'm working in, I'm working in a writers room. I've been pounding out these pilots. It's horrible. I'm on like this fourth or fifth level down, show somewhere in, you know, in the middle of the country or whatever. And I hate doing what I'm doing. But I what I really want to do is what you just said, I want to write, I want to write direct produce my indirect in detail, because

Thomas Dever 20:27
That's, that's the thing. I think that there's this. I don't know, there's this perception that, gosh, we're getting like, so philosophical here. And it's like, good perception and money is gonna make you happy, like genuinely, post people do pretty well. And if you're on top level projects,

Alex Ferrari 20:44
I did. I did. Right? I did fine. I did, I kept I, my, my, I was good. For a long time. The post, I can't say anything negative about it. But I wasn't happy doing it. Just just as the same thing. If someone paid me a million dollars a year to, to, you know, push a broom around all day, I, the money would be great. But at a certain point, you just like, This is not what I want to do. This is not why I'm here. And now you start asking the question, well, why am I here? Am I here to make money? Am I here to be happy? Now we're really getting deep into philosophy.

Thomas Dever 21:21
Because that's, I mean, usually, it's funny that we're going through like, the progression is like we're deconstructing a cover of like consultation calls. Yeah, another question that I asked, right, like you and I were saying before we fired it up, like we're crazy, right? This, oh, this is insanity. And you know, that I, I admire the conviction that I had in my early 20s, that I'm just like, all pack all my possessions and just drive to a state 2000 miles away. But like those, you know, asking writers it's, I asked what I? What is the like, what do you sort of see coming up in everything that you write, and not just like a format and genre, but like genuinely like what themes? What like philosophical or stylistic consistencies? Like, what are your projects like, and what are they about? followed up with? Like, why is that because this is not something that you just think about, or something that you're interested in. This is something that you are compelled to express in the form of feature screenplays and pilots and shorts. And, and usually, if we're, you know, talking with you, not just that you're doing it pretty well. So like, where that's coming from somewhere there is coming from some sort of innate need on your part to express this. And and so I think that puts in full scope, just how, I don't know just like how much passion is behind this, that, that if you're trying to put it towards something that your heart isn't in how much it is going to take out of you and why it is going to make you and just sort of suck your soul to the point that you were talking about? Because this is a I don't know, this isn't like a job that you can just like, Okay, I'm done. At the end of the day, you're playing, you know, heart soul, and you're into this.

Alex Ferrari 23:08
Could you imagine if you could just check out? Could you imagine if you just clock out at five, like okay, I don't I'm not a filmmaker anymore. I'm not a screenwriter anymore today. Oh, thank God, let me just let me just let me just get a beer and drink and just chillin. I think about anything anymore. No, it's a, I've called it a disease. It is a disease, that you get bitten by the bug, and that bug. And once you're bitten by the bug, it will never ever, ever go away. It can go dormant for decades. But eventually it will surface in one way, shape, or form. And I do this because I've talked to 65 year olds, who are seven year olds who's like, I'm retired now, what I really want to do is direct and it happens. And there's really, I don't even know what other industry there is that that has that kind of insanity. You know, like, look, I did the same thing you did. I did a little bit later in life. I didn't do it in my mid 20s it in my early 30s, where I packed up, moved cross country to California New to people. And this was my plan. My plan was I had to rent an apartment in North Hollywood, where one room would be where we slept in the other room would be where I put up my editing system. And I was just gonna show up. Now mind you, I had I had a decade of stuff behind me before I showed up but even then, I just for whatever reason, I started working. And I started working I started working and it worked out but it could very easily crash and burn.

Thomas Dever 24:33
Oh yeah. I mean, it's the it's the same thing. But I think that like like you said, I mean it sort of goes back to the Hey, you have this like unwavering focus of what you're going to do and you don't have the sort of steps figured out but you're just really not going to be denied. Because yeah, because your heart is in it to that point. And it is always fascinating, you know, to find so many people that are really successful in other fields that this is like a hobby for them or this Something that they're pursuing. And this is, you know, I, but that's I don't know, that's what kind of makes it. That's definitely what makes it so cool. You know, I think of all the I mean, I tell people all the time, I think I've just got like one of the greatest jobs, that I have all the ways that you could kind of get up and earn a living and pay your bills, I get to get up every day, and with an entire company full of people do something that we'd like, genuinely truly care about, and get to be with people that love the same things I love. And that's, that's what's so fun about stuff like this, you know, you were saying, you know, getting together at Austin Film Festival, we just, we kind of find one another, you know, there's this this this little like family that seems to emerge around the screenwriting community.

Alex Ferrari 25:48
Yeah, absolutely. And without question this, I went, when I started helping people with my podcasts and with my websites and things like that, my life changed. And I think I'm blessed just like you, I get to do what I love to do on a daily basis. And while I pursue my own projects, and I pursue my own, you know, books and stories and other things, that things I like to do. Now, one thing that a lot of screenwriters don't really get is the absolute necessity of networking. And being able to make those connections, but make them in a very organic way is opposed to Hey, man, I hear you're a producer. Here's my script, you know, yeah, like, I just met you, like, you know, it's like, it's ridiculous.

Thomas Dever 26:39
Yeah, I mean, I think that there's a I don't want to generalize writers, and I'll say this, that I used to be the exact same way, I think that there's, it's not that networking just makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Because let's let's just call networking, what it is, which is talking to strangers, it's, you know, it is starting a conversation with a stranger and, and, and putting pressure on yourself to build a connection in a short amount of time. And as a person that like I, my undergrad degree is in English, I sat in the back, I spent most of college just reading, you know, so Billy, like, yes, going and talking to people that I didn't know was like, My worst fear at some point in time. Um, so I think that there's a reluctance to do it. And that's what kind of fosters this idea of like, Oh, it's just, you just have to know this person. And they just give these jobs to their friends and things like that, when it's like he like, there's certainly a degree of that in the industry. But there's like, to put in perspective that if you're an exec, or producer, a showrunner or someone around those people, you're going to get a stack of like, 200 scripts for one spot, maybe, and they're all going to be good. Yes, it's very common that you break the tie, so to speak with the opinion of a person that you trust, or a person that you know, or a person that you like, or a person that you just, you know, is not going to let you down in that situation. So take that for whatever it's worth in the scope of networking. Um, but to what you were saying, yes, for some reason, the like, sentiment around networking seems to be, I'm just pitching any stranger that like, returns eye contact with you. And I feel like there is, um, you've all been at a networking event, regardless of how big it is, where there's just a person there. That's just kind of on like a loop of just like, they give their project and their spiel to this person. And then they give their project their spiel to this person. And it's like, I think, surely someone listening to this right now is like, like, they're feeling this, like chills down.

Alex Ferrari 28:50
They're cringing. They're cringing. Yeah,

Thomas Dever 28:52
You know what it is like to be on the other side of that? Oh, like, yeah, don't don't be that person. To me, I always say, go in with questions go in with learn about who this person is, what they do, what's important to them, what they're working on right now? Do they have any problems that you can solve? Do they have any projects that you can help on and like trust that if they're working on something where there is a world for you to collaborate, it's going to come up, I asked him those questions, that if you're, you have this amazing horror features back. And you start Hey, so what do you do? What sort of projects do you work on? What types of movies do you like? What types of material do you respond to? And they start saying, God, I just love horror films. And we've got to find the answer. And we're trying to find something like this that fits your project. That is such a better way to bring up your material and mention it to them versus going in and just being like, I've got a horror feature. This is what it's about, and you should read it and here's that and it's like, I work in TV. Why are you yelling at me? You know, also a screenwriter, I don't know what you want me to do.

Alex Ferrari 30:04
And I was like walk. It's like walking up to Jason Blum and going, Hey, I've got this dog safe Christmas script. That's, I think you'll be perfect for Jason. No. And, and the funny thing is, I, this is always infuriating. I get cold emails about pitching projects. To me, I have no power. I can't finance your script. I'm not looking for projects to produce. All you got to do is listen to three or four of my podcasts or just read a couple articles and you'll understand who I am. And people are just so desperate that they just start throwing things out and it just gets deleted automatically. But you start like emailing, you know, you get an IMDb Pro account, you just start emailing people you script. That is not the way to do it. The shotgun approach doesn't work, you've got to be more searchable.

Thomas Dever 30:54
Well, yeah, and that's that I mean, we take the same approach because we do console. I mean, the thing is, like, am I going to pretend that queries have a high rate of success? No, they do not. However, we've worked with writers that have 100% found success with queries, because I think that there's a, there's a good way to do it. And so if you, you know, so much of what we do is like, um, one be really concise and articulate, get get through who you are, why you're emailing them, and what the ask is as quickly as possible. Because if you're emailing a person that works in the entertainment industry, there's a good chance that they have like 200 emails in their inbox. And if they open it up, and it is five paragraphs of boilerplate, like even if you are a dead center bullseye of what they're looking for right now. They just don't have time to do that. And they're going to delete it. Um, and so like what you were saying with it, it's always like, here's where I am, here's what I do. Here's where I'm, like, emailing you, I'd love it. If you know, if it's a fit, I'd love for you to take a look at my script, if not no worries, knowing that most people are not going to respond. But you might have a person that is looking exactly for that. And you're respectful and got to the point. And they're like, Yeah, sure, send the script. At this point, they've requested your material, versus it's the equivalent of like, put again, put yourself in their shoes and use common sense of like attaching the script in the initial email. How would you feel if a person walked up to you on the street? And was like, Hey, I heard that you can help me spend two hours reading this script and giving me your thoughts on it. Your your response? 100% would be it's awfully presumptuous to just assume that I'm going to do this and yet that's kind of the common practice of queries. Right?

Alex Ferrari 32:38
Right. It's, it's it's a fairly insane. It's insanity. Man, it really is. And I also wanted to ask you this, because I actually had this question from a screenwriter the other day, should a screenwriter sign a submission release form, if they're submitting to a producer or a company or something like that?

Thomas Dever 33:01
There, the thing is, like, they're their common practice, you know, that they're commonplace. So don't think that you're signing your life away, you know, I guess read it and make sure you're not signing your life away. But I am guessing that somewhere in all of them, there's going to be a cause that it's like, Look, if you a year to five years from now see that we have a project that looks really similar to something that you submitted to us, like, you can't sue us. Um, and the reason that's the case is because you can imagine what companies would be opening themselves up to if they didn't do that, but if you, you know, they're already I think, getting sued all the time from people trying to claim that but of every script that was submitted to them that any line or story or beat or commonality that like appeared in a project that was later produced, that's why they're doing it. Um, at the same time. I, I don't think that you have any problem in signing it. I think that there's no, I don't know anybody that is it looking for an amazing script. And if they read your script and love it, and really respond to it, they'll work with you. Because I think that there's a perception among writers or a fear that, oh, they're going to read it and like my idea and steal it. And it's just like, I don't know, I don't know if I've really seen that. I don't really know why they why they necessarily would do that. But at the same time, I totally get where the fear is coming from.

Alex Ferrari 34:28
Yeah, I mean, I've had heard of some people's ideas getting stolen or read. And when I say stolen, it's more like, they took a couple of kernels. And sure, all of a sudden now they have something new. I mean, I remember when we were, this is years ago when I had a script floating around that got to Sony. And I said they asked for it because they seen one of my one of my films. And I said I submitted it to them, and they're like, Oh, we're gonna pass because we have something similar in theme and then two years later, that movie came out, which was not, not anything like anything like my script at all. But there were ideas and themes there. So you have to protect yourself as

Thomas Dever 35:13
I guess what I, you should 100% Protect yourself, you should, it's one of the biggest things that I think is valuable about a platform like cover fly, because you, you know, we have the writer platform where you can host your projects and your bio. And then we have an industry facing portion of it, where they can search for writers and projects. But we really closely monitor the activity on that side of it. And so if somebody downloads your script, we have a timestamp of when they download it, and this isn't necessarily a commercial for the data protection that is cover fly. It's it's to drive home the point that like, yes, you should be precious with your material. And and I think with a submission release form, you're passing it along through a friend or having them request it is always going to be the better option. So I would advise that I'm with it. I will say I'm by no means am I an attorney, and you should always check with an attorney, absolutely lightly taking my advice. The consensus is you cannot copyright an idea, only the execution of an idea. Um, because I do think that like most screenwriters, I know have had like an idea that they were super excited about. And then they see like a trailer they read in the trades and idea that is really similar. And I'm not going to pretend that that doesn't just like it happens all to be

Alex Ferrari 36:34
All the time. Are you kidding me? When I saw when I saw clerks by Kevin Smith, I was working in a video store. I'm like, son of them. I got I had this idea. Why didn't I just execute it? Well, they're you

Thomas Dever 36:50
No, truly and so I'm I get it, I feel the pain of writers in that situation. What I will say though, is that I don't want to say that ideas are cheap, but like Good ideas are good ideas are easier to come by than the execution of good ideas. Truly, um, I think most screenwriters I know come up with like five blockbusters in the shower and on their way to work in the morning, you know, it's just like, you're coming up with these ideas. And really, the tough part is an executing it. Um, so as tough as that can be, it sort of goes back to what we were saying earlier of like, you gotta be cranking out material. Because, man, if you're just kind of hinging all your hopes on one project, you are kind of opening yourself up to that, right? You are you are sort of opening yourself up to like, oh, I have to make this one thing go versus like, really utilizing your talents to give yourself multiple opportunities?

Alex Ferrari 37:44
Yeah, it and I wanted to ask you as well and kind of put this to rest for so many screenwriters out there. This is my opinion. I'd love to hear yours. I get asked all the time. How do you protect your screenplay? I go you register with the the Library of Congress. That's the only one that matters. You could do it with a W GA. That's nice. But the WJ does not hold up in court, the Library of Congress, right? That's the only one that you have the boom and is that and you can and again, you can't do the idea. But you can do the actual screenplay, right? The only way I know of and that I always recommend? Well,

Thomas Dever 38:21
Sure. I mean, and that's I mean, if that's, um, you're probably gonna do that, right? If your film is moving in any sort of production, right? Because at some point, unless you're just kind of shooting the project yourself, somebody else is going to need to own the script. And they're well, halfway there. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 38:40
Once it gets into production, that's you have to have that that's part of a chain of title. But prior to that, whether you're pitching and things like that, to make you feel better, as a screenwriter, you want to have that attention, spend 35 bucks, 40 bucks, get a cover, and don't mail it to yourself, that doesn't work. That's that's a myth. Don't mail as yourself,

Thomas Dever 38:58
Because that's the thing. I think that like what you said there is it's making yourself feel better and giving yourself the peace of mind to know that you're protecting this version of this story on otherwise, I think it's always good to have a paper trail. Right? And and because I know that getting, getting an attorney can be prohibitively expensive for a lot of emerging screenwriters. Why it's just it's kind of like cover your bases to to as much as is necessary for it. You know, if you're in the sort of like talking stages of a project, and there's no real money on the table, you probably don't need a 15 page contract. Right? It says, like to find terms of why, you know, but I think always just be really clear. And I think this goes into a lot of what we've been saying whether it's like working with a producer with a collaborator, especially when you sign with representation, because that's a whole separate discussion we get with writers is just be really clear about being on the same page of expectations. Because I think that that's where a lot of problems come from right which is with I think a lot of writers with producers are being afraid of getting taken advantage of or afraid of their material being mishandled, which is why, you know, before you embark on a working relationship established, if the expectation is like, Okay, we want to, we want you to we want to develop this with you, does that mean one draft and a Polish? Or does that mean like infinite rewrites until I'm happy with it over some non specific period of time? Because if you think one thing and they think another, the project's kind of doomed before it even gets started, and same applies to working with, with a manager or an agent.

Alex Ferrari 40:37
Which brings me to my next question, the agent and manager conundrum, where there's so many screenwriters think that all you need is Ari Gold from entourage, and they represent you, they're going to get you the million dollars, they're going to get your career and so it and then people are like, how can I get an agent? How can I get a manager? I'm like, and I always asked him, How many scripts do you have? I have, I have one and a couple of ideas. I'm like, You're not ready for an agent. And, and I've known writers who won the Nichols, who placed in the Nichols who have placed in multiple big and they get signed, and they go nowhere, because the management is like, should I push Shane Black? Or should I? Should I push Bob? Who I just I'm talented. But what's gonna be how am I gonna make? What am I gonna make the most money from? Where's my money? Where's my ROI? And ROI? You know, make the most sense. So can you please kind of demystify the whole Agent Manager thing for people?

Thomas Dever 41:41
It is on doubtedly, the most popular question that we get. And I don't I actually don't know what's even a close second, it is always how do I get a manager? Right? That is the that is the the holy grail of emerging screenwriters. And I get it, right, because I think that the perception is, I think you're sort of feeling that frustration of being on the outside looking in the lack of access, the lack of opportunity, and like, yes, a manager, an agent can solve that. But if there is this perception that like, okay, great, I signed with a manager crack my knuckles, I put my feet up, and I just wait for the deals to roll in. That's definitely like not the case, right? Like it is you're going to be facing a lot of the sort of same struggles, and even the writers that we do know, with representation are still having to grind and get to that next step. Um, I can't remember, I can't remember who said this to me, because I would give credit if I could recall, but I think we made the comparison of like, view view, getting a manager like having an accountant, like, does your career

Alex Ferrari 42:52
Do you have money?

Thomas Dever 42:53
Does your career necessitate having a manager right now. And in the same way that it's like, if you've just got like your 1099, and your W two, as you can probably file your own taxes, right, and you can, you can get your own opportunities and develop your material and build that. But if your career gets to a point where you need a wrap, it's just a much clearer kind of pathway, right, and getting to a point where you need a manager and need an agent. Um, and that's not to say that people don't sign with representation very earlier, and they're very early in their career, but it's usually much more common that you've built up a degree of sort of, like momentum and opportunity in the managers not, I'm just kind of picking somebody starting somebody from scratch. Um, because I think with, you know, a couple of things. One, think about it from the perspective of the manager, to go back to the queries, we've seen a lot of writers that approach reps, and the consensus is, hey, you should sign me as a client, because I really want a manager. And it's like, that doesn't like what does that do? When I mean anything to them? Right? Like, this is their job. This is their livelihood, that yes, it is art. And it's passion, and it's emotion, and it's this thing that they deeply care about, but this is also their livelihood, this is how they pay their bills. And their job is to assemble a roster of clients and projects that are going to make money that they collect a commission on. So it might not be the sole determinant in their decision, but it's going to be a portion of it. Um, so if you you know, if you understand that, yes, they need to respond to the material, but also have this idea of where your career is going to look right and sort of have these opportunities and what working together is going to look like I'm getting to the part that you're working writer in that conversation. Because the other I think it goes back to the sense of indie filmmaking, which I special place in my heart, my heart is always in indie filmmaking, and will be an indie features. The economics of it don't always make sense to me. Have a rep, because if I'm a rep, and I get 10% of your projects and your deals, and you make a low budget feature, let's just even say 100 grand, yeah, 100 grand, right. And so you, if you're making any money as the writer director, you know, it's, let's say you get 15 grand, right, which is right now, there's no way that you would take 15% of the budget, let's say that you get by 10 grand, right? Five grand, and you're probably working on their project for like, at least a year. That means that their commission is $500 for one year, that even if they love you love the project care about the material, it just is really tough to dedicate any behind any job, anything right to $500 over 12 months, versus something that's going to yield that but I don't, I don't want to taint the perception because I really, I think so much about it too, is just finding that right fit is finding the person that gets you gets your material gets this sort of vision for your career, and you can work with and building that relationship. At the same time. Don't underestimate your own ability to generate those opportunities. We come across writers all the time that have gotten their projects sold that have gotten themselves staffed on series that have episode credits that are getting sort of meetings with major studios and streamers. And there's no really one way to do it. It's just a lot of networking and leveraging relationships and sharing their material and maximizing those relationships that getting themselves to that point, the discussion of pursuing representation becomes so much easier, right? Because if you're, you're kind of painting this picture of like, Hey, here's what my career is going to look like. It's much easier when it's tangible. And you're working in a writers room versus just off of like the samples, if that makes sense.

Alex Ferrari 46:56
It Yeah, it does make sense. And I want to ask you as well, so many screenwriters will walk into a room, you know, like, let's say, let's say perfect scenarios, they get in manager manager gets them a meeting at a studio, because they they had one sample script that they loved. And I like this guy's voice or like this guy's voice. Let's get him. Let's get him in. And let's have a meet. They come in like, Okay, what do we love this script? I can't produce this as it's unpredictable. What else do you have? Right? So that's the moment where a lot of deer in headlights because they're like, wait a minute, that took me three years to do. And I don't have any, I have three ideas. And if you have three ideas, you're pretty much dead in the water. Because everybody has ideas. Everybody in that room has ideas. But you can't produce an idea. You got to produce this grant. So how many scripts in your opinion is a good number two projects that you should walk into with a meeting like that, like real? Like real, real things?

Thomas Dever 47:54
Yeah, I mean, it's, um, I guess, two answers to that, like one, the idea thing is interesting, I guess I won't say but one of the more prestigious writing and directing fellowships, I've spoken to writers that have been through it, where the first couple of weeks is literally no writing, no development, just ideas. And they make you come up with a bunch of ideas, and then they throw them out and make you come up with new ideas. And speaking of the writers that have been through that program, they say, that is the most difficult part more so than notes and writing and rewriting because you're just, you're you're getting down to like the marrow of who am I as a creator? Like, what is my 25th idea? Or is it a new fresh idea, um, but I think that puts in perspective of just like the standard that you have to sort of hold yourself to as well as, like, um, I think after a certain point, you get good at generating those ideas, knowing it, um, to, to your question with it, you know, the two parts of it, I would say, the samples I, I think most people really want to see what you can do. And whether that is I would say at least two maybe, you know, if you've got like 15 It's sort of like oh man, this person just kind of like how like polished or any of these even are polished the perception of seeing 15 I think so. So at least two probably like three or four but but really the the more important thing is having a consistency and like what your voice what your talent is, what your perspective is and showing how it applies consistently but in different meetings, you know, there is no shortage in the world but especially in southern California have people that can write just a really excellent tight feature or one hour half hour pilot like that is not hard to come by. So if you're going in with like, oh, I can write a feature. You You know write write a horror feature writer like create. You're the one

Alex Ferrari 49:53
We've been waiting for you Bob. Poor Bob, Bob really has No clue.

Thomas Dever 50:02
But like truly is as sentimental as it sounds like what no one else literally no one else in the world has is how you tell this story, your respective your experiences, what you're bringing to the page. And as much as you can articulate that, as well as display that on the page, whether that's across four samples or two, whether it's across a, you know, one hour procedural and a thriller feature. I think that's kind of the key to it. And then within that meeting, yeah, that's every Gen ever, right, which is we love is the greatest thing ever, but it's not what we're making right now. So let's spend the next like 59 minutes figuring out what to talk about here. Um, and I think it goes back to what I was saying about networking, right, which is, if you don't make the effort to understand it, you should have done, you know, hopefully, you've done some research before the meeting. But if you don't make an effort to understand what is it that they're working on right now, what is it that they're developing? What is it that they're maybe struggling with? Or really looking for, or excited about? And what do I have that fits that? I think that's, again, it's a much easier discussion to have, because you, you know, what you have in your arsenal. And if they happen to be looking for this high concept project, that you've only kind of flushed out a little bit and maybe only have a treatment for, you can get to that by asking those questions. Whereas if you just fired off, oh, I've got like a comedy feature sample in this one hour, you're now like over three with them. Whereas you had this idea that they wanted to develop with you, if you could have just sort of like worked to that in the conversation. And that's kind of typically the advice we give for generals and things like that.

Alex Ferrari 51:47
That yes, the water bottle tour if you if you're lucky enough to go on the water bottle tour.

Thomas Dever 51:52
Now

Alex Ferrari 51:53
Now, it's a zoom tour water bottle, he announced the zoom to Yeah, bring your own bottle, your own Yeti, with you. Now, I'm gonna ask you few questions, ask all my guests. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Thomas Dever 52:10
Oh, my goodness, wherever? Um, I guess I'll give both I think I think in the film industry, it's just it's kind of seeing it for what it is. And I mean, that in the best sense, right? It's like, it's an industry industry, right? You know, and I think that anytime that you are asking people to do to give you money, and in some cases, a lot of money to make your project or to write a project, you do have to understand that there's a degree of business that goes into it. To recycle all my metaphors, they say, you know, Nike doesn't just like design a shoe and then put it on the shelves and hope that people buy it, there's, here's an entire presentation of why Nikes are cool, and why you should buy them and why they're better than other shoes. And that's why you sell them in like two cents. That's what you have to do as a screenwriter. And there's no substitute for excellent writing. And the writing always comes first. But I think the tough lesson is like, understanding the business circumstances that go into most decisions. But accepting that that's okay, that is something that you can use to your advantage. And that doesn't mean that you have to, I don't know, really, that it's all about the money that you can navigate it and, and understand that to your advantage. In life. I see like, you and I were talking before we started I just think like getting getting a little older, you like calmed down a little bit, I think is kind of trust that like things are gonna be okay, I had enough sort of like, one year, five year 10 year plans that just kind of like go out the window, perhaps none more spectacularly. Then in March of 2021, I, you know, have spent the past year and a half and counting at home. And I think that's really kind of informed the philosophy that we impart to writers, which is like, just remember what's important. Remember what the ultimate goal is, don't make it harder on yourself by like defining the steps along the way, as well as saying that you have to do it. There's no timeline on this. You know, there's, there's tons of people that break in in their early 20s in their mid 30s. or later, you know, just just have focused on what you're going to do and try and take steps towards that. That's, that's the best I've gotten in terms of a life philosophy.

Alex Ferrari 54:43
Fair enough. Fair enough. What are three screenplays every screenwriter should read?

Thomas Dever 54:51
Um, I'm going to go back to I'm thinking of my I'm thinking of when in my reader days when I was reading and reading it Kevin measures company it had already come out but I think that the screenplay for Little Miss Sunshine is just no. Brilliant it's like it's it's a it's a novel I didn't know if we can retroactively give it like a Pulitzer or something.

Alex Ferrari 55:22
No, it is it is. It is a brilliant it is a brilliant script and a brilliant film. Really excited

Thomas Dever 55:29
To just to just sort of have this really this like dark, quirky comedy that is this also deep exploration of Persia in philosophy that is like readily apparent on the first page and then perfectly executed for the rest of the script. That was the first one that came to mind. Um, I remember reading this script, this probably dates me but I remember reading the script for Crazy Stupid Love. Such a great script, also an a great script that when I read it, and I forget what draft I read, was like near identical to the film that they ended up producing it like down down to the like lines of down to like specific words of just sort of, I say that one not necessarily for like a philosophical or thematic of just like, This is what a produced screenplay looks like, this is a read the screenplay before I saw the film. And then I saw the film. And it was like, oh, that's like, verbatim that these guys just like got it up onto the screen. Um, and then the last one, I feel like I should give a shout out to a cover fly writer.

Alex Ferrari 56:40
Um, this is three of all time, so you don't have to feel

Thomas Dever 56:43
All time. So they're not. They're not whole. I mean, I guess it's prevalent. Now. I don't know how much it's changed. But again, from my like the last duel, which is finally coming out. I see that's a sort of put in perspective, like, there was some major talent attached to it when I read that script 10 years ago. And it is just coming out now. And I think it kind of made the rounds, then I'm just in the sense of like, I say that one to maybe just be cheesy and that it can. Sometimes it is like some really ageless people were on that script. And it still took 10 years, you know, it's just right. You never know, I'm so pumped. I'm so pumped to see it because it was amazing. And the fact that I think that's a testament to reading hundreds if not 1000s of screenplays since then that I still I still remember it. Um, and I don't know, I just gave myself goosebumps with it. Because there's, there is a there's what we love about it, right? That it's just all about building that connection with with the material that it does stick with you years and years after the fact.

Alex Ferrari 57:54
Thomas, it's been a pleasure talking to you, man, I know, we can continue talking for three hours. But yeah, I truly appreciate I know you have a young one that you're taking care of so and you're probably exhausted, and you're probably exhausted,

Thomas Dever 58:08
I've got a I have a two month old daughter. And so I've noticed that I just kind of start a sentence now. And it just I forget, I forget how I started it. And I just kind of go until I run out of steam. So hopefully your listeners and your viewers that this made this made sense and bearing with me. Um, no, I by all means I think before we run out of time, head over to cover fly Yes, get the account set up. Um, you know, that's always kind of the first step regardless of where you're at in your writing career, what you're looking to do, just by creating the profile completely free to do so we can find you and direct you to the resources that are that are most useful to what you're looking to do. And and our team will be able to support and one of those resources of course is is the coverage service that we were talking about beforehand

Alex Ferrari 58:59
Bulletproof script coverage Yeah, so i i Truly I truly appreciate you. Thank you for doing all the good work you're doing with screenwriters out there and helping them navigate this shark infested. You know, alligator snapping kind of world that is a fortunately but I do truly appreciate you man. Thank you again.

Thomas Dever 59:18
My pleasure!


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