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Howard Meibach author of Screenplay Sales Directory,

Interview with Howard Meibach

by: Kenna McHugh

Howard Meibach developed an informal network of writers and accumulated valuable information on the deals that were made. "Writers were asking me about the sales information I had. So, I figured why not give them this information."

Howard spent a year and a half and $5000 researching his book. He printed a few hundred copies, and sold the entire printing at a conference. Since then, the Spec Screenplay Sales Directory (ORDER IT NOW) has become the ever handy and vital reference guide for budding screenwriters.

Since his directory has grown in popularity, he doesn't rely on trade publications to get the coveted information. He goes to the source: agents, producers, and writers.

Howard also runs a website that gets over 8,000 visitors a month -- -- that every screenwriter should bookmark and be a frequent visitor.

I caught up with Howard where he was lecturing to the Northern California Writers and Artists, a large group of professional and amateur writers with diverse backgrounds from fiction and non-fiction to screenwriting.

Kenna: What was it like working with TV executive producer Michael Jaffe and what did you learn from that experience?

Howard: I worked for Michael Jaffe, who has produced a few dozen TV movies, including "First Do No Harm" with Meryl Streep and one of the "Long Island Lolita" movies.

Ok, so.... It was fun working in the TV movie business. I learned a lot of things by working with Michael, such as, he likes his shirts lightly starched. When I wasn't taking his clothes to the cleaners, I answered the phones, copied script pages, delivered scripts, picked up actors at their homes, drove them to the set, hosted screening sessions, assisted the location mangers on scouting journeys. You name it; I did it.

Kenna: Tell us about your first option with now Disney studio chairman Joe Roth?

Howard: He paid my partner and me a few thousand dollars to option and rewrite our script. We worked with him for about a month on it. It was fun. He seemed to really know how to make a story work. During that time, we met with him at his office and discussed the changes he wanted. We would go home and rewrite. Then, his secretary would type up the new stuff, and he would either approve it or have us tweak it a bit more. After the script met with his approval, he sent it around to companies for a distribution deal. He never got the deal, so he dropped the project. I really liked the fact that going into our deal he told us that if he didn't sell it within three months, he would move on and that's exactly what he did. No surprises with Roth. He knew exactly what he wanted and he told us. I think that's why he's so successful as a studio head. He knows what he wants and moves quickly on his instincts

Kenna: How did you develop an informal network with other writers before you started the directories?

Howard: I noticed a trend that Hollywood was buying spec scripts at a feverish pace so I contacted writer friends who were selling and asked them how they did it. After a while, these writers would put me in touch with other writers, as well as agents and producers. Now I get phone calls from people asking me to list their material.

Kenna: Did you have a system for keeping track of your contacts and valuable information such as the deals that were made?

Howard: In the beginning, there was no system. I would write everything down as I heard it and had someone type it up. After I started accumulating a ton of information, I had someone put together a database for me. That way, the information was easy to manipulate and cross-reference.

Kenna: How could a screenwriter do their homework to sell their script?

Howard: Know the marketplace. Figure out which agents handle new writers and which agents handle a specific type of material. Also, try to find out what the producers and production companies are looking for. Usually it's what is doing best at the box office at any given moment, but sometimes you hear about something more specific. For example, I heard that Norman Jewison's company is looking for love stories about betrayal. Now if your script fits that bill, contact a few agents and let them know that you have the type of screenplay for which Norman is looking. Do you contact any agent? Of course not. You contact agents that deal with new writers, or ones who have sold to Norman Jewison's company or ones who deal with similar material. How do you know which agents to contact? By studying my Spec Screenplay Sales Directory that documents who is buying and selling specific type of material. It also comes with a contact list of agents who have sold spec scripts from first-timers.

Kenna: What would you suggest to a new writer who has two completed scripts ready to sell?

Howard: I would suggest that the next step is to get an agent who deals with their type of material and/or with new writers. Also, research the marketplace so if the agent allows, the writer can make suggestions as to where it should be submitted.

Kenna: Your directories have become popular. They save the writer a lot of legwork. What is your next venture?

Howard: My next venture is to put together a series of audio tapes with working industry professionals whom will lecture on writing and selling to Hollywood.

Kenna: What is selling right now and why do you think it is?

Howard: Right now, everyone I talk to at the companies seems to be looking for comedies. Romantic comedies, "Waterboy"-type comedies, anything that will make people laugh. The reason for this is simple: comedies have made a lot of money at the box office recently.

Kenna: Are you writing a screenplay?

Howard: Isn't everybody in Los Angeles? Since being here, I've met doctors with screenplays, TV repairmen, a bank clerk, it's incredible. Or maybe not. We all have stories to tell. Getting back to your question, the answer is I'm about to. I'm at the research / treatment stage. When I'm satisfied that I know the story and the characters, then I'll start on the script.

Kenna: On your web page you state, "Even if you 'make it' you never know when it'll dry up." Why is that?

Howard: Because in this town you're only as good as the last thing you've done. And trends change so you just never know. My goodness, look at the career of Orson Welles. He couldn't get arrested in Hollywood the last twenty years of his life. So what should you do? When you start selling, invest your money wisely and write as if every script is your last one. Also, try to have as many irons in the fire as you can. Also try to make yourself a "jack of all trades." Become a writer/producer or a writer/producer/director so if one aspect of your career slows down, you'll be able to make a living from another.

Kenna: You also stress on your web page, "Yes, you really truly need an agent." Why?

Howard: You need an agent because the agent is your seal of approval. Sure, some production companies might read the script without an agent, but they probably won't take it seriously. The agent screens the material. If the script is good and commercial enough, I have no doubt that it will attract an agent. It has to meet both criteria though, not just one. Remember, this is show business.

Kenna: Should one try to sign with a big or small agency?

Howard: Many people believe that you should sign with any agent who believes in your work and will fight for you. While there's some truth in that, I recommend that one start out with an agent at a smaller agency. They're better geared to work with new writers, as they'll have more time to nurture a career. At the bigger agencies, a new writer most likely will get lost in the crowd. Mike Marcus (formerly in charge of MGM) told me that the big agencies don't have a lock on the best writing talent. MGM would consider anything as long as it came from a "viable" agency.

Kenna: Do you think more producers; development types are using the Internet to find scripts/ideas?

Howard: Definitely. As the Internet is getting more popular, and as Hollywood continues to buy more and more spec scripts, the producers are looking towards the Internet for material -- especially the newer producers and smaller production companies. They usually get material that has been shopped to death. The Internet can provide them with fresh material.

Kenna: How could a screenwriter use the Internet to sell their script(s)?

Howard: Information about the kind of material that companies are looking for is out there, both on and off the Internet. You have to figure out a way to get it. Try to network with others on Internet message boards and at conferences, or write letters to company assistants who don't get much mail and might give you a lead. Study the low budget arena. If you like a certain film, get a hold of the director or writer. Write to them c/o the Writers Guild, the Directors Guild or the company that financed the film. These writers and directors are starting out and are easier to reach than the big guns. Besides, they might be the next Steven Spielberg or Michael Crichton. What it comes down to is, explore all avenues. You never know where they'll lead you.

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