In Hollywood, they say, it's all about who you know. But what if the only "in" you have is a downstairs neighbor who's a producer's assistant/Pink Dot driver? And what about that farmer in Iowa with a great script? Cousin Cletus over the county line doesn't really cut it as a connection.
That's where websites such as Triggerstreet.com come into play, even if you're in Hollywood's backyard. The 3-year-old online community, with approximately 200,000 registered members and 4,000 posted scripts, offers peer-to-peer reviews of screenplays. The higher the ranking, the better the chances are of a script getting noticed.
"[Triggerstreet.com] is a platform for writers to get exposure from their peers," says Dana Brunetti, president of L.A.-based Trigger Street Productions, "and not just critiques from friends and family." (If the company name rings a bell, that's because it's actor-writer-producer-director Kevin Spacey's production company, and the website is one of its offshoots.)
Anyone can upload a script on the site, but like the other major players in the script peer review field -- Zoetrope.com (yes, part of Francis Ford Coppola's Northern California empire) and North Hollywood's Script-swap.com -- you have to give before you get. While these sites are free to join, aspiring Charlie Kaufmans and Alexander Paynes out there must read, review and rate others' screenplays before theirs are rated.
Zoetrope.com's requirements are the most rigorous, with four script reviews; Triggerstreet.com requires two reviews, and Script-swap.com asks for one before uploading a screenplay.
"You help yourself by helping others," notes Christopher Wehner, author of the book "Screenwriting on the Internet: Researching, Writing and Selling Your Script on the Web" and founder of Script-swap.com, which launched in January.
The give-and-take format of these sites also helps ensure that scripts aren't just posted and left to gather dust in cyberspace. There's always movement on these sites because the feedback is constant. "The Internet can do the footwork for you," Wehner says.
Wehner, of Grand Junction, Colo., has had a few screenplays optioned and is considered an old-timer in the field. His first site, ScreenWritersUtopia.com, a pay online portal for screenwriters, launched 10 years ago.
It is one of the fee-based business sites that offer classes, "script coverage" (evaluation and analysis of a completed screenplay) or posting to databases accessed by agents, managers, development execs and filmmakers.
The pay market is dominated by the fab five -- ScriptShark.com, InkTip.com, ScriptPimp.com, HollywoodLitSales.com and ScreenWritersUtopia.com -- all older, more established L.A.-area-based sites that also attempt to provide an edge for writers with dreams of Oscar.
ScriptShark.com's site manager, Ryan Williams, says that while the free sites have their benefits, there is a decided advantage to the established fee-for-service sites. ScriptShark.com, which charges $155 for script coverage, employs only analysts who have worked within the industry as writers or for at least two major production companies. The peer review sites "have no basis of standards for reviewing material. We have a higher quality of professional standards."
But Orange County-based filmmaker Sam Bozzo, a Triggerstreet.com community member, disagrees. He finds that peer-review sites gather an international community of artists to provide a "much more accurate critique of our work."
Bozzo credits the site for shifting his career into fifth gear. In the industry for 10 years, he says he didn't have the right connections. But after posting an entry in a Triggerstreet.com short film competition, his film "Holiday on the Moon" was eventually screened at the 2003 Toronto Film Festival and won the overall competition.
"In my 1 1/2 years of working with Triggerstreet.com, I've earned a feature writing credit and a directorial credit," he says.
All the websites say they have had some sort of success with their writers. InkTip.com, which charges $40 for each script listed on its database (for six months), keeps a running tab of "success stories" on the site.
According to InkTip.com chief executive Jerrol LeBaron, "In the last two years, 18 films have been produced from writers and screenplays found through our network, not to mention the number of films optioned/sold, writers who have gained representation or have been hired."
Over at ScriptPimp.com, which charges $145 to $395 for different levels of script review and has a searchable database of production companies looking for projects, San Francisco-based writer Rob Nelms is another lucky one. His psychological thriller "Between" made its debut at Sundance this year.
"I sent a comedy script for ScriptPimp to review and provide me with coverage a few years before 'Between' even came about. They worked with me to improve the script, and then Chadwick Clough, the founder, landed me an agent based on that script," Nelms says in an e-mail.
Though that first script didn't get made, Clough later hooked Nelms up with a producer, and the concept for "Between" was born.
While all these screenwriting sites are tools to help writers make connections and increase the who-you-know factor, Triggerstreet.com's Brunetti says that he wants to make it clear that his site's not the place to pitch a script for you-know-who.
"It is not the place to submit for Kevin Spacey or for Trigger Street," he says. The production company hasn't optioned any scripts off the site -- because of a full slate and not for lack of interest, he adds.
"But we do have a 90-day option clause," he says of those screenplays ranked "Site Favorites" by community members. Just in case.
So while chances are still slim for aspiring screenwriters, slim is better than nothing, right? It's certainly better than cousin Cletus, anyway.
Websites for aspiring scriptwriters come in two basic flavors.
Free sites: Triggerstreet.com, Zoetrope.com and Script-swap.com offer peer-to-peer feedback, with the proviso that you have to critique other scripts before yours is evaluated.
Fee-based sites: ScriptShark.com, InkTip.com, ScriptPimp.com, HollywoodLitSales.com and ScreenWritersUtopia.com offer classes, script analysis or posting to databases used by industry professionals.