By Hammad Zaidi | November 30, 2010

One of the worst kept secrets in Hollywood is that nothing gets done over the holidays. When I say nothing, I mean nothing new gets acquired from Thanksgiving week until at least the beginning of the second week of January. Distributors and production companies alike spend the holiday season wrapping up deals they’ve already landed, as well as publicizing their soon-to-be Oscar nominated films. Thus, they are never focused on fielding new material, unless that material is infused with solidified A-list talent (by A-list talent I mean someone with the likes of Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, not some indie actor who isn’t a household name known by your aunt Becky in rural Pennsylvania).

The problem is; the holiday season is also the only time during the year when a major player would have enough down time to squeeze in a meeting with someone new. Although such a meeting is deliciously tantalizing, it can quickly shoot you into the Holiday Death Trap – a Bermuda Triangle-like abyss where submitted projects go to die before the New Year.

Simply put, the Holiday Death Trap can suck the life out of an otherwise valuable independent project, just because it was submitted at the wrong time. This is because independent projects do not have large enough attachments to force potential buyers to make quick decisions. Thus, projects submitted during the holiday season usually linger into the New Year. This is usually very bad news, because by the time the powers that be are back from vacation and prepared to make a decision, your project will feel like “an old submission from last year.” Since Hollywood’s DNA is comprised by loving new, hip and fresh ideas, having something that feels “old,” even if you just submitted it a few weeks earlier, will certainly not inspire the gatekeepers to write you a check – especially in January when studios and production companies are looking for something fresh.

Thus, today’s article is designed to help you avoid the Holiday Death Trap, and create a smart submission strategy for your project. We will also discuss how to utilize the holiday season. Trust me, I know you have a script ready to overnight to a studio executive you met at a recent film festival. But, before you rush to Fed Ex, just hear me out….

Ask If They Would Rather You Submit After The Holidays
If they yes “yes”, then send them a holiday greetings card wishing them a wonderful holiday season, without mentioning your project. Furthermore, wait until the beginning of the second week after the holiday season to contact them. Ask about how their holidays went first, and then politely ask them if they’re ready for you to submit. If they say “yes,” then submit away. If they say, “give me a few weeks,” then don’t worry. They are not blowing you off. They just need a few weeks to catch up after the holiday season before they can take on someone new. Just politely contact them in a few weeks and inquire if they’re ready for your submission. Remember, if you’re dealing with someone you consider to be a “game-changer,” then they probably feel like they’re doing you a favor by even dealing with you. Thus, you’ve got to play by their rules. Just be relaxed, confident, appreciative and positive, and you’ll be able to submit to them soon enough.

If They Want To Read Your Project Over The Holidays….
Ask them if they’re sure they’ll have time to consider your work during the busy holiday season. If they say “yes,” then they like something about your project – which is a good thing. Your next step would be to ask them what their next step would be if they love the project. Whatever they say, whether it matches your vision for your project or not, just listen and absorb. Then go ahead and submit your project to them. Just like the previous paragraph heading, don’t contact them until the beginning of the second week after the holidays. Ask them about their holidays first, and then ask if they’re had a chance to read your material. If the answer is “yes,” then ask to set up a meeting in person to discuss your project in person.

If they hesitate to meet you, then either a) they hated your project or b) they haven’t read it yet. Don’t worry, if they didn’t like your project, they’ll tell you so quickly, in order to not have to meet you. However, if they haven’t read it yet, but aren’t willing to admit that to you, they’ll have their office set up a meeting with you in 3-4 weeks, to give them ample time to read your submission.

In the event they do admit not having read your submission, quickly offer to send them another copy. Just make sure that when you re-send your work, you put a 2011 copyright on all the material – making it seem new and fresh. Hell, even if you submit your project in December, I’d still put 2011 copyright on all of your submitted material, just so it doesn’t seem old. Also, try to set up a quick in-person meeting before they read your material. If they like you in person, they may like your material more, or at least may want to help you more, than if they never met you.

If You Have Submitted An Earlier Version In The Past….
If it’s to a production company, you have to divulge the information about your initial submission to the executive you’re submitting to – especially if the first executive you submitted to still works at that same company. It is highly doubtful that an executive will take on a project than one of his or her other executives has already passed on.

However, if the first executive has moved on (to another company or to heaven for that matter), then you should be okay to submit. Even so, change your project’s title! The last thing you want is for the current executive to pull up the coverage on your first submission and not review your project based on the original notes. Remember today’s there – stay fresh, fresh, fresh!

If you’ve submitted your project to the same studio before, definitely change your title, and divulge everything like in the previous paragraph. If the first executive is still there, you really shouldn’t submit your project to another executive at that studio. If you really think your project is “new and improved,” you should contact the first executive you submitted to and see if they’d be open to giving it another look. Even then, change the title!

Things To Do During The Holidays:

Write, Create And Perfect
You should be spending this holiday down time writing, creating and perfecting everything you want someone substantial to consider – especially if they’ve asked you to submit your project in the New Year. I’ve never read, or written anything that couldn’t have been made better with another pass through (including this article). Thus, you need to look at the holiday season as being six weeks that can change your next six years. Now is the time to hone in on where you are and what heights you want to launch to in 2011.

Seek Out December Investors
You should also be in contact with potential investors in December, because truly qualified investors often times scramble to find something to “lose money in” before the end of the year, in order to show a greater write-off on their taxes. Their accountants call them and say “you need to either spend $500,000 in an investment quickly, or you’ll be giving your money away to Uncle Sam.” The message is clear; the investors are going to have to get rid of the money either way. So, they can either spend it on something they enjoy (preferably your film), or they can give the money to the government. Thus, December is when qualified investors buy twin Ferrari’s or drop $500,000 on gift cards good for private jet rentals.

As the old adage goes, timing is everything, and so you need to be really smart about what you do – or don’t do during the holiday season. While I know how exciting it is to find somebody substantial to agree to review your work, especially in this economy, I also know how long you’ve waited to get him or her to pay attention to you and your project. Therefore, why blow your shot by submitting your project in less than ideal conditions? You deserve better, and “better” is what you’ll get if you wait until next year to make your splash.

As always, thanks for lending me your eyes, and I’ll see you next Tuesday!

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