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I just had a terrible experience! When I first started sending out scripts (ie: 6 months ago) I read in several places that you don't want to risk, at first, using your own name in case your work is so laughably bad that people remember you for it. (The writer gave a colourful anecdote of all the employees in a prodco reading the script out loud at lunch and laughing...)
Then I read the opposite argument, that you should only ever use your own name. In the interim, I had submitted a script to a very reputable prodco with all my bio intact except with a (cautious) gender-neutral pseudonym. There were several friendly and polite messages back and forth until, feeling guilty, I owned up to the pseudonym situation, and signed my name - (at this time I was submitting to other prodco's with my own name and realized it was the only way to go.)
Well, the producer was very angry and told me so in no uncertain terms (in hindsight and with a little more experience I understand completely.) My question is: Has anyone else had a similar SNAFU? I apologized, but what else can I do now? Have I thrown any (slim) potential career in the ditch with this stupid move?
I would appreciate some feedback from experienced writers. And - Thanks in advance...
For years I have been trying to establish a sort of pseudonym. My goal was to write for the screen using my middle and last name, rather than my (boring) first name. I wrote a number of videos, and each time the producer somehow ignored my request, and used my first name rather than my middle name, even after I made it clear that was not what I wanted. For features, I submit with the "screenplay by" under my middle and last name, but I always include my full legal name somewhere on the script, which is obviously similar enough that there is never any confusion (except when I talk with producers on the phone and they ask me whether I want to go by my first name or my middle name). It's the writer's choice, as far as I'm concerned. But, to solve your problem, you should simply make it clear when you first submit that you would like to use a pseudonym, and then include your real name. Most producers will respect this. The reason you probably got a negative reaction is almost certainly for legal purposes.
Thanks Julian. What was complicating, I think, is that the producer assumed I was male from the name (which is the name of a female friend of mine and can be construed as either male or female, but probably more likely male). I believe the producer thought I meant to package myself as male, and mentioned the recent scandal of the 32-year old woman pretending she was nineteen.
In fact, I just was fond of the name. I thought it ws merely 'the work' that mattered but I suppose that the identity of the writer also must be discerned somehow in the reader's mind?
I think, however, that your advice is very good - it's okay to use a psuedonym as long as everyone is aware of it. Unless you dislike your own name however (as in your case) it seems better just to use your own name - even if you lack confidence in your work. I really wish I'd never read otherwise.
It's good advice for beginners that just submitting on the fly under a pseudonym is bad practice and not fair to the producers - after all, it may seem unlikely but it is possible they may like the work and expect to form a professional relationship with you based on it.
I think it defeats the reason of using a pseudonym if you tell the submit-e that you are really not a man or woman or whatever. Use a name you are comfortable with. James Cameron goes by Jim in real life. All my scripts have written by James but I sign all query letters and email as Jay and never had a problem. The idea of misrepresentation is a two way street, if you call yourself Mitch and they assume you are a man that's their problem, just explain it's a pseudonym you want to use. Many writers have used pseudonyms for crap they had to write to pay the bills and were ashamed of.
I've adapted a pseudonym with another form of my first name...mainly because my parents cursed me with sounding like a kid for the rest of my life.
(Maybe when I hit 70 and return to space I'll go back to the old form...)
Just wanted to say that if the big hub-bub about your using a pseudonym for the producer is that they thought you were a guy, well that seems to support your use of a pseudonym in the first place -- even if your initial intention was more about confidence than gender bias. The fact is more male writers make sales and get hired in this business than female. A lot of female screenwriters adopt gender neutral pseudonyms to try and skirt around this fact.
It doesn't help you mend your relationship with this producer, but perhaps it's worth something of your peace of mind to remember that you've done nothing illegal or, for that matter unprofessional -- the presumption of gender was all in the mind of the producer. If it were me, I'd find a professional and diplomatic way of reminding him or her of that. Afterall, when relations with them got to a serious level, you were straight forward and honest in revealing that you were working under a pseudonym.
Guys and Girls:
All that matters should be the material. PERIOD. Name may be important with a produced, known writer when an agent or rep is trying to push the credits. Otherwise you have the right to use what ever pen name you choose. That goes back since the invention of the pen.
You DO have to make sure that the material is registered correctly to protect yourself if needed.
The only reason I can think of the prod.
becoming angry is if he/she knew of another writer by the same name you submitted and thought they were talking with that writer instead. There was nothing dishonest about what you did, and I think the producer did, indeed, have a problem with the fact that you were a woman. Wemon are out numbered in this business (not just screenwriting) by about 4 to 1 by the last poll, but I've heard that number is about to even out. My production instructor was the ONLY female with a major of film and television when she went to Michigan State twenty or thirty years ago.
There are a few options. Use it, and let people figure out for themselves that you are a woman. Use only your initials and last name or use it and type in parentheses below the "written by" line Nom De Plume (SP?).
Don't feel bad. It's the producer's prejudice that is the problem. And more than likely, if he liked your work, someone else will too.
Thank you all for your messages!
I must say I feel much better after reading them - after all, I was quite surprised with the producer's anger when I wasn't aware that I had done anything at all wrong....I still understand his position and wish I could do something to 'repair things', but it seems the best thing to do is just move on to other scripts, (hopefully) other opportunities.
Thanks for your advice and words of encouragement!
My question is if there is anything special I should do if I want to just go by my initials. ( Such as E.F. Hutton) That way, no one can tell my gender, and I am still being truthful about my identity. Would I need to register the script with the writer's guild as my full name or with my initials?
So long as the material is registered to your full legal name or copyrighted to you, you are covered. You can call yourself the Great Gazoo with agent and producers if you want, but if you go to court the proof that YOU wrote the material will come down to the name used for registration. Go with D. Smith on your work and Dawn Smith on legal documents and reistration forms. That's what I would do.
Thanks Jay. That was exactly what I intended to do.
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