On Consulting and Consultants

So you’re working on a reality show pitch or a spec sitcom pilot or screenplay, and you’ve decided that hiring a consultant will help push your draft/concept to the next level.

Fantastic idea.  Here’s a trowel and a metal detector.  All you have to do now is walk across this mine field to the other side.

I consult, but rarely.  I haven’t got a load of free time because I’m working.  My primary income doesn’t come from suckering people into spending hundreds or thousands of dollars to discuss their often half-assed concepts, it comes from making the stuff you’re trying to sell.  I say “no” fairly often to consulting requests based on whether I feel that my time or yours would be wasted, and a “no” from me is always free.

If you’re thinking about speaking with an Ellen Sandler or a Jen Grisanti or a Kathie Fong Yoneda, I say jump in with both feet if you know what you want out of the relationship.  I say this because I sometimes work with folks who think that somehow hiring me as a consultant means I’m going to want to partner up with them and go try to sell it together.  THIS IS NOT WHAT A CONSULTANT DOES.  Consultants aren’t your agent or your manager (though agents and managers both offer advice), they’re people you hire to help you create a viable, salable end product.  Sometimes, if I feel that the thing I advised you on might be right for production company x, y or z, I’ll point you in their direction.  But if I do,  it’s my call and a kindness, not something I feel obligated to do or offer as a service.

I mention Ellen Sandler, Jen Grisanti and Kathie Fong Yoneda, because these are people for whom writing or working with writers in an ongoing professional capacity is either their daily bread and butter now or was for many, many years.  Ellen worked on one of the most successful sitcoms in history, Jen worked with Aaron Spelling and runs NBC’s Writers on the Verge program, and Kathie has worked with the majors in story development and analysis for decades.  They’re not going to string you along indefinitely just to rack up consulting fees.  Their reputations aren’t built on the names of people they claim to have coached along, as if the success of their clients is their own — a major peeve of mine when it comes to consultants who claim to have whipped so-and-so into shape because they once attended one of their weekend workshops.

Truth is, anyone might turn out to be an insightful ally and even help you to make your work better.  But, just like at a ten-dollar Vegas sushi buffet, you’ve got to go in with your eyes open and be incredibly careful.


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