This is something I originally saw via ScriptBully, which I’d like to share now:
They aren’t looking to go out and acquire seven specs a month and see what works. They’re looking for movies. It has to be great.
Things with a good concept and average execution aren’t selling in meaningful ways. Studios think, “We want to greenlight a movie without spending $600K to pay expensive writers to fix it”. Once in a blue moon, you’ll find that script that sells for a million dollars: the one with the great hook, or the four-quadrant tentpole movie. The execution of the writing, a writer with a really unique, fresh voice, is what seems to be getting everyone excited.
I think, at the end of the day, writers should write what they know — what they emotionally know.
– Circle of Confusion literary agent and producer Julian Rosenberg, via Variety
Now that you’ve put in all that blood, sweat and tears and have several audience-ready, perhaps even award-worthy scripts under your belt, you’ve taken the first step necessary to becoming a professional screenwriter. How do you actually “break in” to the business and sell your screenplay?
For novice screenwriters, finding insiders willing to spread the word about your talent is critical to success. Once you’ve honed your writing skills, you need to hone your networking skills. While nearly all film and television companies have a strict policy against reading unsolicited material, this should not deter you from trying to get your script on their radar screens through other means. Websites like InkTip, TVWritersVault and VirtualPitchfest also provide useful methods to widen your readership.
And highly respected screenplay competitions like the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards, which are judged by professional readers and industry execs, are a good bet as well. Managers usually take the long view on a writer’s career potential and will dedicate the most time to growing you as a professional, giving you notes on your scripts and even sourcing ideas for new material. Agents tend to be dealmakers, with a larger network of contacts and job leads to get their clients onto paid assignments. However, most won’t take the time to help you develop your script and career the same way a manager will.
Hiring an Entertainment Attorney can be a wise move for new writers, particularly since they are better equipped than managers or agents to aid in the intricacies of contract negotiations. And of course, once a producer options your script or hands you a writing assignment, it makes it that much easier to land representation because you will be seen as a more valuable potential client. That said, it is easier to sell a script when you have a good representative in your corner. However, the reality is that these major players are rarely interested in repping unproduced screenwriters unless the writer already has a hot project or deal in the works.
Other websites where you can find detailed listings for representatives are SellAScript, which offers a “Writer’s Rolodex”, and Screenplay2Sell, which updates its online directory more frequently than the HCD. Both services are competitively priced. It’s of critical importance that your rep “gets” you as a writer and understands your individual talents and strengths. Signing a long-term representation agreement with someone who is going to ignore you, clash with you creatively or otherwise “not work out” can be disastrous to a fledgling writer.
Production companies and studios base their writer searches on genre; thus, you are an easier sell if you specialize as an action, comedy, horror or thriller writer. When you turn into the next Leslie Dixon or Aaron Sorkin you can write whatever you want, but until then you’ll have a better chance of breaking in if you are known for writing a specific type of easily classified, commercial material. While this may sound like strange advice for a writer, because ideally the quality of the work is all that should matter, it’s critical to become the best “people person” you can be. The best way for a writer to get jobs is to work well with others and maintain a good reputation.
Once you have proven your writing talent and mastered your Hollywood networking abilities, you’ll have more friends than you know what to do with.
– Scott Free Television independent producer and consultant Alison Haskovec, via Creative Writing and Writers.
I remember, with crushing specificity, the week that every single talent agency in Hollywood passed on the chance to represent me. And I remember it felt like absolute fact, like irreversible judgment, from on high, that the screenplay my partner and I wrote was not only unsalable, but wasn’t even strong enough to suggest that we had any promise as screenwriters.
I was so shaken up by these rejections that I wrote down what each agent told the person who had submitted us for consideration. One said, “the script is overwritten”. Another that “these characters are underwritten”. A third that “nobody is going to buy a poker script”, and a fourth, I swear, that “there are already three poker spec scripts in the market right now”.
Less than a month later, Miramax bought the screenplay in question. Because they were true fans of what we did, had real understanding of our work, and, from the moment they had read our screenplay, knew we were going to have a long and distinguished career, if, of course, we had the right people around us to guide us through the difficult Hollywood maze. Here’s the best part; I read each of them the comments they had made on the script a month earlier. And it’s as good an explanation as any for the reason that most professional screenwriters roll our eyes when asked, by up and coming writers, how to get an agent.
And, they know, most screenplays that get sent in by amateurs are not going to be game changers, million dollar sales, the beginning of an auspicious career. “Yeah”, I can hear you saying, “but my screenplay is a game changer, a million dollar spec, the beginning of an auspicious career”. More likely, if you have written something of real quality, you can also write emails, letters, blog posts, tweets and Facebook statuses in an inviting, memorable and witty way. Everyday, execs in the movie business, and screenwriters, directors and producers, are online, engaging, participating, looking for something great.
“Yeah”, I can hear you saying, “but that’s not fair. All I should have to do is write the great script. I don’t want to have to be some kind of online trick monkey”. Take a scene from the screenplay and film it. If it’s really great, other people will start linking to it and before you know it, agents will be asking you to please send them the entire screenplay. Submit the script to The Blacklist.
Put the screenplay up, in its entirety, on your site, then buy some online ads in places film people go, cheap ones, to drive traffic to the site— “No money to do that. Why can’t it just work like this: I send the script in to CAA or WME. They read it and call me and then send a dump truck filled with money and fame to my house?” Because that’s what the story of our first screenplay is really about. I’m not saying the screenplay was amazing.
– Runner Runner screenwriter Brian Koppelman
When I was a creative writing undergrad, one of the most memorable success stories we talked about was the Good Will Hunting script by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. The script was started by Damon as part of a writing class assignment at Harvard. When he moved to Los Angeles to live with Affleck (they were both trying to launch acting careers), they finished the story together, making it their first completed script. Even though the script went through a major overhaul, and it took another three years before the film hit screens, it won Damon and Affleck an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.
One film consultant interviewed by the BBC in 2014 said that more than a hundred thousand scripts go into the system each year, and about three hundred movies get made—and maybe ten of those originate from first-time writers. The sober truth is that very few original stories from untested writers end up being made into films. If you still have stars in your eyes after reflecting on your chances, there’s yet another reality to consider: the process of selling your spec script—an unsolicited, uncommissioned work—is far more likely to score you offers to write other scripts for the studios. Put another way, a spec script’s job is primarily to show off you and your writing chops so you can build a career out of paid screenwriting gigs.
Pitching your spec with the limited intention of landing an option or sale for that exact story is nearly guaranteed to be an exercise in frustration. However, if you don’t at least play, you can’t ever win, so let’s look at the most common ways that scriptwriters try to get in the game. Remember: an unknown writer cannot sell an idea. You must have a spec script to start playing, and it needs to be between 100 and 110 correctly formatted pages for a comedy (a little more for a drama).
Anyone who’s seen Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman’s film Adaptation (2002) has some familiarity with the business that’s sprung up around screenwriters seeking guidance on improving their scripts. In the movie, Nicholas Cage’s character, a struggling writer, attends an industry seminar (that you can attend in real life) by the infamous Robert McKee, author of the bestselling writing guide Story. One of the pros of working with a consultant is that you begin to learn what the studios look for, particularly in rewrites, which means beginning to understand notes. In Hollywood lingo, notes are ideas or revision suggestions about the work; it’s critical to be able to accept feedback, because screenwriting is a very collaborative medium.
Scriptwriter Jeanne Bowerman, editor of Script magazine, told me the most valuable part of her writing process was finding and working with a mentor. In perhaps the most BS-free book ever on screenwriting, Writing Movies for Fun and Profit, by industry vets Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon (writers of Night at the Museum), you can find the following warning: “A guy who talks about screenwriting but who’s never sold a screenplay is not a screenwriting guru, he’s a lecture circuit bullshit artist”. In a nutshell, they advise that writers stay away from gurus who are prone to blathering on about that heartfelt story that needs to be told. Instead, focus on how you’ll write a movie that studios love, which must be one thing, and one thing only: entertaining.
Garant and Lennon have no patience for the writer who’s hanging all his dreams on one brilliant screenplay. Their motto is “always be writing”; every piece you write opens doors to other jobs, and the process feeds on itself. Ever attended a writing conference with a pitch component? Some say that writing conferences got the idea from Hollywood pitchfests.
A pitchfest is just what it sounds like: an intense, anxiety-producing opportunity to talk to industry insiders about your script. As in book publishing, there is a fair amount of criticism of the pitchfest concept—those who say that hardly any agents or editors sign deals with people they meet at such events, and that the event organizers profit off the naive dreams of new writers. They are profitable events, to be sure, but the key as a pitching writer is not to have any expectations going in. And, best of all, you get to practice pitching, which is an essential skill in the screenwriting world.
Ideally, before you begin the pitching process, you should have an arsenal of materials ready to show or send if requested, such as a logline, one-sheet, synopsis, and treatment. Just about any published screenwriting how-to guide offers strong examples of these materials, along with a list of dos and don’ts. Regardless of how well the pitch goes, Bowerman says that most people waste the opportunity by failing to properly follow up after the event. If the person likes her writing, she asks if she has an open door to pitch her next project, or if she can be considered for a writing assignment.
However, most winning scripts don’t get sold or produced; contests tend to be judged on artistic merit, not commercial viability. If an agency agrees to represent you, it will pitch your spec script to its contacts inside the industry. However, most agencies aren’t open to hearing from unknown writers and, even if they are, the query process takes persistence and patience—and often an appetite for talking on the phone to assistants. That’s where the manager comes in—and some experts say a manager is a better way to go, although many writers have both an agent and a manager.
Either an agent or a manager can help spread the word about your script, but only agents are regulated by the Writers Guild of America. Agents and managers want to represent writers who can continually generate saleable scripts. In their guide, Garant and Lennon say that sending out your script cold is probably the least likely way to get an agent. They write, “A method that will have a much higher success rate would be to write a short script, funny, scary, or touching, and shoot it. Get it up on YouTube or FunnyorDie (or the hundred other sites like those). … Try ANYTHING. … Even if it’s thirty seconds long and only on the internet, a finished product gives you a huge advantage over a script on paper”.
If you don’t have any connections, you have to be adamant about making some, whether that’s through pitchfests and pitch sites, hiring consultants, entering contests, or using opportunities presented by social media (try #scriptchat on Sundays). In the Gotham Writers’ Workshop guide, Writing Movies, the editors write, “While it’s true that a great script will sometimes speak for itself, even the masterpieces, more often than not, need help from the inside. Without it, getting your script into the right hands, while not impossible, is a tricky proposition that requires luck and pluck. It’s extremely helpful to have an ‘in’. Consider anyone and everyone you know and have ever met in your lifetime. And everyone means everyone”. You’ll find this theme echoed again and again in every scriptwriting guide, as well as by industry insiders and experienced scriptwriters.
– Open Road Integrated Media CEO Jane Friedman
You love movies, right? And you have been isolated in your tower of creativity tapping away until you hear the two most dreaded words a wannabee screenwriter ever hears: “Honey! Dinner”. And you have to take the painful walk down the spiral staircase and join the rest of the human race. And sell your screenplay.
My name is Elliot Grove and I started Raindance way back in the early 1990’s when the only way you could get your movie made was to find a producer who could find a million quid, bucks or clams. Then your script would become a movie. Here are the 9 Golden Rules To Get Your Script Made Into A Movie. A producer is the only person in the world that buys scripts.
A good analogy is to compare a producer to a real estate developer who finds a vacant lot and hires an architect to draw the plans (write the script). Then there are the creative producers who work with the writer and director to develop a commercially sound project married to commercial reality. You need to get the producer to ask you for your script. You’ll never get anyone to read your script unless they ask you for it.
If I had a dollar for every person who’s told me they have researched the names of production companies and mailed in their scripts I could buy you a season ticket to all the great film-making courses at Raindance at each of our international film hubs! So, let me tell you how not to do it, and relate to you a story told to me a dozen years ago by then-sales-agent Elisar Cabrera, now director of Raindance Web Fest and our wonderful in-house producer. He told me the story of screenwriter Nic Chartier who wanted a job in the film industry. That year, right before Cannes film Festival, Nic made 40 copies of a script, stuck each one in a brown envelope, and went to Cannes and bribed the hotel doormen to slip each of the envelopes under the 40 most likely producers or agents at Cannes that year.
Three days later, Cassian Elwes, then the super honcho at William Morris Agency stumbled home late at night just as a French garbageman was throwing a big bin bag into into a garbage truck. The bag split and the script landed on Cassian’s feet. Cassian viewed this as a sign from God, took it back, and sold the script the next day for $100,000. The moral of the story is: if you want to sell your screenplay at Cannes, get a job cleaning toilets at Euro Disney.
I always found this an amazing feat for a totally unknown screenwriter. The people interested in buying your scripts are very time-deficient. Raindance holds regular Live!Ammunition! pitching competitions where you can pitch your script to a panel of industry experts. Why not subscribe to our free weekly newsletter so you can be the first to sign up for your chance to sell your screenplay?
Screenwriters in general are introverted and uncomfortable with meeting fellow members of the human race. You need to write a really good script. This afternoon I got a call from Uwen Nyong in Lagos. He’s an established filmmaker in Nigeria with three completed films.
His question to me was “How can I make a Nollywood film that people in Europe and America want to see?” My answer was to study the scripts and movies of the past masters and see how their stories unfold. And then write your script. Remember too, the script we are looking for has to be bold, fresh, innovative and entertaining.
– Table 5 screenwriter Elliot Grove.