Selling Your Screenplay
Learning how to write a screenplay can be daunting especially when you start running out of ideas to write about. We will go over some proven tactics the pro’s use when facing writers block.
By Chicago Screenplay Awards Dept.
You might have a whole stack of screenplays in your portfolio that have been waiting to be bought by a big studio for years. You’ve been collecting them since college, and you thought that writing one would be the difficult part. Nope- the journey doesn’t get any easier. There’s the small issue of selling the screenplay.
Selling an original screenplay can be pretty challenging, having the right connections, an interesting logline, the timing, everything matters.
Big Hollywood production companies have hundreds of “unique” screenplays coming into their office and stacking up to be read, and you want to make sure that you are ahead of the game. That can take time though, making a name for yourself and making sure that your screenplay is striking, relevant and interesting enough for that particular company, but it’s all part of the struggle.
Remember though, you don’t need to set your sails to big budget productions, you can sell them to global entertainment markets, VOD, DVD and other streaming services. It may not be your dream come true, but hey- it pays the bills.
Here’s some stuff to keep in mind when trying to sell your screenplays:
Don’t word-vomit a first draft of a screenplay and try to pitch it to screenplay competitions. You’re not ready for the big leagues until you’ve really really worked all you could on that screenplay.
Develop your writing process to have some consistency and discipline and have the ability to deliver under deadlines. Only once you’ve made rookie mistakes, you can learn from that and grow into a professional screenwriter.
Allow yourself one to two years of writing. This may sound like a lot and you might be in a hurry to achieve something or have something on your resume but this is solid advice- just write away. Develop a bunch of screenplays during this time, with different concepts and unique takes. This will give you the experience of being a step ahead of the game and knowing what producers and production companies really want.
2. Prepare for the market!
Great so you’ve got some years of experience behind you, you’ve been patient, it’s time to do a bit of homework. Look closely at your screenplay cover page, conjure a strong, attractive logline, a synopsis and a query letter.
The short synopsis is there to help you out if someone asks for more than just the logline. It’s important for you to prepare the synopsis to be attractive too- it’s likely that the person who has asked you for more about your screenplay, is seriously interested. Go to your local bookstore and find novels that have synopsis written at the back. Use the same format to create your own synopsis and have it ready with you. Type up a short and direct query email and save it in a single document. Time for the next step:
How to definitively tell if a writer should be credited or not? A screenwriter must at least write 33% of a screenplay to be credited on the title page. Depending on the contribution, writers’ names are arranged accordingly.
If the story concept was created by someone other than the screenwriter, there should be a separate credit for that: “Story By” which is then followed by “Screenplay By” to distinguish who came up with the concept and who did the actual screenwriting. Of course, these two credits can overlap if one person was involved in both processes.
It’s a waste of time if you just send the same email to a hundred people that might not be relevant. It’s important to do a lot of research and focus your time and energies in the right place.
Sign up for IMDBPro. They require payment but offer a free trial in case you don’t want to invest in that yet. Search for movies that are similar to your genre and approach the companies accordingly. You’ll want to see which production companies are making movies similar to your screenplays. You can also search for the writers and see what agencies represent them- and reach out to them too. When you’ve found a list of companies and agencies that are relevant to you, find their contact information, email addresses are the easiest way to go.
Make sure you track what you’re doing. Keep a spreadsheet with all the contact information you have been using so that you don’t send the same project twice and can follow up. Remember, keep going. Rejection is all part of the game. It’s not just about the quality of your work, a lot of other factors play a big role in what screenplays get chosen.
Sending one-way emails and waiting for responses is not the end of the struggle. You need to be proactive when trying to sell yourself and your screenplays. In Hollywood, it’s all about who you know, and this is where networking comes in.
Whether it’s through writers groups, working part-time at a production company or a relevant job or just attending workshops, talks, screenplay competitions and conferences, you should always have an elevator speech ready and the confidence to sell yourself and your project as superior to your competition. Remember, the people running the production companies are social beings too, they are more likely to trust you and your work and actually give you a chance if they’ve met you in person and know who you are. Reaching out to these people and companies is not just for your project to be sold, though.
If you’re a newbie just starting out in the business, it’s good to get mentorship or advice from industry experts just to see what’s working or what’s not working. Getting notes from them would not only strengthen your relationships and get some more contacts, you can also improve on your own writing, and be more marketable for the industry.
5. Just keep going!
Don’t sit by the phone or on your laptop waiting for some magic to happen. Push yourself to go that extra mile; As an entry-level screenwriter, you need to take the initiative to make something of yourself. You can’t wait for someone to approach you because you don’t have a reputation in the market yet.
Have a whole portfolio of sample screenplays of different types so that you’re always ready for whatever opportunity might come your way. If you’re ready to experiment, try out different genres. This is the best time to know what your strengths and interests are and what works in the market. You need to constantly be writing. Polish your skills, write, network, and then leave it up to fate. Goodluck!