If you want to know how to sell your screenplay, you’re in luck. When I was working for an indie producer in New York, one of my jobs was to read screenplays and hopefully find a gem.
During that time, I learned some valuable lessons (from inside the production office) that I would like to share on how to sell your screenplay.
How To Sell Your Screenplay
The goal in Hollywood is to produce product. And as a screenwriter, your job is to create a blueprint for a potential product.
In this case, your product is a new movie. Like any new product, your movie has never been made and is therefore unproven. And because you are unknown, you are asking a company (in this context, a movie producer with a a relationship with a studio or financiers) to produce an unknown product to be marketed to a (hopefully) receptive audience.
To get your screenplay made into a movie, a producer will have to drop whatever projects they are working on and devote months and in some cases, years to get your unproven product produced. They will have to attach actors, financiers and distributors to the project. And that is the easy part.
Every day, these producers will face rejection, obstacles and countless crazy people. They will cry, lose sleep and possibly fail. So if you really want to get your work produced, you need to downplay risk and amplify the reward. With this said, the way I see it, there are four methods you can use to get your screenplay produced.
As a screenwriter, you can:
1. Sell Your Screenplay: Write Query Letters – With this approach, you can write query letters to agents and production companies with the hope of getting your work evaluated. The truth is, someone will read your snail mail. But it probably won’t be the agent or producer. It will most certainly be an assistant. So I suggest writing your letter with the assistant in mind.
All assistants want to eventually move into their bosses’ role. This is where you can shine. What’s in it for an assistant to actually read your work? How will they benefit? Answer these questions in your initial query, and you’ll be ahead of 90% of other writers who merely send out anonymous emails.
2. Sell Your Screenplay: Make Your Contacts Count – Long before I moved to Los Angeles, I found out my actor buddy from college had scored a small role on a popular movie. So I reached out and send him my screenplay. I’m happy I did. After reading the script, he offered to host a reading with some of his actor friends.
Next thing you know, I’m in LA, walking into a room where “real” actors were presently reading and acting out my screenplay. Since I was familiar with many of the actors (because they were on TV and in movies) this was a surreal experience and is still one of the major highlights in my LA life.
You can approach people who know people in the industry and see if they will read your script and make introductions to Hollywood heavyweights.
3. Sell Your Screenplay: Enter Screenwriting Contests – You can send your script to screenwriting contests. If you place well in the contest, your work will get noticed by industry judges. Additionally, a win will give you just enough leverage to contact agencies with your news.
With that said, make sure you only focus on reputable screenplay contests. Have you heard of the contest? If not, can you reach out to past participants and find out about their experiences? This will help you determine the pros and cons of each screenwriting contest.
4. Sell Your Screenplay: Become A Movie Producer – The biggest reason I left my hometown for New York was so I could work in a production company. I figured if I was on the inside, it would be far easier to add my script to the stack than merely sending a query letter. But what I gained was so much more valuable.
After months of working with the producer, I realized that real power players do not ask for permission to make movies. Instead they ask themselves this key question: “Given the resources that I have right now, what is the feature I can make this year?” Once you start producing (and possibly directing) your own work, you become a powerful force to be reckoned with.
And I’m speaking from experience. After producing my first feature, a lot of good stuff started happening. Aside from selling many units of the movie, everybody involved found bigger and better work. And our writer found an agent with one of the big Hollywood agencies.
Regardless of your strategy, making a movie is risky. Anytime a movie gets produced, someone has risked their reputation and livelihood to make it happen. And here is the quick catch 22. As soon as you are a produced writer, people will often scramble to read your material. To get this this point, you need to actually get something produced.
If you have a screenplay, your story better be better than good.
Wait… It better be great!
Otherwise, do not bother sending it out. And even if your screenplay is great and you find a bunch of industry pros enthusiastic about your material, there are no guarantees. It may still take months and possibly years before you see any money for your work. Just check out the Hollywood Screenplay blacklist for examples.
So the question is, why depend on someone else to get your movie made? You can do it yourself. If you have been reading Filmmaking Stuff for any length of time, you probably know I would rather climb my own ladder than some ladder I don’t own. Stop asking for permission.
If you liked this article, you might benefit from my entreprenural screenwriting product at: How To Write Your Movie