Screenwriting Agents Do Not Have Time To Read Your Script

Somewhere in the world someone has just finished the first draft of his first screenplay – ever.

Full of enthusiasm, the unknown screenwriter breaks out a hammer and puts the final touches on the two brass brads that hold the 90-120 pages together. It is at this point when this writer asks himself the obvious question:

“How do I get my movie script produced?”

This is the point when things get confusing. Should the unknown screenwriter send his screenplay to contests, to screenwriting agents, to the family friend attorney who is willing to pose as the “entertainment attorney” and hopefully shepherd the script through the guarded gates of Hollywood?

Or should the first time screenwriter decide instead to send the work to producers? And what if somebody steals the idea? And why don’t producers accept unsolicited screenplays? UGH!

Screenwriting Agents

Screenwriting agents

One of the reasons I am excited you’re reading these words is because I can help you avoid my early mistakes.

What I just described was me a decade ago.

I was still living in Pennsylvania. I had just finished the first draft of my first screenplay.  And frankly, I thought I was brilliant. I thought my story was awesome. And I actually thought Hollywood would just knock down my door.

Of course it didn’t happen like that.

After I wrote my script, email was the new thing. So I started sending email query letters to various production companies and screenwriting agents. And surprisingly, a few folks did respond to me. But after I sent out my script, it wasn’t long until I either got a rejection letter or heard nothing.

Back then, I still had a lot to learn. . .

“Would you like me to tell you the secrets of getting your work produced?”

I don’t have all the secrets.

The truth is, if you have an amazing script that is totally polished, marketed towards your intended audience of producer types (or screenwriting agents) who have a history of producing your type of work – and you have a way of accessing them and getting your brilliant work read, then your success is (a little more) probable.

But for the rest of us, taking that route is an eroded path and (in my humble opinion) requires that you ask too many people for permission. I mean, doesn’t it make you feel a little whorish to ask so many people for validation?

“Please read my screenplay, it’s great!”

UGH. I hate asking for permission.

And screenwriting agents? Forget that route. At least right now. Yes, you can send out query letters and market the heck out of yourself. But if you’re an unknown screenwriter living outside of LA, the odds of getting your work read by legitimate screenwriting agents are slim to none.

Remember, screenwriting agents make a living getting material sold. And chances are, those folks already have a dozen clients. They don’t have time to take notice of your material unless your work already has buzz.

So how do you break through?

Here are some screenwriting tips… But I don’t think you’ll like them.

  1. Quit asking permission. Production is getting less expensive every year. Produce your own material.
  2. Seriously. I know it sounds crazy, especially if you never considered producing your own material.
  3. Grab a $2000 dollar DSLR camera and start shooting projects on the weekend.
  4. Surround yourself with your local film community. Get some help.
  5. As your confidence builds, write a feature that can be done on the cheap.
  6. I recommend horror comedy or something memorable and controversial.
  7. When your script is complete, get a creative production manager to break down and budget your script.
  8. Once you have the budget, start raising money.
  9. When you get the money, decide to direct or hire a director, cast and crew.
  10. Then make your movie.

While I know most screenwriters would rather just write a script and then ask someone like me to produce it – I got news for you, don’t do that. Stop asking permission. Instead, I want you to start thinking like an entrepreneurial screenwriter. I want you to start thinking like a producer. I want you to make your movie now!

Of course, a large majority of screenwriters will think these ideas are bonkers.

Screenwriting Action PackIf that’s you then please ignore me and keep writing query letters to screenwriting agents. For everyone else – It is far better to have your work produced than to put it in a dark drawer, even if you have to produce your first screenplay yourself.

And if you’d like more information on getting your screenplay finished, check out the Indie Producer’s Guide To Writing Movie Scrips that Sell.

Comments

  1. Karen says

    I wrote a novel and it seemed very lucky for me I knew someone in L.A who worked for a small boutique firm. They loved the mystery and had me sign options one yr. ago. A lot of talk about the characters and who they would like to play in either a movie or mini series. Then I feel like nothing has happen and they are doing other things and shooting me a line of bull. They say the novel is now with CAA and another co. Since the yr. is up and they are suppose to pay me more to keep it but I haven’t heard, do I even have a choice. To be honest I don’t want to sign with them again and would love just to own my novel myself. I am thinking they are more interested in making themselves famous somehow instead of projects and that my time is being wasted. Do you think my chances are better since I had or have options with a Hollywood Co.> like how do I contact another Co.? Life is too short and my pride is too high. Thanks Karen

  2. Autumn Federici says

    I’m an indie producer (made and sold 3 in the last year and a half) and I’m looking for a writer who’s specialty is psychological thriller. Message me through my website (autumnfederici.com) with your info and let’s chat. Turn around time is key.
    Best,
    Autumn

  3. Collin says

    I’m an actor and amateur screenwriter and as opposed as I am to the idea of just giving up and stepping away from the industry, the reason I began to write as well as act was simply because they were enjoyable. I was the star on a Disney channel original series for a few years and I have to say I love acting and writing, but it may be time to stop chasing at least for me. I encourage everyone who wishes to run after the dream to keep on pressing forward, but I have lived my fifteen minutes and some and I have to say there is never enough. For those of us that live to dream and dream to live, we don’t possess the ability to find a stopping point. We shall forever suffer in our never ending quest to mesh our inner fantasies with a much more real reality. Just know that there is nothing wrong with being a regular person with absolutely no known identity or notoriety to the outside world that we so desperately seek approval from. I choose to leave my dreams trapped in my mind or on paper for very few to see.

  4. WriteOn! says

    I read this, and almost all responses, and I am laughing at how many LESS writers I will need to compete with due to the fact that many believe that you don’t have to work your fingers to the bone to make your script more than just a bunch of papers sitting there.

    First of all, I find it very hilarious that many say “Agents don’t have time to read your script” and “Agents/producers/etc. don’t read your script”.

    If you are sending your script to anyone without first querying them to see if they DO have time or are interested in your script, you deserve to have your script passed up.

    It’d be like me walking into a place of business and sitting down for an interview without filling out an application or submitting a resume and being called for an interview.

    Get how that would throw someone off?

    Second, think about applying for a job and not knowing the industry and this showing.

    Well, if you are sending your script to agents or producers without that initial query letter, then that shows loudly that you don’t know the industry. Why on earth would any one in the industry, knowing industry standards hire someone who hasn’t taken the time to do their research and learn the industry they are trying to break into?

    You’re setting yourselves up for failure if you believe it’s going to be easy or if you defeat yourselves by taking on the attitude above.

    I am actually glad this post exists. It’s a boost for me to work even harder.

    Like someone else has already said, “If you want to be a writer, you write.” So simple.

  5. brad says

    There is no right or wrong way to succeed in Hollywood. If you look at 10 successful writers, they will have ten different stories about how they made it.

    The most important thing is to persevere.

    And while I agree with much of what the article says about agents — most of whom won’t even open your query email, let alone read a script from an unknown –I don’t think you have to resort to producing a cheap “horror comedy” if that’s not what you’re interested in.

    One of the main reasons there’s so little creativity in Hollywood right now is that so many people have sold out.

    If Hollywood first gets to know you as the writer of a cheap horror comedy, they will want you to write more cheap horror comedies, and then you are stuck in that mode.

    Believe in yourself and your talent and think outside the box. Write what you love, not what you think will sell. Make a short film on your own that showcases your unique voice.

    Talent has a way of making itself known as long as you keep putting your work out there.

  6. John Provo says

    Screenwriting agents don’t have time to read scripts? Then why are they in the biz? I need an agent who will read my material, my ORIGINAL material, get in an office and fight for me.

  7. Krystol Diggs says

    Here is my thing. NOTHING and I do mean nothing comes easy in life especially as a writer.

    There are times when writers get desperate and just ask for anyone to read their work. It happens, we’ve all done it including the writer of this post! Stop it, you had to start from the bottom like everyone else did and if you didn’t than you are one of the lucky ones.

    I don’t live in LA nor do I have an agent but I network my behind off and use what I have until I get to where I want to be. As a screenwriter, like most of you we want producers, directors, even actors to love our work. Now I will agree with the writer of this post and say doing your own film can work but you still go through the same routine, getting a budget, marketing, entering festivals and contests, etc.

    My point is that every screenwriter will have a different experience based on how well they network, and talk to the people they are trying to work with.

    Find a niche that gets you the most for what you are trying to do. Make people see what you are doing and not having them just hear about it. Be on your grind and hustle hard. Sean Diddy Combs did it and look where it got him! Never be afraid to leap you just may land on your big opportunity.

  8. brendan shapiro says

    Being negative has never proven to be an advantage for me, and this is a negative discussion here, but having said that, the Blacklist pretty much epitomizes the problem.

    The scripts on Blacklist are, if I understand correctly, VOTED on by those in the business who do read and do buy and do produce movies from scripts. And these scripts are those considered the very BEST scripts that nobody has yet produced — So what does that tell us?

    Also, the Nicholl Fellowship, sponsored by the people who bring us the Oscars, has produced 125 winners in the last 25 years, yet only one of these screenplays — Finding Forrester — has ever resulted in a hit movie. The vast majority of winners in this very prestigious screenwriting competition, have NEVER been produced, so again, what does that say?

    To me, it’s a crap shoot, just like life in general. All we can do is get in the game, and the rest is pretty much luck.

  9. jason says

    I believe I have god on my side. Ideas sell not fine writing. “without love, all I hear are mimicking sounds” –”love surpasses knowledge” —”Love builds on itself where knowledge puffs up”. Without faith, your entire outlook on life is bleak and non-universal. To inspire happiness you have to believe it yourself. If you don’t believe it, you’re not convincing anyone else. The same stories are being told over and over, find a way to use the current to channel yo shit! I send my greetings to you.

  10. Steve says

    RIDICULOUS! How do you think screenwriters and filmmakers get started? Every screenwriter was a newbie at one point.

    At one point in their career they were on the “outside” they didn’t know anything and their screenplays were the worst ever. What do you think happened? They made their own movies for every script they wrote?! Haha. God. This is not complicated.

    You want to be a writer – write.

    There was many, many agencies and management companies that seek unsolicited material. I got my first agent just sending out letters. They just want a great story well told. No big secret there.

    They make their living reading screenplays and getting feedback from readers and assistants.

    So send out your scripts to agents cause they have TONS OF TIME to read your scripts. I know over a dozen working screenwriters that started this way. They went from a terrible 30k/year job to making high 6 figure salaries just by working hard and following their dream. And so can you.

  11. Josh says

    I think this is ill information. I got an agent in NYC, while I wrote my ass off in Canada. Now I have three scripts out to market that will (hopefully) get the budgets they deserve – 2 of which are period pieces. So, yes, agents DO have time to read your scripts. That’s how they make a living. I send out well over 250 query letters and got back a 10% read request. It just takes 1. And it did. And now I’m a repped writer. So if you want to be a paid writer, write. If you want to spend a decade scraping together money to shoot it, that’s fine too – but agents are out there to sell great screenplays. I wouldn’t give up that option to new comers.

  12. Kevin says

    He is correct!

    I’m in the process of producing a film called a A FEAR WITHIN. I have producers on board who have great credits with an award winning director. Look at production companies, they are out there.

    This movie is no zombie movie it is more like JAWS 1.

    Once investors read my script they were in.

    So I recommend doing your script your way and keep your budget as low as you can without cutting quality. After you get a few miles under your belt your next movie will be even better.

    KEEP IN MIND, if you can write a decent script you can make the movies and a lot more money than trying to sell scripts.

  13. Ben says

    I don’t know if this will help anyone… but move to Los Angeles figure out how to make money to survive and then intern for free at a production company. Tell them you will do anything to help out on your free time. You may get lucky. I was on unemployment from my last job. I got laid off. So I started working on a few films. Next thing I knew I was getting paid and getting more offers to work then I knew what to do with. I responded to an internship. It was just one guy. I started working with him. Next thing I knew we were coming up with all sorts of ideas under the sun and basically got to a point where we could pitch anything to nearly anyone. And even though you can get stuff to people, doesn’t mean they are interested. Through family I got a meeting with two separates agents at CAA. They were very courteous because of who got me the interview… but they basically said it flat out. If you don’t have something already made or is making it… we can’t help you. Needless to say. I haven’t called them back and they aren’t knocking my door down. But… do not be discouraged. Look back at how your life/career was five years ago. A lot changes. Give it time. You really need to be in the LA area or NY if you wish to make it in the business. Not much happening in Omaha if you know what I mean. BTW. One of the guys I worked with on a film just called me out of the blue and said I’m producing my next film… you wanna co-produce. I was like yes. And I will be quitting my fulltime job to do it. Gotta follow your heart.

  14. gedron Lacy says

    I am a screenwriter and producer working on a number of projects at this time and I will be the first also to tell you that Hollywood is too busy to read your scripts. Hands down…

    There are so many professional artists and businessmen there that have projects lined up for the next 5 years. So if you started right now in say, 5 years you might have a chance. I agree with the article.

    I started off in cinematography and videos and helped one young girl’s videos go viral and she was on Dr. Phil, Jimmy Kimmel, etc…No lies. You can look her name up on youtube. Alyssa Kramer. It was a good start now I am in pre-production on my first film… And I am currently hiring industry professionals. If you want opportunity…CREATE IT YOURSELF. No one else much cares.

    “You have come this far now I am asking you to go a bit further…”
    Andy Dufresne The Shawshank Redemption

  15. Adolph Mondry MD says

    I would like you to review “Highly Connected (to a Zombie Too)”, a screenplay answering the question – what would you do if you discovered that you controlled subconsciously, then esoterically, a universe where zombies roamed free? It was once represented by Jack Scagnetti.

    I published two editorials on high level esoteric scams. I wrote a hundred and fourteen page textbook on esoteric medical rip-offs, a two hundred and thirty page poem and fictional account of life from an esoteric point of view, and a five hundred page novel examining esoteric power and control along with its consequences throughout history (especially in the Middle East). I used all of this experience to craft this masterpiece along with our kids’ obsession with zombies.

    I am a physician and a self-taught mathematician, physicist, and engineer. I own a software company. I am an energy and medical advisor to the White House.

  16. Janet LynnCarey says

    I have written a few screenplays and I am working on a novel. I work in movies and television as a stand in and actress and still can not find one producer to even read my synopsis let alone my script. If you are not already in the system then you do not exist. If I could just get one real producer from a real company to read one of my scripts. And if they told me to not quit my day job I would just quit writing them. I just want the chance to find out! If I ever do get something out of my work, I will try to help other writers by starting a real script reading company.

  17. Jamie A. says

    Though I agree with Jason, I don’t think agents are that stupid to not even bother having their assistants read ten pages of your script, if that is what they ask for first which is reasonable. It’s bad business not to make an attempt to seek material outside represented writers. What if they find a script that’s extremely solid? It happens all the time, every year in fact. It doesn’t happen in spades, true, but that’s because there aren’t many great scripts to begin with. That’s why it’s so important for great scripts to have great queries. And more often than not if you can’t write a great query, chances are you can’t write a great script.

  18. Surya Bhardwaj says

    I am a professional script writer and screen play writer. Please: Bollywood directors and producers, contact me. Thanks!

  19. says

    I am working to create a video that outlines my manifesto and provides actionable tips on how to accomplish this. Including – How to set a budget and build a mini movie studio so you can get your screenplays produced, seen and sold. In the meantime, you might want to check out my book:

  20. says

    You mention making an income stream producing cheap films for alternative outlets. How does one make money doing that and what are the economics? Is there a maximum budget one should never exceed?

  21. james says

    I got a lot out of this. I believe in thinking outside the box and trying every possible option to reach your goal. Granted i am new to the world of screenwriting. I still venture into this world with my eyes open.

  22. says

    I’m a novelist and screenwriter. From what I learned, it’s the entry level college kids and unpaid interns who read the scripts. It was very difficult getting my novel published, but from what I’ve seen, it’s even harder to get a script sold because you have to be part of the club. Whereas in the publishing industry, they want new authors to sell books. I actually decided to go the indie route and submit my short films to film fests here in LA to make a name for myself before casting my precious scripts into the abyss where my only hope at getting picked up is some exhausted unpaid intern. It’s close to impossible to get in here. I say, try every route possible.

  23. Paul says

    This was completely unhelpful. I already knew I could film things, and I didn’t need to read your 5-paragraph essay to tell me I need to write a horror comedy. Rename this article or offer more than one route. There is never only one route.

  24. Renee says

    I am married into a family that have some pretty well known celebrity friends. My co-worker thinks I should tell them about a script he has written. I tried to explain that it doesn’t work that way. I cannot strike up a conversation and say “by the way a co-worker of mine has a script he would like you to read or past on to your agent. These celebrities are not my friends , I also explained that my husband father who are very close to these celebrities , they visit him all the time at his house, would have stacks of scripts on his counter from people. I think the scripts sat there because it may have inappropriate for even him to do give his friends scripts. And these guys are really his best friends.

  25. Doug says

    I have an MBA. I would like to think with a little logic. Scripts written for the screen are 120 pages. How many pages does it take an agent to realize he or she is reading a good script (25)…Maybe? To say a script goes unread is laughable and insulting to the craft. How long does it take a person to read One Act of a script? If what they say is true: **** A script is unprofessional, not polished, and does not grab the audience….a reader should no this within about twenty minutes?**** If agents or those seeking new talent do not have twenty minutes to spend, it may explain such movies as the new road movie of a family of drug runners in an RV. I have written 5 scripts, each in a different genre. I suggest this be a good start for a budding screen writer. It has allowed me to see scenes in ways I never thought possible when I started with a basic action movie(with albeit forgettable characters). I am currently on the second act of an animation script, and thoroughly enjoying the characters and the movie script. I have written novels, short stories, poetry–all for the love of writing. I have about 20 published newspaper editorials and 5 columns to my credit. I figure the worst I can be is my generations Poe, whose talent remains hidden until I die or a memorable political activist like Mark Twain.

    {I did care enough to polish this entry LOL)

  26. Doug says

    I have an MBA,. I would like to think with a little logic. Scripts written for the screen are 120 pages. How many pages does it take an agent to realize he or she is reading a good script (25)…Maybe? To say a script goes unread is laughable and insulting to the craft. How long does it take a person to read One Act of a script? If what they say is true: **** A script is unprofessional, not polished, and doesn’t grab the audience; shouldn’t a reader no this within twenty minutes?**** If agents or those seeking new talent do not have twenty minutes to spend, it may explain such movies as the new road movie of a family of drug runners in an RV. I have written 5 scripts, each in a different genres. I suggest this be a good start for a budding screen writer. It has allowed me to see scenes in ways I never thought possible when I started with a basic action movie(with forgettable characters). I am currently on the second act of an animation script, and thoroughly enjoying the characters and the movie script. I have written novels, short stories, poetry–all for the love of writing. I have about 20 published newspaper editorials, and 5 columns to my credit. I figure the worst I can be is my generations Poe, whose talent remains hidden until I die or a memorable political activist like Mark Twain.

  27. says

    Good points. I’d also mention that many filmmakers make a sold income stream by putting out cheaply produced movies online, via platforms like iTunes, Amazon and Hulu.

  28. says

    A few points. First, when was the last time you went to see a film that was made by some guy with a digital camera and his friends. 10 million dollars is considered a low budget. And that’s not including promoting/distributing it. You’re probably better off making a bunch of short YouTube videos and hope one goes viral and a production company gives you a job. At least you’ll be making money doing what you enjoy.
    Second thing, even if you know people in the industry, everything has to go through the system. Which means you will need an agent. Example: I know the head of one of the largest cable networks. He refuses to even listen to any of my ideas and won’t allow me to use his name when submitting material. If the network has anything even close to my idea in the works and he’s listened to my pitch, the lawsuits will probably cost him his job. As you can see by some of the junk that is being put out, Hollywood makes plenty of money recycling old shows, or over promoting bad ones from established writers.
    Also look at some other facts. If Spielberg’s child had some crappy script, and some kid from Iowa had an awesome script, which one do you think will end up a blockbuster film?
    If you enjoy writing, do it. And do it a lot . And get your lottery ticket every week. That way you’ll at least double your chances of getting rich!

  29. robert defrank says

    I have many good ideas; one finished script, and about 7 scripts i’m working on, Quite frankly much of the stuff Hollywood producs is drivel. But I know that for an unknown living in NJ it is very difficult to get a script sold, but I will continue to achieve this goal. What do you think about INKTIP?

  30. says

    I agree with Pat. I am also a published author but getting there was, I’d say, a bit ridiculous. I think the same should hold for publishing companies. If someone paid me a considerable amount to just ‘read’ a copy of an unknown script, I would have a new and enjoyable job. With screenplays, you can’t tell me that Hollywood can’t simply hire 1,000 students from the local college to read and critique each submission and get paid $100 per hour doing it!! If the script gets a high enough evaluation, then it could be passed around for a second look and eventually make its way to someone of importance. Hollywood would probably find scripts left and right and produce much better material then some of the crap that is produced today.

  31. says

    My understanding is that screenplays, from unknowns, seldom get read because time is money. That being the case, how about offering an agent a fair market rate to read the damn thing? Say, about $100 an hour? If the average screenplay is no more than 120 minutes, that’d come out to $200, or about $100 an hour, give or take. That should make any agent happy, especially if he or she is having an off day and needs lunch money to wine and dine a producer or a director. Sounds like a winning idea to me. But who the hell am I? I’ve only been writing for fifteen or twenty years and still can’t get an agent to respond to my query letters, let alone get a screenplay read. I would doubt my ability, except that I have published a novel and am generally considered a pretty good writer. If you hear of anybody who needs lunch money and has enough integrity for an honest exchange, let me know.

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