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 agents, to the family friend attorney who is willing to pose as the “entertainment attorney” and hopefully shepard 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!
“Allow me to offer some perspective.”
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 in York, PA. 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 querys to various production companies. And surprisingly, a few companies 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?”
Ok. 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 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 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 are slim to none.
Remember, 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.)
- Quit asking permission. Production is getting less expensive every year. Produce your own material.
- Seriously. I know it sounds crazy, especially if you never considered producing your own material.
- Grab a $2000 dollar DSLR camera and start shooting projects on the weekend.
- Surround yourself with your local film community. Get some help.
- As your confidence builds, write a feature that can be done on the cheap.
- I recommend horror comedy or something memorable and controversial.
- When your script is complete, get a creative production manager to break down and budget your script.
- Once you have the budget, start raising money.
- When you get the money, decide to direct or hire a director, cast and crew.
- 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.
If that’s you then please ignore me and keep writing query letters. 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.