Screenwriting Agents Do Not Have Time To Read Your Script

Somewhere in the world someone has just finished the first draft of her 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 less expensive. Start producing.
  2. Start with genres that sell. Horror. Women in peril. Girl with a horse story.
  3. Relationships are everything. Not in LA? Then attend major film festivals.
  4. There are contests. Most suck. Some are good. At lease you get read.
  5. Cold call filmmakers. You will be surprised how accessible they are.

If you start thinking and acting like an entrepreneurial screenwriter, you will be amazed how many people will start to take you seriously. Of course, a large majority of screenwriters will think these ideas are bonkers. And if you think I’m bonkers, then please ignore me and keep writing query letters to screenwriting agents.

But if you’re willing to go the distance, then do whatever it takes to get your work on the screen. If this means you grab a camera and make a dozen, 2 minute movies for YouTube – At least you’re doing something. And in my very humble opinion, it is far more valuable to get small projects produced than to put your work in a dark drawer, only to never be seen.

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

Filmmaking Tips For Beginners

In this guest filmmaking article, producer Susan Ngozi Nwokedi provides Filmmaking Tips For Beginners.

Growing up in Nigeria, I remember watching movies and wondering how could I be one of the actors in the film or how could I make movies like the one I was watching. My desire to work in entertainment stayed with me for years. And luckily, it wasn’t long before I moved to Houston, Texas with my family.

Living in the United States fused my hunger for filmmaking because of the availability of many TV channels and 24 hour programming.

In high school, my childhood fantasy became reality when I got an opportunity to work as a featured extra in some Hollywood films that came to Houston. The opportunity to be in these films allowed me see what actors and filmmakers went through to make and be in films. From there, I went from acting to producing and writing.

I wanted to attend film school. But because I had a family to support, I was unable to do so. So I did the next best thing – I attended a local college and took all the film and communication classes I could get my hands on.

During this time, I produced some short films in collaboration with other students. I also networked and got to know some people in the industry who were working as adjunct professors. I also met people I watched on TV regularly, like Lois Childs, the former 007 Bond’s Girl. She told me “Susan” you have what it takes to make it in this industry. “You will go far, just stick with it and don’t give up.”

Although I have not yet produced my blockbuster, I feel I am well on my way. I am one of the most sought after producers in my local Houston film community. Additionally, I was able to revisit Africa and complete my most recent film “12 Noon” in Abuja Nigeria in August, utilizing some of the most popular A-List actors in Nollywood, the second largest film market of the world. My other movie, “Mind of the Enemy” shot last year and completed this summer premiered in Abuja and is set for a theatrical premier event in Houston, Texas in November.

I asked Jason if I could share some advice for those of you wanting to venture into filmmaking, acting or writing. And my advice is this: Work towards your vision and never give up. Make sure this is your passion… You have to love it. When taking on a project, set goals and plan because good planning has a lot to do with your success. Also, always have a marketing strategy! I wish somebody told me about marketing strategy because I learned the hard way. And Finally, collaboration is good but be sure of who you are collaborating with.

Like minds always work better together!

Happy Filmmaking.

– – –
With over 15 years of experience in both the Nollywood and Hollywood film and entertainment industrys, Susan Ngozi Nwokedi is the Founder and CEO of TopLine Production and Entertainment, Co., and its international affiliate, TopLine Global International Mega Links, Ltd. (“TopLine”) is a full house production and entertainment company based in Houston Texas and Nigeria.

Thoughts on Film School

Somewhere between 11th and 12th grade, when most of my (then) classmates were taking weekend trips with their families to check out prospective colleges, I was goofing off.

I know, I know. Maybe I shouldn’t admit that.

But at age 17, a college education wasn’t high on my list of priorities. And besides, I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to make movies.

I can’t remember exactly what drew me to movie making. But I was always intrigued by the camera and how you could look through the lens at something and bring it to life in a new and unique way. I know there are a lot of fancy technical terms to describe the cinematographic stuff I played around with, like forced perspective, snap zoom and the excitingly overused P.O.V. shots!

But I didn’t think about any of that stuff. Back then, I had a VHS camcorder with a built in microphone and I had one movie making mission:

I just wanted to have fun.

One summer, my buddies and I build a skateboard half-pipe in my parent’s back yard. We would spend hours and hours under the hot summer sun, almost always capturing our sessions on videotape. And then as the sun was setting, we would go inside and use 2 VCRs to edit the footage. (Push play on one and record on the other, etc.)

Being able to play around with the footage and also add some much appreciated heavy medal music to the final cut was not just a great way to end an exhilarating day of skateboarding – but the work and effort we put into making the skate videos look good was enough to make me realize a career making movies would be the only type of career that mattered.

As such, when asked about my college plans, I had only two criteria:

  1. The school would have to have women.
  2. And the school would have to offer a film program.

Back then, I thought a traditional film school with hot women was heaven. Not to mention, I was also convinced that a traditional film school degree would help my chances at becoming a successful Hollywood filmmaker.

I remember doing my research and trying to determine which school of cinema offered my best chance at success for a career making movies.

Whether fortunately or unfortunately, after calculating the cost of a four year film school coupled with the realities of my family’s let’s-further-your-education budget, both my parents and I were persuaded to vote unanimously for one of the many Pennsylvania state schools.

Instead of NYU or UCLA, I ended up at Bloomsburg University of PA…

And while the school did not have a formal film program, it was a great experience. I mean, at least there were woman (Huge education and nursing school!!!). And as a result, I forgot about my film passion – for a bit…

It wasn’t until my senior year of college, when I once again caught the film bug.

I had learned of a movie making class where everyone in the course bucked up and paid to produce a 16mm short movie. The class wasn’t offered every year… And it was only offered in the summer. Suffice it to say, I did everything I could to get into that class. And while it was clear from the fist day that some folks were taking it for (what they thought would be) an “easy credit,” I took the class, well, because I HAD to!

With shall we say, a very strong level of passion – I convinced the class to let me write and direct the movie. I got a lot of push back. But after some heated negotiation, the instructor permitted me to have half of the directing credit. The other half was shared with my buddy Ryan (I’d like to add that Ryan also caught the movie making bug and he is now working as a well respected grip on some of the biggest movies in Hollywood).

But anyway, we went out to various locations and made our movie. We even animated a title sequence (the old-fashioned way, I might add). Then we got the film processed, edited on a flat bed and physically cut the film.

When we finally projected our movie on the screen, we thought we had something spectacular!

After graduating, I moved back with my parents in Pennsylvania and took a job selling household appliances. Since promoting dishwashers and garbage disposals was not inline with my movie making aspirations, I got a little depressed. I kept wondering how I would make a career making movies. The only piece of work I had was that 16mm film.

It was literally film. So, in order to show it to someone, I needed to get it transferred to video.

As such, I contacted various Pennsylvania production houses in the hopes one of em’ had the equipment to transfer the film. And after several calls, I eventually found someone.

Build a filmmaking team

As luck (and life) would have it, the people I met at that production company put me in touch with the local film community (Harrisburg, PA). And through those guys, I found work fetching coffee, which eventually led to other jobs (boom operator, dolly pusher, production coordinator), which introduced me to new people who eventually opened a door to New York City, where I basically took every production job I could find…

I participated in Student shoots, corporate video, TV commercials and the occasional hockey game upstate.

All of this happened while I lived in the corner of some dude’s kitchen and slept on an inflatable air mattress. It was also during this time that I put the finishing touches on my first screenplay.

Eventually this work and networking led to a position as an assistant to an indie producer. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Now, after having produced numerous short movies and three features, I’m beginning to think my on-the-job training was a pretty good film education.

I share this story for any parents or aspiring filmmakers weighing the options between traditional film school or other alternatives. If you just want to learn the nut-and-bolts of filmmaking, then the basics can be learned in a much shorter time-frame than four years!

After you learn the basics, it’s having a sense of clear goals, combined with a great work ethic and a subsequent hard working reputation that will ultimately open the doors to your dreams. And when these doors open, you’ll quickly realize your Hollywood success has more to do with your experience and attitude than your degree.

Experience and attitude are major prerequisites for success in any endeavor, especially making movies.

So to wrap this up, my thinking is: Film school is good for aspiring filmmakers who want to meet and spend four years with friends who share similar interests, determination and drive. These people will form the foundation of your professional network. And if you attend one of the BIG schools, it’s going to look great on your resume…

Problem is, unless you plan to teach, most people will never ask to see your degree. The other problem is, depending on your film school, you may never get permission to direct or produce your own projects. This could be a bit disheartening when you’re paying FIFTY-THOUSAND-DOLLARS (or more) for an education that allows you carry cables and fetch coffee.

(Come to think of it, if you’re going to fetch coffee and carry cables, you may as well get paid for it!)

I’m not saying you should forgo college – I certainly didn’t. And being completely frank, my four year degree has accelerated my success in some very non-direct ways. But I am saying this: Before you set yourself up for a traditional film school degree (and the debt that goes with it), you might consider testing the water by attending one of the many short term, hands-on filmmaker workshops offered by reputable filmmaking organizations.

Most of these workshops are taught by working filmmakers and industry professionals, and are conducted at various times and locations throughout the year. For the most part, these workshops will provide you with a basic education, a peer group and importantly, enough nuts-and-bolts filmmaking experience so you can make an informed decision on whether or not a traditional 4-year film school is right for you.

As always, take time to do the research.

And if you want to start your film education, check out these filmmaking tools.


Tips for Film and Video Freelance Work

Brown cup of coffee
Image via Wikipedia

When I was starting out, I had to beg for every film and video job I could find. My first jobs consisted of fetching coffee and doing some non-union grip and gaffer work. These days I have a pretty good network of friends who can help me find film and video jobs when necessary. Some of you have asked for tips how to meet friends and get jobs. So I’ll give you a little recap.

5 Tips for breaking into the film business (production):

1. Depending on where you live, contact your state for a film guide. Most of the film guides have contact information for professionals. Send a quick email to professionals already doing your ideal work and ask for advice. Be nice. Avoid spelling mistakes.

2. Get involved in your local film community. These people usually know if someone is producing a project. Find out if you can fetch coffee on the project.

3. When you get your job, show up 1/2 hour early and find your contact. Usually it’s a Key PA or an AD, depending on project size.

4. Smile! Smile! Smile! No matter how crazy your day feels, if you carry yourself with enthusiasm, it has a funny way of making everyone around you feel good.

5. In the event you can’t take a job (and I mention this one a lot), make sure you say you are already booked with another job. Do not give specific details on what you’re actually doing (like vacation, etc).