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.

Screenwriting MAD Event

If you’re currently working on your next movie script, this might be of interest to you. My screenwriting friend Jurgen Wolff is hosting another MAD (Massive Action Day) on April 9. It’s all online and it’s free.

According to Jurgen, here’s how it works:

You commit to working on some writing (or other) project that is important to you for up to 8 hours, with short breaks every hour. You plan it so you know what you’ll be doing (for instance, nobody will actually write for 8 hours, but it could be a combination: some research, some writing, some getting organized, etc.) You don’t have to participate for the full 8 hours–even four or six hours of focused effort will give you a big boost.

Everybody checks in online very briefly every hour (during the breaks) to say what they achieved in the past hour and what their goal is for the next one. These messages will be posted in our chat window and we can support each other.

Every hour Jurgen will create a five-minute live video feed to give you a little tip or motivational quote to help keep everybody motivated. During your time together, Jurgen will also randomly award some prizes, like a book or another useful item.

The MAD event starts at 9am London time on Saturday, perfect for the UK and Europe, and he will stay on the air until 2am Sunday morning so people in the US and Canada can get their full eight hours in as well. In the last event, Jurgen had participants from Russia, Bali, India and New Zealand as well!

Here are some more comments from our first MAD:

“This feels good—have been wanting to get this story sorted out for ages”…
“Amazing how much work we all do together!” …
“This is such a great way to work!” …
“I am so focused it’s as if my mind has had a kick up the backside.”

Join Jurgen and other writers from all over the globe and give your project a great shot of energy and momentum.

To reserve your spot, go here: www.writingbreakthroughstrategy.com/MAD

Let me know how it goes!

How To Wright A Screenplay Into A Movie After You Write

Example of screenplay formatting.

Image via Wikipedia

Prior to producing my own movies, I worked for a producer in NYC. And I want to take a moment and apologize for never responding to your query letters. I have no excuse for it, other than I was busy paying my dues.

At that time, most of my 12 to 14 hour days were spent fetching coffee, running errands and writing coverage on the priority material that came from agents. So given the fast paced grind of the development office, your query letter probably got put on my stack. And that stack probably ended up in a filing cabinet. And? Well…

Listen. If you’re an ambitious writer, I’m going to tell you a secret. There is no better feeling in the world than the day you stop sending query letters and instead, you start producing your own work. For years and years, you have dreamed about seeing your work on the big screen. You know you’re good. So why ask for permission?

Now I know this can be a scary transition. So I want to provide you with five tips to make your journey from Screenwriter to super-hyphenate a little easier.

1. Have a well defined logline. Seriously. Most first time writer director types settle for a simple character driven story. But the story is always confusing. So here is the test, if you can’t explain your story with a log line, something is off. Fix the log line now. You’ll need it for your marketing later.
2. Everything in your screenplay costs money. So if your passion project is too expensive, write something based on locations in your neighborhood. Your true genius will come from your ability to tell a compelling story, not by how many expensive Special FX you can pack into your movie.
3. Ice, Snow, Rain, Sun, dogs, lighting bolts and children have always been a challenge to predict. If you include any of these elements in your story, I guarantee that setups that should only take minutes will take days. Avoid these elements if possible.
4. As soon as you decide to produce and possibly direct your movie, hire a seasoned Production Manager to work with you. They will read your script. They will tell you that your movie is going to cost way more than you think and they will help you alter the story to meet your budget constraints. Managing the budget is their job. Respect it. Then ask your PM if they know a great 1st AD. (They will!)
5. Hire a GREAT First Assistant Director. Not some film school kid either. Pay the money. Build a relationship. The First AD will be the general of your production. They will build off the Production Manager’s budget and schedule the movie. The 1st AD keeps the production on time.

These steps will provide you with a good starting point. Once you have your script, PM and your 1st AD, you will find that your project will start to gain momentum. Finish your feature and people will start sending you query letters. I guarantee it.

For more information on writing movie scripts that YOU produce, check out: www.WriteYourMovieNow.com

Writing a screenplay-hold that template!

Today’s Filmmaking Stuff guest article comes from veteran screenwriter Jurgen Wolff. I find Jurgen’s approach to movie script writing to be very useful. In the following article, he expresses his thoughts on The Hero’s Journey and other screenwriting templates.

Writing a screenplay-hold that template!

I had an email from someone asking whether I’m really against the use of templates and formulas for writing a screenplay and, if so, how can I explain the fact that most screenplay stories do fall into a three-act structure?

Just to be clear, my belief is that templates and structures are better tools of analysis than of creation. During the rewriting phase, we often realize that what we’ve written is kind of chaotic, that we have things happening later in the story that we need to set up earlier, that a secondary character takes up too much space in the story or would add more to the story if we have her more space, and so on.

That’s a good time to use some of the traditional structures for clues as to where we could change things to make them work better. For instance, the hero’s journey includes the appearance of a mentor. If I realize that my protagonist would be clearer to the reader or viewer if he had somebody to talk to, a mentor kind of figure is one option. (This is more important in films than in novels, since generally in a movie you don’t get to hear the character’s thoughts.)

Or it may be that in the middle of my script things drag along too slowly–a common problem of first drafts. In that case, reminding myself that the traditional story model calls for escalating conflict can lead to better consideration of how I can add incidents that ramp up the tension and drama.

You can already do this assessment and repair work during the outline stage. That will save a lot of revision later. Some people like to write brief outlines, some write outlines so extensive that turning them into a novel or script is not a huge step. You have to experiment to see what works best for you.

What I’m against is relying on these formulas too soon–before you’ve decided what story you really want to tell.

Jurgen Wolff is a screenwriterFor instance, let’s say I’m fascinated by a character who could have saved his father from dying in a fire, but was too scared to run into the burning house. My interest is in how a person lives with that kind of guilt or “if only” thought.

If I immediately go to a standard story formula, I would ask myself what he wants. Hmm, redemption!

Maybe I opt for the hero’s journey template. What sets him off on his journey? Maybe a memorial service for the father a year after his death–my guy has buried his guilt, but now it comes out.

What’s his quest? To prove to himself that he’s not a coward. A friend accepts a job with a private security company that works in Iraq and invites my protagonist to sign up as well. He does.

During the training for this job, he begins to doubt his commitment (resist the call to action).

But a mentor appears–an old-time security guard who has been on half a dozen tours of duty over there and takes him under his wing.

And so on.

It could lead to a viable story, but I’m letting the template lead me rather than letting the character lead me.

I think it works better to live with your character for a while. No writing yet, just thinking about him and taking notes on whatever occurs to you about his life. What are his fears? His hopes? What impact does that have on his life? Maybe his marriage broke up because he was afraid that the incident with his father showed that he couldn’t protect someone he loves. Does he have kids? What does he fear they think? What do they really think? What caused the fire? Does he find out it was arson and set out to investigate?

My point is that the story could go in a hundred different directions. When you try to nail it down too quickly, the odds are that you’ll take it in a more conventional direction than you need to. It’s like any kind of brainstorming–the first ideas generally are derivative. I believe that trying to force the story into a formula or template has the same effect. Let your story be king. Let templates and formulas be the story’s servant–if needed.

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Jurgen Wolff has written more than 100 episodes of TV, several TV movies, the feature film, “The Real Howard Spitz” starring Kelsey Grammer, and has been a script doctor on films starring Eddie Murphy, Kim Catrall, Michael Caine, Walter Matthau and others. His plays have been produced in New York, London, Berlin, and Los Angeles. He is the author of 9 books including “Your Writing Coach” and “Creativity Now.” If you would like to find out more about “The Seven Things That Are Stopping You From Writing And How To Overcome Them,” check out Jurgen’s screenwriting website: www.ScreenWritingSuccess.com

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New Screenwriting System

In a previous post, I mentioned how my world (as an indie producer) would be a lot more fun if all the screenwriters who pitched me movie ideas actually had a finished screenplay. As you probably know, there are lot of folks with amazingly awesome ideas, but for the most part – those ideas never make their way to finished material.

Why is this?

You probably have your own opinions. But I think the major reason more writer-producers, writer-directors and full fledged screenwriters do not finish what they start is based on two very real factors:

  1. Fear of rejection. (Well, after you peel away all the excuses and reasons for procrastination.)
  2. Lack of a step-by-step screenwriting system to make your good ideas into great movie scripts.

So I wanted to announce a new screenwriting system. Based on my decade making movies (and prior to that, reading and writing coverage for a producer in New York City) – I have created a product that will provide you with a step-by-step, fill in the blank approach to writing a movie script – from the perspective of an experienced indie producer.

If you decide to utilize the system, you will see that the system consists of two parts. The first 50 pages (and over 90 minutes of MP3 Audio recording) is going to provide insight on movie scripts from an indie producer’s perspective.

The second part will provide you with a step-by-step, fill-in the blank, screenwriting template that will allow you to take your ideas out of the air and put them on paper faster than you ever thought possible.

And as you work through the system, you’ll find out what producers look for in a script. You’ll know the 7 surefire ways to get your read and not recycled. And you will also learn a thing or two about producing indie films. (Many of you are writing today, but would like to produce and direct in a few years.) By the end of this, you will know if you should sell your screenplay or produce it yourself.

If you’re interested in getting the system, or learning more, CLICK HERE