How to Break Into The Film Industry

If you’re wondering how to break into the film industry, you’re not alone. Nearly every successful filmmaker has started from nowhere. The problem is, there is a big catch 22 in the industry.

Unless you’re known, nobody will take your calls or read your screenplays or produce your ideas. And unless you get your work produced, it is really tough to become “know.”

When I first started, I did what you’re doing. I sent out countless query letters. I gave my screenplay to friends of friends of friends who knew (or at least claimed to) know someone in the film industry. I checked my email and mail frequently… And guess what happened?

Nothing happened.

Sure, I got the occasional rejection letter which sometimes included feedback. But most times, I sent work into the Hollywood abyss. That was pretty much the end of it. And as I type these words, I cringe at the experience. I sincerely dislike asking permission.

The turning point for me came when I realized the secret on how to break into the film industry. And I guarantee you will probably not like what I’m about to share… Because this secret is only for the most serious filmmakers. Are you ready?

How To Break Into The Film Industry

Photo © Tarikh Jumeer / Dollar Photo Club

How to Break Into The Film Industry

If you are wondering how to break into the film industry, the secret is simply:

>> You need to stop asking permission.

Seriously. You need to stop sending query letters. You need to stop hoping that someone will notice your brilliance and your talent. And above all, you need to quit relying on someone else to do the heavy lifting for your career.

Instead, you need to become your own production company. And you need to focus first on the movie you can make this year.

“Given the resources that you have right now, what is the movie you can make this year?”

For some of you, that means you’ll only be able to make a two minute movie for YouTube. That is okay. Make that movie.

For other filmmakers, answering this question means that you’ll have to put your twenty-million dollar blockbuster script in a drawer and make that low budget horror movie you’ve been thinking about.

By doing this, something amazing will happen.

You will stop waiting around for everything to be perfect. You will take action. And  as a result, you will gain the confidence that comes from doing. And ironically (and I don’t fully understand why the universe works this way) – As soon as you stop focusing on how to break into the film industry, and you start doing the work, you will start breaking into the film industry.

If you need more inspiration, I suggest you check out these filmmaking resources.

How To Sell Your Screenplay

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

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.

Sell Your Screenplay NowSo 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

Feature Filmmaking Advice

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Prior to getting my own features off the ground, I worked for an indie producer in New York City. I took the gig because I wanted to uncover the “secrets” to making movies. And after a few months, I ended up working in development – which pretty much meant it was my job to read screenplays and write reports about the material, called coverage.

When I wasn’t reading, most of my days were spent sitting in on meetings and taking notes. Given the fast paced grind of the development office, if you were one of the many writers, actors or filmmakers who sent us a query letters, headshots or your student films- odds are good that I opened some of your mail and put it on a stack. And that stack probably ended up in a filing cabinet. And? Well…

Listen. If you’re ambitious and you’re still waiting around for someone to “give you permission” to make your movies, I’m going to share 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 (or if you’re an actor, you start casting yourself). For years and years, you have dreamed about getting 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 becoming a super-hyphenate a little easier.

1. Have a well defined log-line for your project. Seriously. Most first time indie producers settle for a simple character driven story. But the story is always confusing. So here is the test, if you can not explain your story with the use of a simple 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 will 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. If you liked this filmmaking article, sign up for my newsletter.