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 Advice: Write The WORST Scene Ever!

Guinevere Turner is a writer, director and actor who has been working in film and TV since her 1994 debut film Go Fish. She went on to act in several films, including The Watermelon Woman, Chasing Amy, and Treasure Island. Eventually she teamed up with Mary Harron to write American Psycho and then The Notorious Bettie Page. She stopped by Filmmaking Stuff to share some useful screenwriting advice and let you know about her latest project, Creeps.

Screenwriting Advice

I’ve been privileged enough not only to work as a screenwriter for the last 20 years, but to talk to many other screenwriters about what they do and how they do it. So I am going to steal some screenwriting advice from them.

Creeps The MovieOne of my favorites is from writer Mike Werb. He says when he feels stuck he just says out loud: “I am now going to write the WORST scene ever written!” and then he starts typing.

I do this all the time because of Mike and it works. And you will write the worst scene ever and then you will rewrite it and then there will be progress.

Don Roos says he forces himself to write for one hour, with a timer, every day. Every single day, no matter what. And he has a husband and kids. He says, “Even if I just write, ‘Oh my god, I’m so fat’ or ‘Oh my god, Dan is being so selfish today’, I have written for an hour, and I am writer, and then I can go on with my day. “

I’ve tried Don’s method and it doesn’t work for me at all – I don’t respond well to structure like that – but it just brings up the real issue which is this: as a writer, you must find your way.

What works for you, what makes you productive/creative/inspired. Some people like to have music. John August says that he actually gets a scented candle and lights it when he starts to work on a certain project – so that he has a smell associated with a story and it puts him in that world.

For me, it’s about morning, quiet, solitude and no Internet to plug me into the cacophony until I have written something. Also about not having a conversation with anyone. Which might be why I am single. I have often woken up to a person next to me who says in a sleepy affectionate way “Hey – what are you up today?” and I answer but all I am thinking is “You killed it! It’s over! Now I can’t write today.”

Working in TV was great for me though, because I learned to get over myself and just get the damn thing done. In film, you can lie on your chaise lounge with a Garbo-esque hand to the forehead and claim that you “Just don’t feel inspired today” and get away with it for a bit – in TV you either finish the script when you are told to, or you are fired. And there’s a line of people around the block who are ready to do your job.

Finally, I just want to say that you should never describe anyone as “ruggedly handsome”, and don’t tell me that Bob is thinking of his grandmother. I can’t read Bob’s mind. Tell me what Bob looks like when he’s thinking of his grandmother. And the biggest peeve I have in movies and TV is people saying each other’s names.

Notice, the next time you are with a lover, a sibling, an old friend, that you NEVER ever say their names. Really, it’s weird but true. People who know each other well only say names when they are very mad or very in love.

An equation that constantly surprises me is this: writing something = happiness. Not writing something = anxiety, fear, grief. So… just write something.

Speaking of screenwriting, please check out my current project, Creeps.

– – –
Guinevere_TurnerI am Guinevere Turner – writer, director and actor who has been working in film and TV since I first got into the game in 1994 with my film Go Fish. I’ve been in some movies, including The Watermelon Woman, Chasing Amy, and Treasure Island. I teamed up with Mary Harron to write American Psycho and then The Notorious Bettie Page. I was a staff writer and story editor on Showtime’s The L Word, and I played the nightmarish Gabby Deveaux on that show. I’ve written and directed five short films, two of which showed at Sundance, some of which played on TV and around the world, and some of which were completely ignored.

 

Screenwriting Tips For Low Budget Filmmaking

Screenwriting Tips For Low Budget Filmmaking by Adam Patel

I started screenwriting when I was ten. I wrote epic stories that took place in weird and wonderful worlds. They were both spectacular and breath-taking. The only problem was that they would have required a budget in the hundreds of millions to produce.

About two years ago, I got a punch in the face from the fist of reality, and became a producer because I realized something very important. In independent film, he who controls the money, makes the rules. Literally – you can have anything if you can pay for it.

Producing changed the way I thought about writing. And here I share with you my screenwriting tips on writing for low budget, based on mistakes I’ve made. Screenwriting Tips

Screenwriting Tips For Low Budget Filmmaking

I hope these five screenwriting tips can serve as both a lesson and a career strategy to new screenwriters and producers.

1. You’re a screenwriter. Imagination is never your problem.

Writers know how to write. They know how to think imaginatively and create worlds and stories which can have audiences on the edge of their seats, or take their breath away. Unfortunately, before you write the next Lord of The Rings or Avatar, you’re going to have to do something a lot more low key. Why? Because YOU have the power to make a cheap film yourself. And your first credit is the first step on the road to being able to one day write your own fantasy epic and having a realistic chance of seeing it on screen.

2. Write something that you can produce yourself.

Many writers are arty people. I’m one. I know. We’re a right brain lot. We dream. We concern ourselves with possibility rather than probability and practicality. So when you raise the idea of producing to a writer, sometimes they’re not that keen. But there’s one reason why writers might want to produce in the very beginning: Because it means you don’t have to find a producer.

So write something that you can produce yourself. It’s going to be a story you can tell cheaply (unless you’re a rich person). And the aim of this is not to make the best film ever made. It is to get your first writing or producing credit on a feature film. Of course, make the best film you can. But if it sucks, don’t worry about it too much. Your next film will be better.

3. Write for locations you know you have access to.

One of the greatest challenges of a producer is to find locations for the actors to play out the scenes in the script. Location rental can cost a lot. And sometimes locations can be difficult to find and or get access to. When I wrote my first low budget film, I had written what I thought was a decent script. And it probably was. The problem was that although it had very few locations, they were not locations I could easily access. And when I came to produce the film, I quickly realised this. It was a hard learned lesson. So I had to go back and write another film that I knew could be filmed in locations I had access to.

4. Write something with a lot of talking.

Complex action sequences take a lot of time to shoot. The first time I got on a film set, back in 2011, I was amazed by the kind of time lighting takes. So if your film contains a complex action sequence with lots of different shots making up a sequence, you’re asking for a very long and painstaking shoot. It is your first film. Keep it simple. Think soap opera. Talking heads. Talk is cheap. And it is your challenge as a writer to find ways to make that compelling and interesting. (Soap operas put me to sleep!)

5. Maintain creative control.

At the end of the day, following these screenwriting tips for low budget filmmaking is about keeping the power in your own hands. Don’t write anything that you don’t have the skills or resources to film yourself. If you spend months or years waiting around to get a producer attached or to get a certain actor attached before somebody is going to give you production money, your destiny is not under your control. It is in the hands of others. And you cannot control other people.

Keep your shoot simple by limiting both the locations and the action. Talking really is cheap. Writing for low budget is like having a producer (yourself) looking over your shoulder when you write and catching you in the act of writing something that will be impractical for you to film.

I hope you enjoyed these screenwriting tips and genuinely wish you the best of luck with getting your first film made. For most of us it is an adventure we’ve been dreaming about since childhood. I hope my advice helps you make it happen!

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Adam Patel is a British screenwriter and producer who has worked on several independent films. You can visit his blog for more film making articles and content as well as news of his latest projects. And if you like it, please follow on Facebook!

 

Write or Acquire a Screenplay

Screenwriting is the heavy lifting for your movie. Without a good script you limit your chances for success from the onset. Your goal is to only work with the best material you can get your hands on. You will want to decide if you will write your screenplay yourself, with a writing partner or if you will acquire a screenplay from someone else.

If you choose to write your screenplay yourself, do not be afraid to write a crappy first draft. Most screenwriters in Hollywood claim to have a screenplay, but that is not true. Rather most would-be screenwriters have the first 15 pages to screenplay and they will never finish. This is because they are afraid of failure. But not you. Your goal is to write, and write, and write. Finish a crappy first draft. Then refine it.

In the event you simply want to acquire good material, many filmmakers post an ad on craigslist.com whereby seeking a competent screenwriter. But if you do this I guarantee you will be inundated by gazillions of writers seeking a producer. I suggest that you research established but new screenwriters who have a similar vision. You may have to pay, but at least you will know the type of work you are getting.

For additional screenwriting resources, check out the Indie Producer’s Guide To Writing Movie Scrips.

How To Turn Your Book Into A Movie

So you are seeking ideas on how to turn your book into a movie. First of all, congratulations on finishing your book. Writing requires every degree of discipline you can muster. And now that your book is complete, I can understand why you would want to turn your story into a movie.

Going from a writer to a screenwriter to a filmmaker is a very complex process. But if you are willing to pay the price and spend the next year learning everything you can about the filmmaking process, you may have a shot a taking your story off the page and getting it to the big screen.

At the preliminary stage, you first will need to decide if you want to produce the movie yourself or try to sell it in Hollywood. Since I hate asking for permission, my suggestion is to start the process on your own. Then later, if Hollywood wants a piece of the action, you will be in a much stronger position to negotiate deals.

How To Turn Your Book Into A Movie

1. Hire a writer to convert your book into a great script. While most writers think they are also screenwriters, you have to understand that the conventions are different. What works in a book may not always work on the big screen. A great case study however, is Cider House Rules. Read that book and then watch the movie. (John Irving wrote both the book and the screenplay.)

2. Break the movie script into a schedule. This is usually handled by a line producer. These professionals break your script into a schedule and take that information to create a budget. Since money may be tight, there is a great software program that does a preliminary breakdown – go here: www.IndieProductionTool.com

3. Create a budget. As mentioned, a seasoned line producer will help you create a budget. Your budget will assign a price tag to each element in your movie including, locations, props, wardrobe, cast and crew. They will also account for food, lodging and transportation… These are things that most first time filmmakers fail to consider.

4. From the budget, create a business plan. Making movies is fun, exciting and sexy. But what good is having a movie if nobody watches it? Your audience is your business and your business plan will provide detail on how your money will be spent and hopefully recouped. Most traditional film business plans fail to include a marketing strategy… But not yours. Make sure you also include a marketing, sales and distribution strategy that you control.

5. Hire an attorney who specializes in private offerings. Whenever you talk big money and throw around the word “investor,” you suddenly expose yourself to all sorts of liability that doesn’t really do anything to help you. Your goal is to always protect yourself and follow every letter of the law.

6. Find and make the pitch to several investors (and get the money.) Once you have an idea on how the money will be spent and recouped, and you have legal protection – you can then search your network for successful business people who may be looking for a new venture. This is not an easy process. You will need to make cold calls. You will need to ask tough questions. And you will need to face a lot of rejection before you get the final YES.

7. Hire your cast and crew (then go through the process of pre-production.) If you have established a good relationship with a line producer, they can advise you on hiring a crew. Additionally, many casting directors will happily take your money to help you find the perfect cast for your movie.

8. Get out to locations and produce your movie. Producing your movie involves hard labor. Dozens of people will show up before sunrise and will not leave until after sunset. To help you manage these people, ask your line producer to suggest an awesome 1st AD. Your assistant director is concerned with one thing – making sure the production stays on schedule.

9. Edit your movie. At the end of your production is your edit. You will hire an editor and spend lots of time in a dark, smelly room eating candy. This is the final rewrite of your movie. You will go through the footage shot-by-shot and smooth rough areas. At the end of the process, you will have a “rough cut” to evaluate. Have a test screening. Take notes. Then go back to the edit suite and revise your movie.

10. Market, sell and distribute the movie. Many first time filmmakers are too new to realize that the world has changed. People who still talk about DVD distribution and describe VOD as the wild west are silly. But not you… Since you were smart enough to create your own sales, marketing and distribution strategy in the planning stage – now is the time to execute the plan.

Obviously, each one of these steps will require quite a few smaller steps. But if you are serious about getting the book made into a movie, you will need to view your movie in ways akin to how an entrepreneur starts a business. If you are interested in more professional resources, you may want to check out: www.MakeYourMovieNow.com