Production Offices throughout Hollywood are filled with great scripts. But there is no reason why your script should simply ‘blend in’ with the others. Here are 5 simple adjustments you can make that will get your screenplay noticed (and you as a writer) taken seriously by industry decision makers.
5 Easy Ways To Get Your Screenplay Noticed
There are a ton of male writers. And since most writers write what they know, leading characters also tend to be male which causes a surplus of ‘male’ dominant scripts. However, most of Hollywood’s Readers (your first professional filter point) are female.
Compound this with the fact that more often than not it’s woman who decide which movies to watch (and which to skip) and you can see how simply making your leading character a female, you may get your screenplay noticed and taken seriously over other scripts.
ONE: Make Your Protagonist FEMALE
The reason is simple. Scripts with female leads are rare, so readers (especially female readers) will give it that extra ‘grace’ window to give your script a chance—meaning they’re willing to read a few extra pages or be tolerant of a subtle error or two, that would normally cause them to close it. In a game as competitive as screenwriting, these minor allowances are a huge way to get your screenplay noticed.
A female lead does not mean your film has to be an overly melodramatic ‘chick flick’, it just means you have a strong, smart, and charismatic woman encountering the obstacles rather than a guy. And if you insist your story only works with a male protagonist, then at minimum make sure you have enough strong roles for woman mixed in there!
TWO: Avoid the ‘No-No Genres’
Screenwriters who succeed in Hollywood write what Hollywood needs… In my book, Writing for the Green Light, I spell out six genre types that are so solid and successful for new writers I call them the ‘Gold-Mine Genre Types.’ But for the purposes of this article, I will focus on the genre’s which are most likely to get your work rejected—these are the ‘No-No Genres’:
1. Dramas are a major ‘No-No’ in Hollywood. They are boring to read and extremely difficult for production companies to finance—yet a surprising number of newbie writers still continue to submit them and expect results. Even with major cast secured, Dramatic scripts are difficult to pre-sell and rarely garner strong returns.
Regardless of what flavor a ‘drama’ comes in (e.g., a ‘coming-of-age’ story, a ‘political’ or ‘socially conscious’ theme), dramas are a major ‘No-No’ when you’re starting out. If you have strong dramatic ideas, save them for later in your career.
2. Comedies are another ‘No-No Genre’—although comedy is a very successful genre overall, when starting out as a new writer (entering the indie space) a comedy script will get you very little attention. Production companies shy away from comedies because even if put together properly, they often lack of international reach (and are very expensive to dub).
Factor in that usually the humor of one country doesn’t ‘translate’ well for others, and there’s just too many variables for weak returns. Also, comedies are hard to shoot… Without a strong director and equally strong (and expensive) talent, even a great comedic script falls apart.
3. Horror films are also a ‘No-No Genre’ for newbies. That’s not to say that horror films aren’t a popular genre for indie production companies, it’s just that most production companies develop these films internally and are creating them for very targeted audiences—therefore readers are rarely looking for horror scripts.
Add in the fact that ‘horror’ is generally the first ‘commercial’ genre most newbie writers feel comfortable approaching (while not making them feel like they’re ‘selling out’), and it’s easy to see how readers can get bombarded with an overabundance. There’s just too much noise in horror. If you want to get your screenplay noticed, avoid horror when starting out.
THREE: Avoid Grammatical or Spelling Errors
There is nothing more disrespectful to a reader than forcing them to read a spec script with grammatical or spelling errors. If you don’t value your own work enough to ensure that there aren’t any errors, then why should anyone else take it seriously?
A simple typo due to a spell check oversight will be accepted by most, but if they keep popping up (or are visible within your crucial first 15 pages), most Readers are correct in assuming that continuing onward would simply be a waste of their time. This is one aspect fully within your reach to correct well ahead of time, so no excuses here.
And if proof-reading isn’t your strong suit, get someone to review it before you submit it!
FOUR: Make Sure Your Script is the Right Length
A major red flag to Reader’s is picking up a script that’s way too long or way too short… As a screenwriter, your job is to submit a script that works within the generic parameters of the overall movie business—meaning Scripts that will be adapted into commonly accepted ‘Feature Length’ running times.
On the shorter side, you script must be at least 94 pages. The running time for a TV movie (with credits) needs to be 86 to 89 minutes; even with the ‘page-a-minute’ rule of thumb do remember that not all scenes make it into the final version. 94 pages allows that comfort zone for Readers to know that your script has enough content to work.
On the longer side, if you break one hundred pages, you must cap it at 109… For reader’s, picking up a script that hits 110 or (eek!) more is just too long. Only at the studio level are scripts surpassing these numbers. In Hollywood’s indie zone (where you have your best chances of screenwriting success), surpassing 109 is just too daunting.
Keep your script between 94-109 pages and reader’s will feel confident you’ve got just the right amount of content in there for your work to be taken seriously.
FIVE: Have A Solid Title
Simple, yet vital. Having a great title (that absolutely ‘nails’ the hook AND genre you’re trying to pitch) adds that extra push you need to get your screenplay noticed. When readers pick up your script, they’re always hopeful yours will be worth their time…
Having a strong female lead, no grammatical errors, and the right number of pages are all very strong indicators you know what you’re doing. A snappy/poppy title that just ‘grabs them’ gives a Reader confidence that you are (i) a writer worth taking seriously and (ii) aren’t trying to blind side them with a ‘no-no genre’.
If you want to get your screenplay noticed, sometimes it’s best to allow a close friend to help you with the title. Writers sometimes fall in love with the themes of their work and aren’t able to step back and be objective enough to put a ‘punchy’ title on the fly page.