How To Sell A Screenplay Without An Agent

Very few screenwriting books offer tactics on how to sell a screenplay without an agent. Something that will add credits to your IMDB, put money in your pocket, and help kick-start your career. Here are four tips to help get you there and also provide you the right frame of mind for success.

Tactic 1: Your Spec Script Isn’t For Sale

Many writers think their job is to pound the pavement to sell their spec script. In reality, your spec script exists so that you can sell your talent for writing. The likelihood of your spec script being purchased (as is) and produced into a major studio film is slim to nil at best.

The purpose of your spec script is to showcase your talent for writing and show that these producers can trust you to write something in line with market demand. This is usually a writer-for-hire type gig, where you flesh out a treatment or first draft of their projects.

Tactic 2: Your “Paid” Screenwriting Gig

When you’re looking to sell a screenplay without an agent, it’s all about the buyer, not you.  Far too many writers enter board rooms ready to pitch their stories and ideas, yet they have very little understanding of what decision-makers on the other side of the table look for (and what background those individuals have).

A little research on the company and its key executives will reveal a great deal of insight into how you’ll formulate your pitch. A memorized pitch (without this info) that you’ve rehearsed in the mirror doesn’t help. You need to understand the mandate of the company. What are their goals and objectives?

Once you know what these executives are looking to buy, you can present yourself as an experienced writer capable of making their goals a reality… Someone who can deliver a script on time matches what a company needs, essentially being a “writer-for-hire.”

Tactic 3: Don’t Reach Out Too Early 

Take time and build your arsenal before reaching out. When you attempt to sell a screenplay without an agent, you need to prove that you’re a writing machine…It would be best if you made your writing arsenal to a minimum threshold before you can approach Hollywood execs.

Ideally, you will need three completed feature-length scripts and at least ten fully fleshed-out (logline, treatment with precise beats, etc.) ideas that are ready to go. Pitching one script isn’t enough; you need back-ups that prove talent and consistency. Even better, most of these scripts should be the same – or very similar – genres.

You will get typecast as a particular type of writer, and that’s precisely the point! Writers who get ‘known’ for delivering a certain kind of script are the ones whose names are top-of-mind. These producers and production companies need specific types of scripts written. Having your name top-of-mind of a Hollywood exec is how you get work.

Tactic 4: This Business Is Like Dating

A guy walking up to a girl in a bar and asking, “you wanna get married today?” has about the same chances of success as blindly emailing a spec script and asking, “Are there any projects you want me to write?” Hollywood is a business of relationships, and these relationships take time to build.

Execs will hire new writers, but they need to vet them out first and know they can truly trust them with a project. Hollywood execs are very busy people. They need answers to their problems and don’t like to waste time dealing with people who aren’t providing solutions.

To land a paid screenwriting gig without an agent, you also need to become good at pitching, building relationships, and creating hype around your talents. All this follows the same code of conduct as the dating ritual.  Come off too strong and aggressive, and you won’t get too far… Call too many times (and too soon after a pitch meeting), and you’ll see the other side go silent. 

Sell A Screenplay Without An Agent?

In conclusion, producers, production companies, and distribution entities are actively looking for new screenplays as you’re reading this. These companies have money, and they are ready to invest. And if you find the right person and have the type of material they are looking for, it is possible to sell a screenplay without an agent.

Just make sure to avoid standardized dramas, comedies, and horror titles. Instead, you’ll want to go for content that works in the independent space, which is where most new writers will find their first breaks.

In conclusion, the only thing preventing you from engaging with people who could buy your work and gaining traction in your career is simply knowing how to approach them. For more information on these screenwriting tactics, please check out my book Writing for the Green Light.

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ARTICLE BY Scott Kirkpatrick

Scott Kirkpatrick is the Senior Vice President of Sales for the London-based distribution company DRG and is the author of the book Writing for the Green Light: How to Make Your Script the One Hollywood Notices.  Previously, he served as the Executive Director of Distribution for MarVista Entertainment.  He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter.
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