A How-To Guide on taking your story from the page to an audience.
So you want to be a screenplay writer? Or, maybe you’ve written a screenplay and want to sell it. The good news is, media is booming. Movies and especially television has never had a higher demand for content. The bad news is that it’s just as difficult to break into the industry and get someone to read an unsolicited script as it has always been.
That’s why I’m going to share with all of you hopefuls just how to get your project into the right hands. I’ll also tell you what not to do because Hollywood dreams can make a person blind to those who seek to take advantage.
Let’s say you’ve got a feature screenplay written. You think it’s perfect, your mom agrees, your friends have critiqued it, and it’s a shining pearl that should win you an Oscar. That’s great and you’ve gotten a lot further than most people get when they have a “great idea for a movie.” Unfortunately, to have a great screenplay isn’t enough. If you haven’t gone to film school and made the right connections, you’ve got to do the groundwork yourself.
You can have the next blockbuster on your hands but without a good pitch, you’re going to get lost in the pile every time. Think of a pitch as going on a date. You put your best foot forward, dress nicely, and sell the best parts of yourself. You’ll have to do the same with your script. If you’re an unknown, your logline and pitch are highly important.
PITCH VS. LOGLINE
Some people get confused. If you are one of these people, again, you’re going to get lost in the pile. A pitch is a concise verbal (and sometimes visual) presentation of an idea for a film or TV series generally made by a screenwriter or film director to a film producer or studio executive in the hope of attracting development finance to pay for the writing of a screenplay. You’ll oftentimes sell yourself along with the project and this is very hard for writers, I know. We’re typically behind the scenes but this is an important step for you and your project. You should work on your pitch with family or friends to get over the jitters and garner feedback.
A logline is simply that: one line. No more than two! It’s a brief summary as well as the bait that catches a producer and/or representation for your film or movie. This is arguably the most important thing about selling your project. If you don’t catch the attention of someone in that logline (I hate to say it a third time but I cannot stress it enough) you’re going to get lost in the pile. Remember the days of scrolling through the channels looking for something to watch? Remember those short descriptors used to lure you in? That’s a logline. The attention of a bored TV watcher quickly flipping through the channels is a lot easier to get than someone in Hollywood looking for dollar signs in the endless pool of loglines they get every day so make yours shine like the top of the Chrysler building. No exaggeration.
In this business, they say it’s all about who you know and they’re absolutely right. When you begin your journey of screenplay stardom, you’ll typically start meeting people on the business end of Hollywood. These people are out to make money and they’re always working toward that goal so they don’t waste their time reading scripts from complete strangers.
Now, let’s say you have a friend who’s uncle is a movie producer. This friend will vouch for you and the uncle will read it as a favor to your friend. This is the connection. Given your script catches the uncle’s eye or he believes it would catch the eye of someone else he knows, you could make it to the next round. Without that connection, however, you may never hear back from the producer you sent it to in the first place.
First things first, get out there and start meeting people. Wherever you go, talk about your screenplay. Don’t oversell! No one wants to hear an entire storyline from someone they barely know but if you talk to enough people and make a good enough impression, eventually you’ll talk to someone who knows someone and there’s your in. This might take years or this might take months but if you’re dedicated to your project, you’ve got to stay with it. Persistence is the key and the odds are in your favor.
STARTING FROM THE BOTTOM
The TV has never been bigger and, if you’re like me, you’re tired of seeing another cop drama about two exact opposites who eventually fall in love or something very similar. So, you’ve gone ahead and thought up something unique that will be the next Game of Thrones. You’ve polished your idea and your pitch but networking at the local Starbucks hasn’t exactly panned out. Now, you’ve got to crack the system from the inside.
If you’re thinking you’ll just apply at Netflix and end up in a writer’s room because of your shining screenplay, you’re dreaming. More than likely, you’ll start off as a PA (production assistant) on a random set on a project you know nothing about. You’re practically a glorified servant: you go where they need you to go and get what they need you to get.
Through this, you make connections with other PA’s who understand your struggle and will help you along if they break in first. You can even make a good impression with producers and even the producer’s assistant. You’ll have to climb and claw your way up from the bottom of the barrel but this is possibly the most realistic way to get your project into trusting hands. Speaking of which…
There are hundreds of writing contests every single year for film and TV alone. A lot of people think this is the easiest way to gain fame and fortune with their scripts but that’s simply not true. Although there are a lot of really great opportunities for writers out there through these contests, they make up a small percentage of the contest actually out there. And most of them have fees you have to pay so not only are you wasting your time and wishes, you’re wasting your hard-earned cash.
The best way to tell if a writing contest is a scam is to do your research. I won’t write about any particular website that I’ve researched to be a scam because I don’t want to get sued but the information is out there. Just as you wouldn’t buy anything from Amazon without checking the reviews first, don’t send money to any company or any person for that matter. Most legitimate writing opportunities don’t require you to pay a dime.
Try going with what you know first. Networks like ABC, NBC, Warner Bros. have a yearly competition around the spring months where they crowdsource new voices. These are free and easy to access online. Academy Nicholl Fellowships does require an entry fee but if you get in early enough, it’s only $45 and the payout is worth the while. It won’t garner you fame on its own but it’s almost as good as a Harvard education to producers and people of the like.
Now, this should go without saying but if you have a person who is telling you your screenplay is amazing and you just need to “invest” in your project by handing them over your life savings: run.
GET OUT THERE
In the end, if you’ve got a precious jewel in your script, it can be made. You’ve done the grueling part of slaving away at it but as hard as this is to hear, that was only the first half of the hard work you’ll do to see it on the big or small screen. Screenplay writing is not for everyone. Honestly, it’s for a very select few people of the population but good writers are needed. We’re the backbone of Hollywood after all so revel in this fact. Believe that someone out there will feel what you feel about your script and that it’ll make its way to the hearts of people who need your story most. If all this sounds like too much work for you then get out while you can because rejection is not fun. You’re going to have to grind. So get to it.
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Originally published at https://serproducer.com on October 2, 2019.