How to Sell Your Screenplay
Selling a screenplay that gets turned into a movie is a dream for screen writers. It may even seem like the apex from the point of view of a beginner looking to sell a screenplay for the first time. But what are the odds of selling a screenplay if you don't know how to sell your screenplay in the first place? Close to none. Unless you're a prophesized prodigy of a screenwriter, you can't just sit idle and expect someone to show up one day, recognize a spark in you, and buy your script.
But what if you do learn how to sell your screenplay? You actually get a chance to compete with the hundreds of screenwriters trying to make it big in the film industry. Although it doesn't guarantee you a spot on the podium, it does tilt the odds in your favor. From being one of the new writers who doesn't know how to tread the spec market to someone who actually knows what to do to climb the ladder, you will become a professional screenwriter in no time. Follow the guidelines given in this blog post to start your journey to coveted Hollywood, and who knows you might win the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Original Screenplay. May the odds be in your favor.
Write a Script Worth Buying
Yes, it may sound obvious at first glance, but if you need to sell your script, you need to have a script that's good enough to be bought by a production company. This advice is often overlooked by beginner writers. If you're unable to sell your script, don't just try to figure out what you did wrong in the marketing and selling part, go back to your screenplay and try to improve it in any way that you can.
The script you've written might look spectacular to you. But you want to know if it actually has an audience or an appeal. If you've accomplished writing your first script, you probably already know what a good script looks like. Polish your script and continue to improve on it until it reaches a point beyond perfection. That's when you begin to improve. How do you improve on something that you think you've already perfected? You ask for other people's opinions. Gather feedback from friends, family, colleagues, etc. Most of these people won't be writers, but you still get to know if your script gets turned into a movie, would people want to watch it or not?
Write a Second Screenplay
When it comes to screenwriting, a one-trick pony has almost never won the show in Hollywood. If you have written a script that you're proud of, and have improved it as far as you could, then it's time to write another one. You can not go out to sell your screenplay after writing just one movie script and expect to get your big break as a screenwriter. Most studios and production companies will look at your script and tell you, "We're not interested in producing something like that right now, but what else have you got?"
You should have another script ready to serve them that is at least as good as the first one. Sometimes you may have a chance to send a third script too. Even though getting asked for a third script is very unlikely because two scripts are enough for the production companies to judge your ability, if the opportunity does arise however you need to make sure you're ready to deliver. Not for the sake of that situation, but for the sake of your profile as a screenwriter.
Build Your Profile
You can not rest after writing two scripts either. The point of this whole being the first step is to hone your skills so much so that you can go head-to-head with the hundreds of great scripts that are competing in the comparatively scarce script sales. The number of scripts that come into the screenplay marketplace is more than a hundred thousand, but the script sales are merely even half a thousand. Those odds are very slim.
But you have to admit that amongst those there are a lot of beginner writers who think they have a uniquely brilliant screenplay idea which they can use to gain access to a lavish Hollywood lifestyle being a screenwriter. Instead, in reality, the scripts that do make it to production are not the writer's first or second attempt. No one's first attempt has ever made it to the list of successful screenplays. It is the writers who have put in years of experience writing scripts, pitching them on several screenwriting resources, connecting with other industry professionals, and building their personal relations, and only then they got to step into the film industry properly as a screenwriter.
So keep writing for the first couple of years. Before you decide to sell a screenplay to a producer or studio, you need to make sure your screenplay writing skills are good enough to get your script noticed in the thousands of scripts that go into the system every month.
Do you just want to sell a screenplay or do you want to make a career? Building a career will give you a better chance at selling your screenplay in the long run. And you build your career by writing several great scripts until you get a shot with one of them. That means continuing writing with focus and honing your skills until you've polished your skill enough to get your script the recognition it deserves after all the hard work.
Craft a Killer Screenplay Logline
Writing a screenplay is one thing, but selling a screenplay is another. To sell your screenplay, you don't just have to write a phenomenal script, you need to write a package of other documents that will help you sell your script to screenwriting agents and managers, studios, production companies, execs, and producers, and basically, anyone who can possibly option and later purchase your script. The first and, according to a lot of other blog posts on the topic, the most important piece in this package is the logline for your screenplay.
No one in the film industry has the time to read all the screenplays they receive every day. The buyers are busy people. They can't take out time to read the whole thing. They need a brief and simple concentrate of the whole script distilled into one or two sentences so they can judge the marketability of the screenplay idea. That's what a logline does.
A logline is the whole concept of your screenplay concentrated into one or two lines in an oversimplified manner that shares only the necessary elements to the potential buyers. It has to be specific and not something generic. For example, "The life story of an undercover cop who spends his life scouring the city of Los Angeles in search for the gangster who killed his parents at his birth." This is just an example to give you an idea of what loglines look like.
A good logline mentions the protagonist, the central conflict of the story, the genre, and the theme of the script. It is used anywhere you meet someone who is interested in what you have to show. You don't start pitching the whole story of the feature film from start. You give them a short description and see if they are interested in the script.
Remember that it should never be longer than a couple of sentences. In fact, it is recommended that a logline remains a single sentence. Anything more than that is a waste of words and other people's time.
If you've read other blog posts or watched some videos on the topic, you would notice some people recommend writing a logline before even starting on the project. It is a great way to analyze the uniqueness of your own idea. And judging by the fact that your logline is the first introduction of your script, it is safe to say that a logline is one of the most important elements in selling a screenplay.
Read the loglines of other big hits of Hollywood to get an idea of what a logline would look like in contrast with the movie. In your case, it will help you understand what information is worth mentioning in the logline, and what's fluff.
A query letter is another basic part of selling a screenplay. It is the formal way of introducing yourself as a screenwriter and asking the receiver if they're interested in the spec script.
A lot of writers obsess over the query letter and end up ruining their chances. The query letter is not something to make a molehill out of. Sure, it is important and thus should be treated as such. But if you overdo it, you aren't likely to meet the success you expect. For starters, don't be too formal. It's Hollywood, not Wall Street. But don't try to be too cheeky either. It's still a formal message.
Keep it short and appropriate for the audience. Start off with a couple of sentences on who you are. That does not include your whole life story. Mention any successful projects you have on your portfolio because that's the best way to introduce yourself as a screenwriter. By mentioning a script you've written that they can look up. Then get straight to the point without wasting your words or the receiver's time.
Tell them you have a script they might find some interest in, and then put the logline in the email. In the end, if you have another creative way to explain your concept, put it in there. For example, if your screenplay could be summed up as Pirates in the Caribbean Sea set in space, then mention that in the query letter. Be humble in your claims, however. You don't want to sound cocky about your script being as good as a multi-million dollar franchise. Just be real, honest, and clear in your communication.
Make sure to address the person with their name instead of the generic "to whom it may concern". It makes you sound less lazy. But that means, editing the query letter for every entity you send it to, which is a great activity and works in your favor. You could even revise the body content and change it up according to who you're writing the email to. The logline should still remain the same.
Make sure all the said content is in the body of the email and not in a separately attached document. Write a specific subject in the email before you hit send. Steer clear from generic subjects like "looking to sell a screenplay". Be considerate and specific. Write something along the lines of a spec script, the title of the screenplay, and your name with the word screenwriter. The subject is one thing the producers (or their assistants) will see before they decide to open the email. Make it personal.
Once you've sent the email, then starts the difficult part: waiting. Do not be tempted to email them again within the same week to hear from them. Be patient and wait. If you hear back from them, congratulations. If you don't hear from them in a month, then you've probably been rejected. Don't waste time hoping and writing more emails to be ignored. If they were interested, they would have connected with you. Embrace the rejection, and move on. Continue writing the other script you're working on. If you aren't working on one, we suggest you get started as soon as you can.
Managers and Agents
Directly approaching production companies and other potential buyers using query letters and synopsis is unsolicited pitching. Although there enough examples of writers who have attempted to sell a screenplay by the direct approach, a lot of producers and studios do not entertain unsolicited screenplays, especially large well-known companies.
How do you sell a script in that market? You open those doors by getting an agent to represent you. The job of an agent is to present your work to potential buyers and try to get a deal for you. Whether your script is optioned or purchased, the agent takes a small cut from the deals they put in place for you. Writers in other categories of literature use agents for the same purpose, and it's no different for screenwriters. It sounds very useful in theory, but the reality can be a little harsh for beginners.
To sell a script via the solicited or commissioned route, you need an agent to represent you. But the agent won't represent you if you haven't sold a script yet. Do you see the dilemma that puts new writers in when they go out to sell a script for the first time? A lot of doors open for you in the screenwriting market if you come out the other end of this dilemma successfully. But how do you solve it? You get a manager.
Agents are regulated by the Writers' Guild of America and are responsible only for getting you deals for your script. A manager, on the other hand, is involved in everything from improving your script, guiding you according to their experience in the market, bringing you opportunities to increase your professional network of industry contacts, and a hundred other things that will help you grow as a screenwriter. A manager can also pitch your script in your place to potential buyers, and they can also help you get an agent according to your genre. So if you're looking to sell a horror script, you will only target the horror market. If it's a drama script, you would want to connect with agents who work with drama screenplays. A producer who doesn't work in the comedy genre will not entertain your comedy movie script under normal circumstances, neither will the agent. Agents bank on bets they are more likely to win.
The same advice from earlier follows here as well. You should not bet your whole career on a single script either. You do not want to be a one-trick pony. Most of the time, the first spec script you show someone is not going to cut it. You should be able to produce multiple scripts that are as good as the first one whenever you're asked. People would want to know the potential you have as a screenwriter. This applies to production companies, studios, and agents as well.
Get a manager to help your game up in the screenwriting industry. Then try to find an agent depending upon the genre you write in. Getting clear on that earlier on in the process helps in the long run. If you want to focus on the indie market, then try to target agents from that niche.
Getting an agent becomes crucial especially if you're not residing in Los Angeles and can not battle with the competition on the frontlines of the film industry. Sooner or later, you will have to move nearer to Hollywood because it just makes everything easier. But initially, the agent helps you connect to Hollywood.
Sell a Screenplay using a Short Film
The best way to showcase the capacity of your script to make a great movie is to make a short film out of your script. More and more agencies are starting to look for new talent online. A very convenient way of judging a movie script is by looking at a short film made from an excerpt from your script. The short film will present how your movie will look after execution.
What's the difference between a feature film and a short film? Basically, anything that is shorter than a full-fledged feature film is considered a short film. This short film will highlight in the best possible way the main characters, the major conflict of the story, what drives the story forward, and the tone and theme of the movie. In short, anything that can represent the script in the most complete fashion can work as a short film.
Make sure you understand that your short film is only a piece of the script. You would naturally want to make the short film a complete experience in itself, but don't make the rookie mistake of only focusing on the short film as your everything. Remember that you want to sell the whole script.
Use this short film to pitch and flaunt your screenwriting skills online where your project might get some attention. The worst that can happen is that no one will take a look at the screenplay you want to sell. Even though that's not an ideal situation, but no response is a response too. It's a sign that either your short film needs improvement or your script. Then get back to the writing table and start editing. Or better yet, write another script that is better than the previous ones now that you've learned something from the market.
?Screenwriting Contests, Conventions, and Conferences
Enter the screenwriting world to get closer to the people who can open doors to your career as a writer in the film industry. Ideally, you want to continue selling scripts as a professional writer. How do you do that? You do not try too hard to sell the scripts. You try to sell yourself first. Get yourself out there as a writer who writes great scripts and the doors will open for you as you go. Of course, you would still have to work hard and try to sell the screenplays, but you can not neglect to build your profile in that process.
Contests are a great way to assess your scripts and improve your skills as a writer. You compete head-to-head with other scripts and get to know what other people write. What happens if you win, or get a decent standing? There's a chance a producer or agent will find interest in your concept and you get to option your screenplay to them. What if you lose? You get to see what kind of scripts are winning in the market. Compare them with your work to see what you're doing wrong. Remember, different does not mean wrong. So don't be dishearted by the results of a contest. If you have a chance to meet other industry professionals, try to ask them for advice and seek ways you can improve as a writer. Ask them politely in words like let me know how I can do better or something similar, and try to understand if they don't have a lot of time to give or if they didn't focus on your work that much.
Screenwriting conventions and conferences are a great way to meet people from the industry from every level imaginable, from beginners to representatives of big studios. Help out the ones looking to make their way in the industry in any way that you can. Seek assistance and guidance from the ones who have been more successful than you. These are the places to find the people to ask how to sell your screenplay; successful screenwriters in your genre.
More than everything, you can use all of these opportunities to pitch your script to potential buyers. Have a pitch ready that you can start delivering as soon as someone says "Go!" A brief pitch complete with the logline and all the essential elements you would include in a request sent via email. The only difference is, it's going to be verbal. You will have the luxury to look at your audience life and assess in real-time if they're looking interested or not. More importantly, it's part of natural conversation, so keep your calm. The point of preparation is to enable you to be ready whenever the opportunity arises. Fussing about getting the pitch-perfect defeats the purpose.
Expand Your Network
Let's suppose you've written some blockbuster-level scripts with drool-worthy loglines and clever query letters. But what do you do with all that material, the awe-inspiring story, the brilliant ideas, and the loveable characters, if you don't have anyone to send them to? You need to build a network of agents, fellow writers, executives from studios and production companies, producers, and anyone else who can deem useful in the process of selling your screenplay. So how do you make a network?
The first step to take for someone who is detached from the industry is to get IMDb Pro. IMDb Pro is a platform where you can find the name, email address, and other relevant information that you can use to contact the professionals to pitch your story. Every day writers are connecting with these professionals and sending them their scripts, which puts anyone who is not part of the circle at a disadvantage. As a writer, having the access to the email address of the producer who dominates the market in your genre is a luxury that should not be missed at any cost.
Other than that, as we talked about going to events and gatherings that are connected to the profession of screenwriters, use them for networking and improving your connections in the industry. Even if it just means discussing your story with a fellow writer, do it. Something is always better than nothing. Who knows, you might end up making friends with another screenwriter who recommends you to their agent and they sign up with you.
If you've attended a film school, connect to your old colleagues. All the connections matter when it comes to networking. It doesn't matter if they were mean to you. In the professional world, your social standing depends upon how good your work is. Snobs don't succeed much in growing their relations. So feel free to reconnect with old colleagues. Let your recent screenplay venture be an excuse to reinvigorate those relationships. Those screenwriters you once shared a class with might become renowned names of the industry in the future.
Do not be afraid to get out of your comfort zone and stretch a hand out to make new connections. The worst thing you can do to yourself is staying in your bubble and never going out into the real world. Even if you come back extremely disappointed, it is still better than never getting the taste of the industry. So feel free to connect and talk to as many heads in your industry as you can.
After all, being said, it is worth pointing out, that you will face rejection in wholesale. Do not be discouraged by the rejection. Always be willing to go back to your scripts and improve them wherever there is room. Take criticism positively. Some people can be harsh in their language but understand that they don't know you enough to resent or hate you. They're just brutal, but their opinions will always be useful in improving yourself as a screenwriter.
Look at your hurdles as stepping stones for climbing the ladder of success. If the process was easy, then everyone would be doing it. And if everyone's succeeding at something, then where's the fun in that? Love the game so you can practice hard. The amount of blood and sweat it takes to make a living as a screenwriter can intimidate anyone from afar. Someone who is passionate about telling stories and watching their characters come to life on the screen would always find the strength to get back up and start fighting again. Be that person.
In the end, may the best stories make it to the screens, and we get to continue enjoying the best movies the human race can possibly produce.