The biggest question I get from screenwriters isn’t about how to craft compelling characters or come up with a second act that doesn’t put readers into a coma…it’s how to sell a screenplay. (Especially if you’re not paying $1800 a month for a 1/2 bedroom on Hollywood Blvd.)
And while it can be lethal to the creative process to worry TOO MUCH about the marketability of your screenplay. At some point, you’ll want to know how DO i sell this screenplay I’ve been working on for eight years? (And can it make me any money?)
So here are my THREE KEYS to knowing how to sell a screenplay (even if 3000 miles away from Hollywood.)
How to Sell a Screenplay Key #1: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
So, I hate to bring up math. (I’m a writer too, so I abhor the subject.) But sometimes we’ve got to cut through the liberal-arts horseshit and get to the point.
Not all screenplay sales are created equal.
The ones we hear about are the 250-400K sales that make the back pages of the Hollywood Reporter. (And these are fantastic.)
But we never hear about the below-scale deals made with foreign producers or off-the-grid production companies or those most strange nether regions of the Internet such as Craigslist.
Because if your story idea “seems” marketable – even if the script sucks – then somebody else will probably give you SOME money for it. (That money can be as little as $500, or even a $1 in some cases.)
And that doesn’t mean those people are unscrupulous. Just that they’re broke.
What’s most important, to you as a screenwriter, is that you’re able to turn your script into a project. An asset that could then be turned into something that gets made.
And that’s the REAL prize. Because if you write a project that actually gets made suddenly you are seen as a real player in this bizness. (And those $750K paydays get a lot easier.)
So look for reputable people who actally have their shit together. (And can turn your script into something OTHER PEOPLE will actually pay money to see.)
How to Sell a Screenplay Key #2: Don’t Stress It If you Live Out of Town
As somebody who lived in L.A., I can tell you there is an undeniable advantage to being a resident of the Southland.
But it’s not because of some magical force field that surrounds the 310 and 213 area codes. (That’s just smog.) It’s just that SO MANY damn people are connected to the film business. (Them tentacles run pretty deep.)
But…not only is it not impossible to get your script read, and eventually sold, if you live ANYWHERE ELSE. Many development folks actually get bored with most of the super-hip crap that comes out of Southern California.
And all they really want is a simple, yet profound story that moves people. (Not something that impresses everybody at the Larry Edmund’s bookstore.)
So…if you do live in town, you can always bridge the gap by:
- Taking an online screenwriting course (UCLA is great for this)
- Planning a trip to L.A. where you can take in a WGA event or any AFI panels
- Go to as many film festivals as you can
- Hit up screenwriters, directors and actors you like on Facebook and Twitter. (Just don’t be creepy.)
And just remember as insecure you feel, just try living in a town where every waitress is a supermodel-in-waiting and every lifeguard is a leading-man candidate.
How to Sell a Screenplay Key #3: Don’t Waste Your Time On Agents
Unless you become a Nicholl Fellowship finalist – or get J.J. Abrams to read your script at Whole Foods – it’s SUPER unlikely you’ll ever get an agent to show ANY interest in your script.
I know you don’t believe me. I know you’re gonna want to prove me wrong. (And I really hope you do.) But all that energy and time and psychic distress spent on waiting for some Santa Monica agency to return your calls could be spent on…
Producers and Agents of Actors and Directors!
That’s right. Instead of looking for writer agents, instead focus on the agents of OTHER TALENT who can be helped by your script. (Horror film actresses and film-school directors are perfect for this.)
Pore through as many recent films and TV shows as you can looking for talent you think would click with your script. And when you’ve got a list it’s time to…
How to Sell a Screenplay Key #4: Screw the Post Office
No offense to my comrades in USPS blue, but query letters are just way too much trouble these days for most film folks. Instead you’l want to write ’em an email (you can get the contact info from imdB Pro) and let ’em know you’ve got the perfect script for their client.
Don’t tell ’em about your education. Or your life ambition. Or your looming bankruptcy.
I’ve got a romantic action comedy which I think would be perfect for your client. It’s called Till Death Do We Fight and it’s about a divorced couple who must fight to the death in a dystopian futurisitc gameshow setting – if they can learn to not kill each other first. (It’s Hunger Games Meets The War of the Roses…without the archery.)
Be funny. Be short. Be cool. (And not clingy.)
And you’ll find, sooner than later, that selling a screenplay is far easier than you, or your friends in Idaho, ever thought.