Hollywood execs may know next to nothing about how to reboot “Fantastic Four.” (For the fifth time. )
But they tend to know a thing or two about selling a screenplay. (Or at the very least, making your screenplay appear as professional, marketable – and worth spending 2 hours reading – as possible.)
So, here are 6 Hollywood execs offering their best/self-serving advice on that strange art of selling a screenplay:
Selling a Screenplay Tip #1: Write a MOVIE, Not Just a Screenplay
“There’s less development money out there and studios are looking to tighten their belts. They aren’t looking to go out and acquire seven specs a month and see what works. They’re looking for movies. [The screenplay] has to be great. Things with a good concept and average execution aren’t selling in meaningful ways…Studios think, ‘We want to greenlight a movie without spending $600K to pay expensive writers to fix it.”
-Julian Rosenberg, Circle of Confusion literary manager and producer
Summary: Ya gotta make sure your script is as kick-ass and FINISHED as possible – before sending it out. The days of fixing a project in development (unless you’re writing a superhero picture) are becoming a thing of the past. So, take as many drafts and as many readers as it takes to make your screenplay as perfect as you can, before you send it anywhere.
Selling a Screenplay Tip #2: Use Every Ace
“Once you’ve honed your writing skills, you need to hone your networking skills. While nearly all film and television companies have a strict policy against reading unsolicited material, this should not deter you from trying to get your script on their radar screens through other means. Don’t hesitate to utilize any and all Hollywood-related contacts you may already have, no matter how remote: an old college pal who is now an entertainment attorney, a distant cousin working in an agency mailroom, or a buddy whose SoCal bar is frequented by actor types.”
-Alison Haskovec, independent producer and consultant for Scott Free Television who has worked in feature development at Radar Pictures and Intermedia Films
Summary: The film industry is just like any corporate job. (Just with better coffee and less bagels.) To get your resume on the desk of the CEO it helps to “know” somebody. Use every connection you’ve got. Whether it’s film school classmates who’ve made it past the mailroom at a studio, or a friend of a friend’s half-brother’s girlfriend – or some random guy you chatted with on LinkedIn – use whatever you’ve got.
Selling a Screenplay Tip #3: Don’t Complain
“There are huge barriers to entry in the movie and television business. There always have been. It’s a simple question of numbers and reality. And your choice is, really, to complain about how hard it is to get representation or to go out there and do something so amazing that the representation finds you.”
-Brian Koppelman, writer, director and producer whose credits include Ocean’s 13 and Solitary Man
Summary: This is a bit on the Wayne Dyer/Tony Robbins side…but I gotta say it’s totally true. If ya got a script, and no idea how to get it on a producer’s desk, get creative. (Not grumpy.) How about shooting a couple pages and posting it on Youtube? What about spending time in L.A. and going to some networking events? (Or how about stalking development execs at Whole Foods?) Try…anything you can! (“It might just be crazy enough to work!”)
Selling a Screenplay Tip #4: Enter (Reputable) Contests
“First, contests: If you finish very well in a competition, it’s easier to get your work read, period. Studios, producers, and agencies frequently look at the winners of established contests. However, most winning scripts don’t get sold or produced; contests tend to be judged on artistic merit, not commercial viability. When evaluating a contest, research how well the winners have done—did any deals follow? Will the contest get your work in front of real industry contacts?”
-Jane Friedman, 20 years of experience in the publishing & film industry
Summary: You need to do your research, but screenplay contests are still a viable way to get your screenplay read and eventually sold. If you do well at some of the high-profile contests, your chances of agents knocking on your door will increase greatly. If nothing else, the feedback that some of the contests provide could help you re-work another draft. (Bonus: Contests can give you some added motivational deadlines.)
Selling a Screenplay Tip #5: Think (and Write) Outside the Box
“Once in a blue moon, you’ll find that script that sells for a million dollars: the one with the great hook, or the four-quadrant tent-pole movie, but to be honest, really breaking these young voices, we’re having a lot of success with stuff that’s a little ‘left-of-center…the execution of the writing, a writer with a really unique, fresh voice, is what seems to be getting everyone excited.”
-Tanya Cohen, WME agent who has also worked at Verve and Paradigm
Summary: I know what they all say: “We want a fresh and unique writing voice.” But, now more than ever, with alternate distribution platforms like Amazon and Netflix, it’s 100% true. So, as you try to make your script as bullet-proof as possible, make sure YOUR VOICE comes through. Borrow from your own weird, twisted life experiences and allow your passion to come through on the page. It’s not self-indulgent, it’s the most marketable thing you can do.
Selling a Screenplay Tip #6: Create a Pitch of Your Script
“You need to get really good at pitching. We live in a very fast paced world. The people interested in buying your scripts are very time-deficient. They are also multitasking and processing a great number of ideas at the same time. The reality is that once you have caught their attention you have quite literally two minutes at most to hook them in with your idea and get them to ask you for more.”
-Elliot Grove, founder of Raindance, film producer,screenwriter, author, and film teacher
Summary: There’s just no way around this: you need to perfect the way in which you describe your story to humans. But here’s the cool thing, once you perfect your pitch you’ll know your story inside and out. Know it’s strengths, it’s most interesting parts and what sets it apart.
More Crap on How to Sell a Screenplay: “How to Get One of Them Screenwriting Agents”