Many screenwriters dream of getting their big break, when a cash bloated studio executive or a director with a vision read your story, their eyes light up, and their wallets open to you all at once. But how does one go from handing out latte’s and writing in your quickly dwindling free time to shaking hands with Harvey Weinstein?
We will layout the important pieces of marketing your script and then some strategies to get your work out in the world and in front of some eyeballs!
First and foremost, however, before you start the endeavor of writing a feature, spec, or even short film there may be some things you should consider.
When writing a screenplay, being aware of your limitations, both monetarily and physically, can be very important to be able to finish and sell a script. Just because you want to write a giant, multi-million dollar sci-fi epic doesn’t really mean that is a realistic goal or will even be read by a reader or executive. If you are just starting out with the goals of selling your work, it can be insurmountably tough to sell a blockbuster script so writing within your means can be more advantageous.
However, this also raises questions of when it is advisable or encouraged to write outside of your means. Should you just work your screenwriting scope in accordance to your success? Or should you write what is popular and try and gamble on the success of a genre or style of film to get your big break?
Write what you know doesn't mean write your life experience or you can only write what you know but writers with an intimate connection to their topics and material write better stories. This doesn’t mean however that all of your scripts have to be grounded in reality or can’t be more high concept. Writing a film takes a lot of time! When a writer is hired to write a feature script, they are generally given three stages to complete the script.
1) 10-12 weeks for the “first” draft, obviously this is not the true first draft but the first draft sent to executives and producers.
2) 5-6 weeks for revisions and the second round of notes from above the line.
3) Finally, 3 weeks to finalize the script and then the story is locked.
Once you have all that figured out and have brought your script to near completion it is time to start thinking about making your marketing pieces. These are a logline and a synopsis and they help streamline the selling process for the people reading your work.
The logline is a one to two sentence description of the overall idea of your story. This is the classic “Elevator Pitch” This is a very important element of writing your screenplay because the logline will help your screenplay cut through the clutter on a scripts reader's desk with an eye-catching sentence.
If you do not have an engaging logline, it will be nigh impossible without some very good connections to get your screenplay read and even considered by any agency.
The other important part of a good logline, much like a good book title, is that the logline should make the reader ask good questions about the screenplay. You want to keep your logline enticing but not confusing. You want the script reader to hear your logline and ask “But what happens after the President is kidnapped?” or “How does the country respond after the alien attack?” rather than “Wait, what does that mean?” or “Okay please explain because that was a little confusing.”
“The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son.” The Godfather
“A computer hacker learns from mysterious rebels about the true nature of his reality and his role in the war against its controllers.” The Matrix
A synopsis lays out the important elements of your screenplay. Often the synopsis follows the logline and is the point where you, the writer, really have the chance to sell your idea. Synopsis can even start with your logline to hook the reader. The synopsis should include; storyline, characters, actions, reactions, and major incidents in the order they occur in the story.
Similar to the logline, brevity is your friend. Remember that you are jockeying for a very tight time frame with potentially hundreds of other scripts being read so time is precious. Your synopsis should be long enough to lay out the major points of your screenplay but short enough to be read in 5 minutes or less. Think 2-3 pages. You want it to be short enough to read easily but not so short that your story suffers.
Keep character descriptions quick and memorable. Don’t only describe them physically though, remember characters have motivations and desires, not just leather jackets and salt and pepper hair!
Your favorite lines can definitely make an appearance, if you have a “Luke, I am your father!” or “You can’t handle the truth!” moment it could be a good idea to put that in your synopsis to demonstrate your style.
Make sure to include the subtext and MDQ (Major Dramatic Question) and subtext of your film in the synopsis. Remember, the reader is deciding whether or not to buy your film, they are not watching it so don’t keep them guessing about your intentions and make sure they don’t miss anything important! It could be your last chance!
Taken from The Godfather (1972) synopsis on IMDB
“In late summer 1945, guests are gathered for the wedding reception of Don Vito Corleone's daughter Connie and Carlo Rizzi. Vito, the head of the Corleone Mafia family, is known to friends and associates as "Godfather." He and Tom Hagen, the Corleone family lawyer, are hearing requests for favors because, according to Italian tradition, "no Sicilian can refuse a request on his daughter's wedding day." One of the men who asks the Don for a favor is Amerigo Bonasera, a successful mortician, and acquaintance of the Don, whose daughter was brutally beaten by two young men because she refused their advances; the men received minimal punishment….”
After your materials are ready it's time to get out there and start selling!
The most important part in selling your script is, of course, the buyer! Once you have finally locked your screenplay you need to move onto the next step, marketing. Like many things in the film industry, what matters most is connections and finding the right person to read your script. You should really do your research and know your executives and readers and what genres they specialize in.
Selling your writing is not only about the text on the page, it's also about your ability to express your idea face-to-face. You should practice giving your pitch of your film until you feel comfortable selling it to complete strangers. And in many ways, the first people you will meet when marketing your script will be complete strangers. But where do you meet all of these strangers with big wallets and big movie dreams?
First and foremost, if you want to get your script read, get contacts that have the ability to put your script on executive desks. More important than having a great script, is making sure people will read it. If only there was a place where you could meet people with connections in the industry...
When attending an event you should have all of your materials with you in case you make a great connection or have an opportunity to pass your script around. Bring multiple copies of your most important work along with as many different pieces of screenwriting that you feel are ready to be sold. Bring business cards, a notepad for advice, names, and any tidbits of info you want to remember, printouts of your synopsis, and most importantly bring your phone and be ready to take photos and take down contact info and details. These events can be your big break into the screenwriting side of the industry so be as prepared as you possibly can and always be on your game because you never know when opportunity will present itself!
Here is a short list of events to get you started!
Screenwriting specific competitions:
Specific screenwriting purchasing events:
Story Expo LA (Sept)
Talent Campus (Feb, Berlin/May, Cannes)
Raindance (Sept-Oct, London)
Finally, if all else fails or you are looking for the challenge, sometimes you just have to produce your own work! Don’t be afraid to finance and film your own screenplay to prove that it works! Christopher Nolan made his first film himself for $10,000 and now he is directing the biggest movies around. So sometimes taking the work that you know best can work out, but be careful, filmmaking is a very tough and time-consuming process and shouldn't be taken lightly.Make sure you are ready and willing to take on the task and realize that things don't always work out the way you want no matter how passionate and driven you are.
Having good business skills and preparation are just as important as having a great script in the world of screenwriting. We hope this guide can help set you on your way to selling your next screenplay and starting your career as a writer!