You’ve sacrificed countless hours of your social life and mental stability, poured your blood and sweat out onto the pages, and — let’s be real here — questioned your creativity and, henceforth, your life choices almost every day up to this point. You know a script needs multiple drafts to be considered ready to go out into the world; no one who is successful is sending first drafts of their scripts to festivals or competitions. Ultimately, one great script is worth more than a million mediocre scripts. So, you have put in the work.
You’ve rewritten, revised, reviewed, gathered feedback, and revised again — and again. And again. But finally, you’ve done it; your screenplay is ready. The sense of accomplishment and pride is akin to the love parents experience after witnessing the birth of their first child; a laborious creation like the proverbial phoenix out of the ashes.
But then comes the daunting task of getting your screenplay out to the masses.
With over a hundred thousand scripts going into the system each year and about 300 films getting made — only about 10 of those coming from first-time writers — the odds can feel intimidating. That said, it’s all about the numbers, meaning that the more you get your screenplay out there, the higher the chances are of it being seen.
After you’ve written several drafts of the script and you’re sure it’s ready to submit as a showcase piece, consider these 6 tips on how to get started with selling your screenplay:
Don’t Sell Your Screenplay
This may sound completely contradictory, but when it comes to selling a spec script — work that isn’t commissioned or solicited — rather than industry players purchasing it right away, the chances of them considering the script as a resume for you is far more likely.
Put simply, your spec script should be used to showcase you as a screenwriter in order to build a career writing other scripts that are paid for by studios. Rather than working to sell your screenplay, sell yourself.
Bear in mind that even if an executive likes your script the inevitable question becomes, “what else you got?” You have to be able to answer with another script or at least a detailed pitch. So never stop writing.
Focus on nurturing your craft. Selling your screenplay is one transaction: building a career can take a lifetime of dedication. You have to continue to work, improve, revise, and adapt to navigate the industry. Writers need to write consistently to get better over time, and the better your writing becomes, the more likely your chance to sell something or, even more importantly, build a lasting and fruitful career.
Contests can also be a place where you can make connections leading to representation and opportunities to get your showcase script read by executives. For example, check out the Austin Film Festival, where a few of our students have been invited after submitting their scripts.
Make a Short for Your Movie
Now, whether you intend on using your script as a resume or a masterpiece in its own right, you still have to advertise it in its most polished and perfected form to get noticed. Making a short film from your screenplay is becoming the most powerful calling card to be seen. It may seem tough to condense an entire screenplay into a short, but it’s an important skill to master. If you can do a short, you can put it up on a website like scripts.com – this is where sales agents look for really great short movies that often come from feature-length scripts. YouTube and Vimeo are also great platforms for you to use to garner exposure.
Finishing well in a competition immediately increases the chances of your work being read. Not only does it help your credibility as a screenwriter and raise your profile, but the majority of competitions also offer cash prizes — so why not enter as many competitions as possible? There are numerous competitions happening every year from major players like the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards to lesser-known, yet just as important, ones like the Final Draft Big Break Contest. So enter away!
Query Letter or Email
This is as basic and as critical as it gets. A query letter/email outlines who you are and what your script is about, and is sent to studios, agents, and managers. It may sound simple, but a good query letter and email plan requires lots of patience and persistence, as established industry contacts leave little room to hear from unknown writers (although managers are a little more open to nurturing new talent). Regardless, exhausting all your options in establishing connections with the gatekeepers will increase your chances of being represented and create exposure for your screenplay. This is also where having your short film will help immensely. Busy and important people rarely have time to sit and read through an entire script from an unknown, so on top of your brief plot summary within the query, including a link to a finished short film is extra helpful.
Just what it sounds like, a pitchfest is a conference of sorts where industry insiders gather to share their knowledge and scout potential new talent. The key for budding screenwriters is to attend these events not only focused on the sole objective of selling a screenplay, but also building a network of contacts and receiving valuable feedback. Pitchfests also offer you the perfect platform to hone your pitching skills, as it’s something you’re going to need to get good at in the industry. Go in there with your perfected pitch, always ask for feedback, and don’t forget to follow up with a “thank you” after the day!
There are a significant number of websites offering a directory for industry people looking for screenplays. Sites like The Black List, Spec Scout, and The Tracking Board (among many others) give you a paid platform to advertise your work directly to industry buyers, as well as the opportunity to get feedback on your work.
As intimidating as it may seem as a first-time screenwriter selling a script, don’t forget that groundbreaking films like “Pulp Fiction” and “Back To The Future” were among many genius screenplays that got repeatedly rejected to begin with. The common denominator in all those cases was the unwavering passion the screenwriters had about their work, and the persistence to get their work noticed. So never give up!