Should You Upload Your Screenplay Online?

May 20, 2015

Screenwriters often feel like they’re stuck between the rock of getting noticed and the hard place of not being taken advantage of.

When you’ve put in the hours at screenwriting school and have crafted an industry killer script that you’re keen to get optioned, it seems silly to stop short of going the final mile; to not do everything within one’s power and pursue all options for getting it noticed by The Powers That Be.

The first port of call in this situation is, more often than not, to upload the script to as many submission websites as possible…

… but the debate currently raging is a fierce one:

Should You Ever Upload Your Screenplay Online?

With the Internet in its adolescence, these kinds of websites—not to mention the many scriptwriting advice blogs out there—are legion and have been around for quite some time already. The idea is a simple one: you upload your screenplay to a centralized repository, producers (or their associates) crawl the repository for some untapped gold, and hopefully you’re the person with whom they get in touch.

All well and good, except that as mentioned, there’s a thousand and one such sites and they all promise the same kind of exposure and increased odds of being discovered; you never know which ones truly attract any kind of appreciable attention, and which ones attract only tumbleweed.

But even still… what if you somehow know for a fact that a script website’s claims are true? Or is there even any harm in shotgunning a load of websites with your script in an attempt to maximize your chances?

In a nutshell, yes. And here are the main risks you should consider:

1) You Could Be Throwing Cash Down the Drain

Without naming names, some script websites charge a fee (or require paid membership) before you can upload your work for the world to see.

That can be a costly business if you’re hitting up a number of different sites at once with little or zero to show for it. Only you can decide if it’s worth it in individual cases, but be suspicious of inflated claims that all the big producers are personally combing their archive—look beyond this for evidence of the site’s success rate and efficacy.

2) You Could Even Hurt Your Chances

Which, of course, is the opposite outcome that you’re after.

Some producers and agents get turned off by work that has been floating around in the public for all to see, with some even using it as a litmus test to save them some time—if that screenplay has been sitting on this site for X years without being optioned, it’s probably not worth bothering with.

In addition, you stand a better chance of gaining attention with a well-targeted, personalized pitch than by simply throwing it out there and hoping for the best. And that leads to our next point….

3) It Breeds Inertia

Many people get lulled into a false sense of security by uploading their scripts onto websites, thinking that the golden phone call might be just around the corner. In turn, that leads to inactivity at a time when you should be at your most active—after all, your job is not over until you’ve finally gotten that deal, and simply uploading the script to a few places usually won’t cut it.

4) Copyright

Disclaimer: this is actually a very minor concern. Everyone is terrified that other screenwriters are going to steal their work, but the frequency at which this occurs is practically negligible. Still, throwing your screenplay out there does put you at a greater risk—while your work is automatically copyrighted to you at the point of its creation without any need to register it (contrary to an enduringly popular myth), you may wish to file your script with either the U.S. Copyright Office or the Writers Guild of America for extra protection. The former costs a mere $30, the latter only $20 (and includes membership).

In conclusion, uploading your screenplay to one or more script websites may lead to great success… but you shouldn’t count on it. Quite often, there’s no substitute to just getting out there and leveraging your contacts.

Don’t have any contacts yet? Make them. Attending screenwriting school is a useful way of expanding your network, and a few very careful email queries can get you the rest of the way there.

Best of luck!