How to Sell a Screenplay to Producers/Directors
Selling a screenplay starts with the writing process. Having passion and commitment to writing screenplays is also needed. This may sound cliché; however, a screenplay needs to have that special something to even have a chance of getting the attention of producers and directors. Having a couple of backup screenplays ready (just in case the first concept doesn’t go over so well) is probably a good idea for anyone starting out in the business. Being prepared makes you look more professional.
If you have never written a screenplay before, do your homework so that you truly have a grasp on techniques and methods required in the industry before submitting your work. Take a look at other screenplays, read some books and get a general idea of what works and what doesn’t work. Now comes the hard part, generating interest in your screenplay.
Start by getting a copyright to protect your work. Mailing a copy of the manuscript back to your own address and not opening the package, is not enough. Apply for an actual copyright. You may baulk at the initial expense, but it will save you headaches later. If the ultimate goal is to get your screenplay to a producer or director who will then handle the financing and other issues, remember that you are far from being alone. Competition is fierce so be prepared for the hard work that is yet to come.
Agents or Going Direct
Some go the route of acquiring an agent, but taking the screenplay directly to the producers or directors can be just as effective if you are willing to do a lot of the footwork. Industry trade publications such as Daily Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and Backstage West often feature ads from producers or directors seeking screenplays. This is a good way to get names and addresses and is a good place to start as any. Many producers and directors now place ads on websites such as Craig’s List and other online gathering places. In addition to searching for ads, aspiring screenwriters can also place their ads to promote their skill and to seek out producers and directors.
Another option is online forums. This serves two purposes. It will put you into a community of people with the same goals and give you access to tips from other screenwriters. This way you can share “secrets” about how to get your screenplay into the right hands. Remember that it is necessary to become familiar with the screenwriting community and make important contacts to be successful in this business.
Directories – Another Option
The Hollywood Creative Directory is a comprehensive listing of more than 2,000 production companies in the United States. All the information you need to send out a screenplay is right there, including names, addresses, phone numbers, fax numbers and even some email addresses. Before sending off screenplays, make a list of which production companies and studios are willing to accept unsolicited screenplays. Some producers, directors and studios have a policy against this and will not even read a screenplay that is not submitted through an agent. Do your homework and make sure you follow the guidelines when submitting work.
Presenting Your Screenplay
The way a screenplay is presented is just as important. Write a logline. This is a brief summary (3-4 sentences) of your plot. Many producers and directors will glance at this first to see if they even want to read your screenplay. Secondly, draft a synopsis. This is a single-page summary of your screenplay that includes the basic plot and character descriptions. Make sure your screenplay is the right length. The average length for a feature screenplay is about 95 to 125 pages. If you run longer than 114 pages, Hollywood producers consider this long. If you are writing comedy scripts, these are typically shorter. If the producer or director needs more, they can always request that you expand your screenplay; however, work towards keeping the length down and within the guidelines as stated above. Of course, don’t forget to check spelling and grammar.
In addition, when submitting your work, avoid sending colorful cover letters as this may turn off a producer and director and they may not read your material. It is best to stay away from lighting and camera angle suggestions as this falls into a director’s role.