I don’t want you to read this thinking the writing is done just because you finished your screenplay. Unfortunately, you need to start having people read it. Ultimately you want professionals to read it, but if you’re like most writers, you might want to start with some friends who are also writers.
Then you might want to have some of your contacts who have some professional experience read it. I would suggest someone who’s sold a script, or at least had one optioned. Another way to measure a writer’s experience is by finding a writer who has an agent. Let some of them read it, and then make those fixes.
The most important person you want to read your script is a good screenwriting consultant, preferably someone who’s sold screenplays, and who have had a Story Analyst job in a story department. These are people who actually made a living (as I once did) by reading novels or screenplays for the studios (or production companies) and grading them for concept, setting/production values, storyline, characterization, dialogue and pacing.
They are usually the first people at the studio who read scripts and give them a “PASS,” “CONSIDER,” or “RECOMMEND.” But, I’m getting ahead of myself. First things first;
1. Celebrate. Finishing a project like this is a huge deal in your life. It’s emotionally exhausting. Take time to reflect on what you’ve accomplished. Celebrate with someone close to you who understands how important this event is. Reward yourself.
Put the script away and come up with some other ideas for screenplays. Having lots of ideas in various stages of development sort of bulletproofs you from rejection. If they don’t like the script you submit, you have many others. Remember, it’s best to think of writing as a lifetime commitment, you’ll be writing lots of scripts, some will be home runs, some doubles.
A lot of screenwriters write one script, and think they’ll get rich and famous from their first effort. It rarely happens that your first script gets bought. More likely, a producer will read it, and like the writing. Then he’ll invite you in to pitch some other ideas, or ask you to help writing one of his projects that’s just at the idea stage.
2. You may want to register your script with the Writer’s Guild, or copyright the project. You’ve got to be careful who you tell about the project. You don’t want to get ripped off. You can register your script with the Writers Guild of America for between $10 and $20. Copyrighting your script is considered the better form of protection.
Remember, you have to kind of trust people in this business. In order to sell a project you have to pitch it, or give it to people to read. You do have to get used to talking about your project when selling it. Ideas do get stolen. It just doesn’t happen all the time. You have to be able to live with risks. There may be hundreds of readers, and producers reading your script before someone decides to buy it.
3. After taking some time to relax and recharge, prepare to show your work to others. Put yourself in a frame of mind to accept constructive criticism. Nobody likes this part. You want to be feeling good about yourself and your previous accomplishments. If your self-esteem is at an all time low, you’re probably not ready. People will be judging your script. Just remember, it’s the script. It’s not you. Plus, you have plenty of other ideas. And remember, you can get 1,000 “no’s” but it only takes one “yes.”
4. Ask trusted friend who is also a writer to read your work. Your friends will generally say good things. This is a safe way to start showing your work. Next, if you’ve cultivated connections who write professionally, give it to them for a critique. Two is better than one, if possible. Listen to their critiques.
Your friends and other writers at about your level will often be good at finding problems with your script. More often than not, they’re right. However, at this level they’re rarely right about how to fix the problem.
5. Some people do table reads, using actors to read the parts out loud. This can be helpful, too. If it’s a comedy you can tell which jokes work. The table read can tell you if scenes fall flat, if you need some cuts, and where clarification might be necessary.
The people reading the roles may have valuable input, too. There are writing groups in LA that hold table reads for their members. They may charge $30 a month, but it’s worth it.
There’s a website called Deadline Junkies Screenwriter’s Lab that also offers table reads for writers. Their membership fees are reasonable. They not only have professional actors read your script, they have professional writers come and give you feedback.
6. Compare the various critiques and decide what needs to be fixed. Be tough with yourself. The marketplace will be unforgiving. Try to remain objective, and remember, your career is about writing many screenplays on spec. If this one doesn’t sell, it may be the one that gets you a pitch session. Figure out what the most important fixes are, then incorporate them into your next draft.
Another reminder, you don’t have to take all 16 of these actions. Find the ones that work for you. However, I wouldn’t skip this next one;
7. If you can afford it, this is a good time to send this more polished script to a professional story analyst. Make sure the reader is someone you trust. I’ve sent scripts to an individual which screens screenplays for Sundance Labs. I recall paying him $250 to evaluate and more to hear an hour or two of feedback. He’s always allowed me to tape record our sessions together, which helped with the next rewrite. I know, you’re saying “Ack. More rewrites!!?, but this is what writers are doing today.
Really, even professional writers, these days, who’ve had screenplays produced, don’t want to turn a script in to their agents, without getting professional-level feedback.
8. Incorporate the new changes into your screenplay. You don’t have to change everything everyone says, but if there’s a trend, you’d be wise to follow it. This is your final draft. It’ll be your calling card screenplay. This (hopefully) will be the script that kicks off your career.
Remember, however, it’s just one of many great scripts you’ll be writing. Consider all your other ideas and projects. If this one doesn’t hit, maybe the next one will.
9. Now you want to get this version of your screenplay to agents, managers, producers, directors or actors. If you don’t have an agent or manager, there are other ways to go. Do you have any contacts that can get a script to a professional? You’ll have to move out of your comforts zone. Some people are lucky and can get a script to Robert Downey Jr or they know a guy who knows Pee Wee Herman.
10. Another great idea is to enter screenwriting contests, labs and internships. The Nicholls fellowship is the best contest. Film festivals have contests. Some websites like the Blacklist or Inktip may also have contests. If you place in the top 10%, or better, win — you can add that to your query letter. Sundance and Slamdance and other festivals have workshops, too. If your script makes the cut, they may have you come in to do their “lab,” reworking and shooting a scene.
Moviebytes lists hundreds of screenwriting contests. Before entering, make sure you get coverage from a reliable source, make sure the script gets a RECOMMEND evaluation. If it doesn’t rewrite it until it does. The Blacklist, Stage 32 Happy Writers, or HollywoodScriptwriting.Com are good sources of coverage.
11. Warners and Disney have internships for promising writers. If accepted, they’ll work with you on polishing your script or writing a new script in a workshop setting. They ‘re generally looking for “the next big thing,” which could be you. If you’ve written a TV spec script, say for Homeland, Modern Family, The Bridge, or The Good Wife, you might be especially interested in the studio internships.
Some of these are actually fellowships, which means the network or studio may pay you (even up to $30,000 a year to nurture you as a writer.
Also, many networks and studios have internships for writers who qualify as “diverse.” This includes minorities, women, writers with disabilities, and writers over 55.
12. If you don’t have representation, there are places on the internet you can post your screenplay where producers, managers and agents can access them.
Inktip (at inktip.com), is one of the first websites to post written material for industry people to find. They have some success stories. There is a monthly fee, but it’s not a rip-off. They will also list your logline in a brochure that’s sent to 5,000 production companies.
The Blacklist (at blcklst.com) is one of the best newer services to offer this type of exposure. They charge $25 per month to post your material. They also offer evaluations of screenplays and TV scripts at reasonable prices. They also have contests and mentorship programs.
Moviebytes is another. The website for International Screenwriters Association (ISA) will post your script for a small fee. Some of these sites will even post your loglines (brief catchy descriptions of your story) and summaries, outlines, or treatments.
Some of the coverage services also offer to blast your finished script to hundreds of producers. Scriptshark, for example, provides this service. Of course you want to make sure the script you send out gets a “Recommend,” not a “Pass.”
Spend more time having people read your screenplay before sending it out. Ask writer friends; any people you know in studio Story Departments, or talent agencies to look at your script first. Keep improving it until you’ve collected a group of fans. Then, and only then, send it out.
Some resources you can use to reach producers once your script is in great shape include; Screenwriters Online, a website that will allow you to chat with a producer; and online pitch festivals like the one FadeIn Magazine (online) offers.
The International Screenwriting Association website advertises “Gigs,” most of these jobs are non-WGA writing jobs, so take advantage of them while you’re working your way up and before you’re in the guild. The producers advertising there will want to see a script of yours, preferably in the same genre.
13. Some screenwriters blog about their writing “adventures,” and others have websites where they show “sizzle reels” for their projects. Allegedly, Diablo Cody got “discovered” based on her blog about being a stripper-screenwriter. Some people set up Facebook “Like” pages for their projects. Some people create websites to promote their material.
Writers who are also directors have a better shot at breaking in to the film industry. They can write and make a short film that gets them noticed. For example, “Sling Blade,” written by Billy Bob Thorton was first created as a short film. “Frankenweenie” by Tim Burton eventually became a feature film. Finally, “Bottle Rocket” also started as a short, written and directed by Wes Anderson.
If you can direct as well as write, you might shoot your best scene, and put it on your website. Even better put together a “sizzle reel” featuring a 10-20 quick scenes (highlights) from the film, edited together to impress producers and agents out there.
Then use social media, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook to make sure people see it.
14. If you’re trying to shoot your scripts as low-budget features, a social media presence is pretty important. There are sites online like Kickstarter and Indiegogo for crowdfunding. They both take in the neighborhood of a 5% platform fee, plus 3-5 % processing fees.
Seed & Spark is slightly different, in that they are selective about the projects they’ll consider for crowdfunding. They don’t post just any film project they get, they cherry pick projects they’ll set up for funding.
Pozible is an Australian crowdfunding site that has launched over 6,000 film projects. Fundrazr is a Canadian crowdfunding site that supports all kinds of projects, including film projects. Both are available to international filmmakers.
There are many other ways to raise funds for your low budget film. There are groups on LinkedIn you can join and find out about funding. One such group is called Film Financing Group. The idea is to make friends on the site, then once you’ve created a relationship, ask for help raising funds. Similarly, Facebook has The Indie Film Scene, and the Independent Film Society.
Meetup.Com has lots of groups for writers and filmmakers. There’s one in Santa Monica Called the Film Funding Club. Again, growing relationships is what it’s all about. Become part of the community before you ask “what can you do for me?”
Attaching talent is another way to improve your chances of funding an independent film. If you can find a director and some actors with some buzz, it’s a huge advantage in fundraising. There are people who will provide what they call “matching funds,” if you can get your script to a star (who can carry a movie) and get them to sign a letter of intent.
15. When sending your calling card script to an agent, a manager, a studio, or a production company, be sure and include a signed release form. (When you get an agent, you won’t need these). This is about getting an agent. Anything that adds heat to your project will increase your chances of getting read. Winning contests, or placing highly in contests, getting “RECOMMENDS” from Blacklist, or other respected story or screenplay consultants, coming through an industry internship or writing or directing lab; these are all “evidence” that your script is worth reading.
When you send a query letter to an agent, asking if they’ll read your script, mention any of these measures of quality from respected sources; and toss in facts like “Quentin Tarentino said this was the best script he’s read in a long time.” Get their interest. Your script will get moved up in the stack.
16. While you’re hustling this calling card script to actors, directors, or producers, you should be thinking of new ideas for other films or TV shows. And going back to where we started, remember, you need lots of great ideas. This is a calling. You’re not just writing one script and getting rich. Most likely, a producer who loves your script, will say, “I like your writing, what else have you been working on.” Be ready.
If you have questions about writing your spec feature or TV script, contact me for a free consult to discuss the steps it takes to write your way into a Hollywood writing job, just click here.