Career Hack #32. Producers and people who work at production companies have a little more free time than they did when movies were in production. No production during the pandemic means more free time for key people to read your script.
Career Hack # 19. Producers, managers and agents will read a 30 page script before they’ll read a feature. A 30 page script takes about a half-hour of their time. Even during this period, when these people have more free time, they’re still more likely to read a shorter script. Writers tell me they’ve got producers to read their half hour tv pilots in the last month or two. Worth a try.
Even if you have feature length samples, you might want to sent out half hour samples. Could be a half hour animated script or a half hour comedy or dramedy. If they like your writing, then you can possibly get them to read a longer spec.
Lets talk more generally about getting people to read your work:
Screenwriters tend to consider themselves artists. Like all artists, they think they’ll one day be “discovered.” Their writing is so good, they think, a few people will read them and the word will get out. Their scripts will sell themselves.
Unfortunately, nobody teaches you how to sell screenplays. I didn’t learn how to do it at the Learning Annex, or at USC. None of those books I bought about screenwriting helped either. I guess I didn’t give it a lot of thought. Very few writers do.
At first, I thought, like most writers, that I would eventually get an agent –and he or she would sell my scripts. The truth is, agents can help. If your scripts are good — really, really good — they will sell them. But how do you get an agent?
That’s tricky. There’s a Catch 22 around getting an agent. It goes like this; you need an agent to sell your script. And an agent won’t sign you unless you’ve already sold a script. It’s been like this forever. So how do writers ever sell their screenplays?
When I started out, I didn’t know the answer to that question. At that time I was writing with Steve Sustarsic. We just tried, however we could, to get our scripts out there. We got jobs as P.A.’s at Mace Neufeld Productions. We ran film canisters around town. I got a job doing script coverage for American International Pictures. We kept our scripts in the car, in case we met a producer.
Everywhere we went, we were ready to hand out a script. We were opportunists. We mailed them to producers, (that’s right, snail mail). We always included a signed release form.
There’s a reason producers don’t read screenwriters who don’t have agents. They’re afraid of getting sued if they read a script and then years later, produce a film with a similar theme or story. Sign the release forms.
After my partner and I wrote a couple of really good spec TV scripts, we sent them to producers. Years before, my partner had sent a script to a producer named Tom Tenowich. At the time, he was producing the Bob Newhart Show. Tenowich was supportive, but couldn’t help at that time.
Fortunately, when we sent him a copy of our spec scripts (a Barney Miller and a Taxi) he liked them both. A lot. Enough to invite us in to pitch the show he was producing, Mork and Mindy.
No pressure. It was only like the number one show on television. It was the first show we pitched. We sold them a story.
Not long after that, Tenowich told other producers how much he liked our work. We didn’t ask him to, he just did it. (We were really lucky). In a short time, we sold an episode to The Jeffersons. They liked the job we did. They invited us back.
I always kept our spec scripts (with release forms) with me. After a meeting at The Jeffersons, I literally walked down the hall and dropped our specs (with releases) on the Story Editor’s desk at One Day at a Time.
A week later, he called us. We were invited to pitch there, too. The producers at that show said, “when we find writers who can write, we hire them.” So that’s how we got our first staff jobs – as Story Editors. Within a few weeks, we had dropped our scripts off on the Story Editor’s desk, and then got his job, as he moved up to Producer.
We were working writers. From that point on we had agents. However, that didn’t mean we could stop selling ourselves. Making contacts, meeting with other agents, writing new spec scripts, reinventing ourselves –we learned it never really ends.
How to you get your scripts to feature producers without an agent. Subscribe to IMDB Plus. For about $150 (note exactly sure what it costs today) you get access to producers and production company’s addresses. Send a query letter with a logline to producers who make the kind of movie you’ve written. They seem to find their niche and feel comfortable there.
Send out two hundred, and if you’re lucky you’ll get three producers asking to read your screenplay. If one options or buys your script you’ve broken in. Congratulations. Contact an agent, and ask them to negotiate your contract. Thy’ll get a free 10%. You’re bound to find am agent who wants free money. If you don’t try a manager. And if that doesn’t work, call an entertainment lawyer.
Selling is the key to getting representation. Good luck. It’s all about sticking with it. Representation will hopefully get you more paying screenwriting jobs. You can’t just kick back and count on your agent to get you jobs, however. You always ave to keep hustling, networking, writing new specs. It does get easier when you’re produced, especially in TV. You just can’t count on that alone.
Good luck, as always.