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The Path to Getting Your Screenplay Sold

Oct 11, 2007
One of the most asked questions in screenwriting is "How do I sell a screenplay?"

Over the last 10 years, I've interviewed many produced screenwriters and they all went through their own version of the following steps as they made their first sale.

Those steps are:

1. A well-written script that is marketable.
2. A pitch.
3. A market.
4. An "in" into the market.
5. A negotiation that leads to a sale.

Of course, each of those steps can be fulfilled in many ways. My purpose in presenting this article is to help you easily recognize opportunities when they arrive and quickly surmise what might be stopping you from succeeding.

Let's look at some details on those five steps.

1. A well-written script that is marketable.

To write a great script, you need a great story and a fresh voice that is entertaining to read. It takes a combination of passion, skill and creativity. But there is another side that needs to be there...

Basically, you are bringing a product to a market. If you want the market to pay you for it, you need to make sure the product meets their needs. In this business, that translates into a marketable concept, castable parts, and great writing.

If you really want to be successful as a screenwriter, you need high marks in both the artistic side and the business side. The more of a master you are at both "arts," the better your chance of having a true breakout career.

KEY: If you want to sell, design your script to be as attractive as possible to the decision makers in the movie biz.

Amazing lead characters will attract top actors. High concepts will attract producers. Great writing will satisfy readers. Do all three and you have a winner.

Remember, the script is your product. If that script is amazing, then people will want to do business with you. This is a choice that you have 100% control over -- WRITE TO ATTRACT.

2. A pitch.

What is a great script without a great pitch? A writing sample.

You've spent six months writing your script. You've agonized over the characters and their story. You've rewritten some lines of dialogue twenty times. Now, it is worth it to create a great pitch.

The whole purpose of a pitch is to get your script read. Usually, your marketing materials consist of a logline, synopsis, and One Page, but there is an important distinction you need to make.

Your pitch needs to present your story in the most compelling way possible. They need to create a strong desire in your reader or listener, and ultimately cause them to demand the right to read your script.

Believe it or not, your pitch can cause agents, managers, and producers to pursue you...if it is a great pitch.

KEY: Find the hook in your story.

The hook is the most interesting, unique, amazing, intriguing, or fresh part of the big idea for your story. It is the thing that will intrigue potential buyers and cause them to demand the script. The right one or two-sentence hook will have more impact than a five minute pitch.

If you find the right hook, it will give you enormous power when you need it most -- when you are face to face with a producer.

3. A market.

There are many different markets in this business and each of them has their own needs. In general, there are markets based on budget -- extreme low budget, low budget, mid-range budget, and high budget. There are markets based upon venue -- TV, Cable, straight-to-DVD, Theater, etc. There are markets based upon funding source -- government funding, private funding, grants, etc.

Also, there are new markets opening up -- Web movies, cell phones, and others we haven't even discovered, yet.

Now, here's the key. Look at your script, determine the best market for it, and get to know that market. What do they already make? What size budgets? What level of special effects? What limitations are on them? Etc.

Understanding your market will help you present your script in a way that makes sense to them. It will also make it easier for you to become an "insider."

KEY: The "right market" will match your script.

You are looking for the perfect market for your script. This is where a lot of writers mess up. They are looking for glory or status or to win the lottery, but they've written a script that is perfect for a low budget market. Rather than beat your head against the Studio's gate, go find the market that will love and honor your script.

Then write another script that matches the market you want to be in.

4. An "in" into the market.

Somehow, you need to get in the door of your market. The traditional route is to get a low-level job and work their way up, looking for opportunities as they go.

Another way is to find an "in." That person could be an agent, manager, producer, director, actor, assistant, or anyone else who has contacts. Getting that "in" is just a matter of finding people, pitching the script, having them read it, and most important, having them fall in love with the work.

In reality, you may find the one contact that will champion your work and get you a deal...or you may have to find twenty champions. You want to keep building fans of your writing until you are safely inside the business.

KEY: If you've done the first three steps well, you will be welcomed by people who have connections in your market.

Why? Because you are bringing them a great script, a great pitch, and both fit their market well. What more could they ask for?

Of course, the better your writing and pitch, the easier it is going to be to establish yourself with the players in your market.

5. A negotiation that leads to a deal.

There are two kinds of writers -- those who have representation and those who negotiate their own deals. Obviously, it is much easier to have an agent negotiate on your behalf. But there are other alternatives. You can hire an Entertainment Attorney. Or you can negotiate on your own.

If you are working with a small production company, there may not be funds up front, which means you'll likely be doing the negotiation on your own. Don't worry. Just keep focused on making the deal.

That may sound obvious, but newcomers to this business are often trying to score the "million dollar sale" when the market only gives that in about 2% of the cases. Of course, those make the news and then everyone jumps in demanding "their right" to the big money.

More important than money is the credibility a sale will bring you. It puts you in the clubhouse. It says you belong in this business. It opens doors. It gets you meetings, where you pitch your next project that will make you even more money.

KEY: Make sure you keep both parts of this step in mind...

1) A negotiation... 2) that leads to a deal.

When you negotiate, make sure you get the sale. All other items are in a lower category. I've seen writers demand all kinds of crazy things -- Associate Producer title, million dollars, be on the set, meet with the star, final edit approval on the movie, back end points, etc. and most of them lost out on their chance at success because of a little greed. Don't do it.

REMEMBER, you need to get that first sale in order to get on the inside of this business. That is your ticket into the show. Once you have your ticket, you will get many perks. But you don't get any of them without a ticket.

For most people, selling a screenplay is a dream come true. It takes you behind the scenes, gives you the opportunity to do what you love -- and get paid very well for it. It gets you on the Red Carpet at the premier of your movie. And for some, it catapults you into the spotlight to enjoy a little fame.

You know the path, now. Follow it.
About the Author
Hal Croasmun is a writer/producer who has helped screenwriters break into Hollywood. He's the author of "33 Ways to Break into Hollywood" and runs http://www.ScriptForSale.com which has articles, interviews, and online videos to speed up the process of becoming successful as a screenwriter.
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