The ABC of Selling Your Screenplay
The Writing Studio receives tons of mails from writers who have written a screenplay and want to sell it.
Let’s examine this more closely: Selling your screenplay is not about selling a screenplay, but taking ownership of what you have written and developing your screenplay to its full potential so that it is ready to shake the marketplace and be developed to its full potential as a film, or perhaps even a TV series.
Secure writers don’t sell first drafts. They patiently rewrite until the script is as director-ready, as actor-ready as possible. Unfinished work invites tampering, while polished, mature work seals its integrity.— Robert McKee
Just as a homeowner takes ownership of selling a house, by making sure that it ready to be sold and that it is ready for the right market, so must the screenwriter develop the screenplay and knock it into shape to satisfy producers and investors.
You are not selling your screenplay, you are getting it ready to be developed into a film, and that process can take up to 50 years in the case of Milos Forman’s passion project Goya’s Ghost
- It took seven years for author and illustrator Philip Reeve to pen his first young-adult novel, Mortal Engines – which was first published by Scholastic in 2001 – and 17 years for the startling, epic adventure to be realised on the Big Screen. The sceenplay adaptation was crafted by the three-time Academy Award-winning filmmakers of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogies, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson
- Eighteen years later, after achieving critical praise for bold and affecting dramas like Quinceañera (2006) and Still Alice (2014), Westmoreland has finally brought Colette’s story to the big screen with his most ambitious movie yet, though it is also his first solo directing credit on a feature. The fine-tuning of the script was challenging, a process that took 16 years and 20 drafts. “Every year we’d keep trying to hone down the story, because there was so much information, and often life doesn’t fall naturally into a nice, three-act structure. Figuring out how to tell the story in a way that worked as a feature film was a monumental task.”
- Silence was a 26-year-journey from page to screen for writer-director Martin Scorsese.
- Fifteen years after Producer Alison Owen bought the rights to Deborah Moggach’s novel Tulip Fever, and sending the option to A-list producers, her tenacity and vision paid off and the film went into production in May 2014 under direction of Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom), from a screenplay by Sir Tom Stoppard (Anna Karrenina, Shakespeare in Love, Empire Of The Sun), and the thrilling romance can now be experienced on the Big Screen.
- 40 years ago the journey of the eight-novel epic The Dark Tower began when Stephen King wrote the words: “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed,” sparking an entire universe that makes its long-awaited screen debut, telling of an eternal battle between good and evil, with the fate of multiple worlds at stake.
- During the past 25 years screenwriter Tom Flynn has been selling spec scripts to studios in Hollywood, only seeing Watch It made (which he also directed). Now, with the success of Gifted, a story inspired by his one-eyed cat Fred, and his sister, whom he describes as “the most unassuming ridiculously smart person you’ve ever met,’ Flynn is back to writing full time… this time getting his movies made.
- Final Portrait is a 10-year passion project for writer-director Stanley Tucci
- Tom O’Connor’s spec screenplay for The Hitman’s Bodyguard launched his career in Hollywood.
How do you do this?
If you look at most films being produced today, particularly independent films, you will note on the credits that the writer has taken up the position of Producer, or even Executive Producer.
Taking the position of Producer does not always have to do with money, it’s essentially about ownership, about making sure that the screenplay you have invested your life in, gets the full treatment and attention it deserves when transforming words into action.
Being a Producer is producing results, managing realistic outcomes and not idealistic day-dreaming.
And, by wearing the cap of Producer, you have to start thinking like one and look at your screenplay as an investment.
If you are lucky, you might find an agent who will be willing to invest in a writer with zero track record, but mostly, agents tend to go after the bigger fish, the award-winners, and writers who promise a return on their investment.
But before you start globe trotting in search of an agent and start signing on the dotted line, or give up hope, wear your Producer’s cap and be the proud owner of a screenplay you know is worth its weight in gold.
Now approach the agent as the Producer, and let the agent work for you.
You are now stepping away from a screenplay you have spent a lifetime on, and becoming a serious investor.
You have to invest in your writing and sign a contract with yourself; once you have done that and taken full ownership of your story, no-one can take it away from you.
It is YOUR STORY! OWN IT!
4 Simple Tests Your Screenplays Need to Pass
Beyond the grammar, homophone, and spell check tests that writers love so much (enter sarcasm), are there tests that you can run your screenplays through to see if they are ready in regards to story, characterization, dialogue, structure, pacing, and any other vital elements that it will be judged upon?
1. Before You Write Your Script, Field Test the Concept
Conceptualising your screenplay is one of the most important steps you will take when deciding to formulate your idea. Some ideas are nothing more than gimmicks. Others are our own versions of successful box office hits.
Whether you are writing a High Concept story (An event driven story), or a Low Concept Story (A Character Driven narrative) your concept must
Come up with an elevator pitch for any concept you have in mind — which consists of a logline and some additional story points that cover the general beginning, middle, and end — and then share that with ten people.
The essence of high concept is that it is both brief and provocative. It provokes the imagination and promises that big things are going to happen out of an ordinary situation. The test is in whether you can describe a provocative film in one or two lines. If someone else were to look at that description and ask: But what is the film about? Then you don’t have a high concept. Robert Kosberg, How To Sell Your Idea To Hollywood
The people you choose to pitch your concept represent not just the possible audience watching your movie, but also the Hollywood insiders you may market the eventual script to. Field testing — also known as market research — can be a beneficial guide to many screenwriters trying to choose their next project.
2. Hide Your Character Names and Read the Dialogue
One of the most common mistakes screenwriters make is writing characters that are either one-dimensional or those that all sound and act the same.
One of the easiest tests that you can run your script through to detect poor or outstanding characterization is hiding character names as you read through all of the dialogue within your script.
If you can’t tell the difference between characters and their dialogue, and all your characters sound the same, you need to fully develop your characters.
3. Read Only the Dialogue in Your Script and See if It Tells the Story
If you can follow the story of the whole script based off of the dialogue alone, you have a significant issue that you have to deal with before sending the script to anyone.
If you remove all the dialogue and your screenplay tells a complete story, you are on the right track.
4. When Reading Your Script, Do Your Eyes Flow Down the Page?
White space in screenplays is very important. Screenwriters are tasked with communicating visuals to the reader in a way that allows the reader the chance to visualize what they are supposed to see within their own mind’s eye as quickly as possible.
Film and television are visual mediums. You’re not writing a detailed novel. Instead, you’re communicating a visual that needs to be processed quickly as you then move onto the next, and the next, and the next — no different than running reels of film composed of single frames that create a moving picture. In that analogy, the scene description of one single visual in a screenplay is equal to the single frame of a still image. As you add more scene description of additional visuals, the reader begins to see your visual screenplay come to life in their own mind’s eye, much like that reel of film being played on the big screen.
Here are a few important things to keep in mind:
- When you are writing your screenplay make sure to keep track of what money you spend during its writing and development process: During the writing process, keep a record of all the financial records of travelling you might have done during research, workshops and courses you have signed up, books you have purchased, DVD, Blu Ray’s and movies you have watched, meals you have ordered to keep you from starving, anything you have spent your well earned money on. When you are ready to sell your screenplay, the sum total of money spent will be factored into the selling price.
- The development process may take years, so why not speed up the process by writing the novel of your screenplay and publish it. Your screenplay is then based on a best seller and will be more marketable.
- Have your script read by a professional reader, and if you feel that you are not 100% with format or grammar, get a script editor to polish your screenplay. The Writing Studio does read screenplays and offers the service of script editing and polishing. Read more
- Watch as many movies as you can related to the story you have written, be on top of what you have written so that you are familiar with other films dealing with the same themes, or genre.
- When watching movies, familiarize yourself with the credits and see how a writer involves him or herself with the film process, or television series.
In truth, nobody can sell your screenplay better than you, so put on your Producer’s cap and start investing in your writing.
How can The Writing Studio help you?
- Our The Write Journey course will take you through the process of conceptualizing your idea, developing your characters, structuring and plotting your story, and prepare you for the ardent writing process. The course also introduces you to the world of filmmaking, the language of films, reading and evaluating films, and gives you valuable tips on how to sell yourself and your work. Read more about The Write Journey
- Once you have completed The Write Journey course you will have written the first pages of your screenplay. You can then complete a draft on your own, sign up for The Write Draft advances course that will assist you during the process of writing your screenplay. Send us an email regarding The Write Draft
- Once you have completed a draft, you can submit it to The Writing Studio for reading or polishing. Read more
- If The Writing Studio is contacted by producers looking for new screenplays, and your script is being developed through us, we will establish contact between yourself and the producer through our The Write Agency
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