I Want To Sell My Screenplay!

The ABC of Getting Your Screenplay Filmed

By Daniel Dercksen

A screenplay is writing intended to be turned into a film – just as a novel is written to be published, and plays are written to be staged. A screenplay is not a complete work. There is no point in writing a screenplay if it isn’t going to get produced. A screenplay is a part of the package, the first element in the movie business.

Package: Some material: a book, screenplay, story outline, concept, a star actor, star director

The screenplay is an element in the deal.

Film is a business. As a writer, you have to not only take ownership of your writing but have to invest in your writing

Every film project starts with a bit of commerce and a bit of art. The film process begins when someone working in development as a film studio or production company reads a wonderful screenplay.

You’ve heard it all before. “Selling a script is impossible. It just doesn’t happen. I don’t know anyone in the film business so I have no chance at all. It just isn’t fair. I’m just not a lucky person.” 

Is your screenplay a viable package?

Screenplays get read, optioned, bought, rewritten, rewritten, rewritten. Once a deal is struck the production executive send the script to a director, who will hopefully agree to direct the script, then the script goes to stars and once a big enough star agrees to do the film, the studio agrees to fund the film, and words are turned into action.

How do I get my screenplay to the marketplace?

Well, selling a screenplay does happen. But – (here it comes) – truth be told, selling a script is like winning the lottery. Some people do win the lottery and some writers do sell their scripts.

Keep your sanity! Remain focused! Remember that your screenplay has three potential goals:

  • To sell
  • To get optioned and / or produced
  • To serve as a writing sample for future work

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.

Just as a homeowner takes ownership of selling a house, by making sure that it is 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.

11 Steps To Selling Your Screenplay

1. Write a great script. Okay, this sounds obvious, but the competition and odds are indeed staggering, so put your best work out there. Your script is your calling card and it reflects your writing talent. Your script should demonstrate that you know the craft – this means it should have a strong voice, developed characters, solid structure, and follow the genre conventions. It’s nearly impossible to resubmit a rewrite of the same script to an agent and/or company once that script has been rejected. Sign up for The Write Journey

2. Write an attention-grabbing query letter. Research and query production companies, studios and talent (actors, directors, producers) that are a good match for your script. When you watch a film that is similar to the genre you are writing in, take a look at the credits and visit the websites of the producers and production companies. Just google.

3. Compose a strong Top Sheet. If film industry folks respond positively to your query, you may be then asked to send a Top Sheet that includes a one-page synopsis as well as details about characters, and yourself, with or without your script. Our The Write Journey course shows you how to do this.

4. Prepare a great pitch. Once an agent, manager, production company and/or studio has read and liked your script, you may be called in to meet with them at which time you will be asked to pitch. There are other opportunities to pitch such as pitch festivals.

5. Network. You’ve heard the joke: “What’s the best way to Carnegie Hall? … Practice. Practice. Practice.” What’s the best way to break into the film business? “Network. Network. Network.” Writing is solitary, but the film industry and getting your script made into a movie is all about whom you know and the people you meet. No matter where you live, find a way to make personal contacts with industry professionals. Attending script conferences, workshops, and film festivals are good ways to make connections, as well as social media. 

6. Educate yourself about the film business. Being savvy about the film industry makes you more appealing to potential agents, production companies and/or studios. Keep up-to-date by reading the trades, and screenwriting and film publications. This is a good way to learn who’s looking for what in order to help you target the right people for your project.

7. Script Competitions. Winning a competition is a good method to get your script noticed. Competition winners are often listed in trade publications and this can grab the industry’s attention. Having a winning credit attached to your script can give you the needed edge over the competition.

8. Grants and fellowships. It’s important to seek every possible opportunity to get your work noticed. There are numerous private and government grants and fellowships available for screenwriters. Listings can be found in film and screenwriting online and in print magazines. Receiving funding is a win-win situation. It’s not only advantageous for your wallet, but it’s also an impressive credit to add to your résumé. Additionally, there are numerous artists’ colonies throughout the country that provide screenwriters a quiet place to work as well as an opportunity to network with other screenwriters and filmmakers.

9. Be Patient. If you are asking yourself: “Why do I need to put so much effort into making my script perfect when I keep reading and hearing stories about producers, directors, and studios rewriting and often ruining screenwriters’ original scripts?” – the answer is: Your script is your calling card! Yes, it’s true, scripts often do get rewritten by others and the results are often disastrous. But, don’t use this as an excuse not to make your script the best it can be. Your script is a reflection of your writing talent. You must put all your effort into making your script perfect. If you feel that a production company or studio will “buy your idea and fix it,” do a rewrite. If you haven’t done a good job, you will be quickly replaced with another writer, and companies do not want to invest development money to hire someone else to do a rewrite. Most importantly, you don’t want to be replaced. Your goal is to be the only writer of your project and to receive screen credit.

10. Persevere. Being in the film industry means developing a thick skin.  When a door closes, go to the next one and the next one. 

11. Take on the position of Producer. This 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 daydreaming. And, by wearing the cap of Producer, you have to start thinking like one and look at your screenplay as an investment.

The more you can improve your writing, educate yourself about the business, network, and develop patience, the more empowered you will be and in turn, the better chance you will have in selling your script.

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.


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

You need a professional reader’s report and not just a friendly nod from your mom or best friend

  • Once you have completed a draft, you can submit it to The Writing Studio for reading or polishing. Read more

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