Screenwriting: Marketing your film script by Pauline Kiernan
Is it really ready?
Is your screenplay ready to go out to market? How many drafts have you done? 10- 20 is the norm. It really has to be the best it can be. It also has to be meticulously presented. Standard industry format, with no typos whatsoever. No scene numbers.
Before even considering sending out your script, practise writing loglines and synopses for it. A logline is a one-sentence description of your story. A synopsis is a description of the story and characters that’s about one page in length. This offers you a final sense (reassurance?) that the whole storyline flows effortlessly, but they are also a necessary marketing step.
However many drafts you’ve done, I urge to take one more look and ask yourself some questions. Imagine you are an industry reader late on a Friday evening, desperate to get home, or a producer who’s spent all weekend avoiding her slush pile and now it’s Sunday night and she’s tired out.
Page One: Will they bother to turn the page? It has it be absolutely compelling. Keep on reading and until you’re satisfied that it is bold, original, with the words leaping off the page, don’t send it out. Wherever you send it, you get just one shot.
And if in doubt, get feedback. It’s a new career you want to establish. Why wouldn’t you invest a little in getting proper, tough advice before you get going for real?
Researching the market
Read the trades – Screen and Variety – invaluable info on who’s looking for what.
Go online to find film companies’ websites for contact details of Heads of Acquisitions and Development. Check out the kind of films they produce. If you want to try getting an agent (very tough now) look up online, research the writers on their lists to make sure there’s a chance they’d be interested in your type of script.
If you want to try sending a script to a particular actor, call Equity in UK or Screen Actors Guild in New York or Los Angeles to get their agent’s contact details.
Go to film festivals and screenwriters’ festivals. Network like mad.
Join screenwriters’ forums – lots of useful info about festivals and contests – and moral support!
Do not send a script. The letter is to persuade them to ask to read it.
Your query letter should be 7-8 lines maximum. No meandering, dull prose story of your life!
Grab the reader in first 3 lines. Who you are, what your job is.
Next 3 lines, a sizzling description of your script in 25 words or less. Make sure it’s original and intriguing. You need to spend time on getting this right.
End the letter with: ‘I would like to send you my project for consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.’
There are two probable alternatives. First is an ‘option’, for a certain amount of money the producer or production company will have, for a specific time, the exclusive right to try to get funding and attach names to the screenplay. In effect, it’s a temporary sale. At the end of the option period, the producer can buy the script if it looks like the project can be produced, renew the option, or simply forget the whole thing – where the writer keeps control and copyright of the script.
The second alternative is an ‘outright purchase’. After you sign this contract, you will not own the rights to your script anymore. New writers are often brought in and the screenplay dramatically changed.
Winning a contest or becoming a finalist or shortlisted can give your script some kudos and encourage industry professionals who monitor these contests to contact you. There are many to choose from with different criteria and entry fees. Of the most respected: Nicholls, Blue Cat, Red Planet, Zoetrope, and Page.
While you wait, get onto the next piece of work immediately! If this script doesn’t sell, it could get you commissioned to write a different script. Good luck!
Do try writing some shorts. Production companies now go to short film festivals that have mushroomed in the last few years. Join film-making groups, get involved, write a great short, get a director on board. The film could win or get shortlisted at a festival and that will mean your full length script will get taken more seriously. Several writers of shorts have gone on to be commissioned to write feature-length screenplays. Why not you?
About the author: Pauline Kiernan is a screenwriter, award-winning playwright, Shakespeare scholar, and former journalist. She’s also the author of one of the best guides there is to screenwriting: Screenwriting They Can’t Resist: How to Create Screenplays of Originality and Cinematic Power. Explode the Rules.