You just wrote the famous words “Fade out” and now its time to shake some hands and get a deal done for your next big blockbuster film. Well, this part is a little bit harder than writing “Fade in.” But it’s only harder because you don’t know how yet. In this post, we will discuss how to sell your screenplay. But more importantly, every possible way to sell your first screenplay.
Did you know there are eight ways to sell a screenplay? And each of those has different variations. Let’s dive deep into each possible choice.
Before You Start Selling
How do you know if your script is good enough?
The first thing you need to do is write a great script. There is no point in reading another word without doing this first. And by great, I don’t mean that you think it’s great or your mom I expect the majority of people who are in the industry believe it’s excellent.
You can do this by getting script readers to read and give you notes. Don’t skip this part; you will do the rest of the steps for no reason if this part isn’t done. It’s much easier to sell a perfectly polished script than a half baked good one.
Now you might be saying to yourself, but Hollywood puts out crap all the time. Yes, they do, but this doesn’t mean the screenwriter’s script was crap. Screenplays go through a lot of people before it hits the theatres. Among those possible hands are potentially other screenwriters that are hired for rewrites of your material.
So something inherently good can turn to crap after the director’s third change of the ending. But this isn’t your concern you want to sell. But its important you know why you can’t just sell crap. Take a look at a former Showtime exec
This is a no brainer, but please make sure your script is formatted correctly. Things as simple as:
- Spelling mistakes
- Script under 120 pages preferably under 110
- Do not put your WGA number on your script
- only two prongs in the paper version of your script skipping the middle hole
Executives are used to seeing scripts presented this way anything else will lend them to believe you’re a rookie writer. Tarantino can get away with writing a screenplay in a novel form you cannot.
Create a Story for the Market
After research, the scripts that sell write for the market. Most if not all producers aren’t going to care about a story about a dog and a boy getting along. This isn’t the 90’s anymore. This sort of script could work as a great writing sample to get you in the room, but more than likely won’t sell.
What’s happening right now? And what’s going to be happening two years from now. There is an easy way to find this out. Just ask producers. They have all the keys, and they will let you know where the industry is going and give you an idea of the stories they want to read. We will discuss several ways to get in contact with these people later in the post don’t worry it’s simple.
Don’t think about selling when writing
It’s easy to imagine how someone is going to receive the text when writing and this is the wrong approach. You want to focus on the story not the marketing of the story. The marketing should already have been done before you started writing.
Writers who do this end up with bad scenes they think would be cinematic and enjoyable for the producer instead of story flow. Out of the entire process, this is your time to think creatively not analytically. Screenwriting is an art, treat it as such.
Yes, moving to Los Angeles works
Like the title suggests moving to LA is one of the best things you can do for a career in movies or TV. Every single interview of filmmakers I have seen says their career took off after moving to LA. The reason being is collaboration.
You can find an up and coming hungry producers, directors, and actors looking to get there shot in making a movie. These people in Starbucks today are the filmmakers of tomorrow. Building relationships will help you in the long run. It;s better to sell ten scripts to one person then sell one once.
Get your IMDB Credits up
IMDB is an online resume for a screenwriter and other film profesionals. When you reach out to people, they will look you up on IMDB. People aren’t going to hire a writer who is working at Walmart with no experience writing offense. For this reason, you need to get your credits up. Five credits no matter how small of a project look better than no credits.
It’s called social proof, when people see other people’s willingness to trust you they have more of a desire to believe you are who you present to be.
One way is to sell short film scripts. You might get $50.00 for a short, but you’re after the credit here not the payday. There simple to write and it will help people believe in you.
Copywrite Your S
Copywrite protection is not a necessary step, but for some reason, writers think that their script is the best thing ever to hit a producers desk. So for those that think people will steal there masterpiece, there are two things you want to do.
Register with the WGA (Writers Guild of America)
Registering will put a version of your script in the universe with the people who protect writers. Registration cost $20.00 or $10.00 if you’re a WGA member. Click below for that webpage.
Library of Congress
Library of Congress is the most protective way to copywrite your script. The process can take about six months though. Even though it takes a while to complete the protection starts as soon as you submit. Click below for that webpage.
I’ve been told that no one is going to steal your screenplay. Companies are in high demand for talented writers, and when they find one they will move mountains to hire your talent. Maybe back in the
The Adaptation Method
Now lets get into a method of develpment that will get you closer to the sale than anything else and thats Adapting a known story.
Most agents are now telling their writers to write a book before writing a screenplay. Why? Blame Harry Potter and every comic book or Novel that has turned into a movie thus far. The continued success of James bond alone is enough for every studio to want a film based on characters that already exist.
The purpose simply put is if a piece of literature must already have a following. If it has a following its proof people already like it. If people already like it, it has a greater chance of making money turned into a film, than a spec script.
I’m not saying spec scripts or original stories aren’t being sold. It’s just adaptations are being sold and created at a phenomenal rate and are consistently making big money. Adaptations also include video games or past real-life stories such as Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken or Flight starring Denzel Washington.
For example, John Wick started as a true story of a US Navy seal who really had his dog killed named Daisy. On April 1, 2009, at about 1:00 a.m a gunshot was heard by the seal in his front loan. The Navy seal picked up his two 9mm berettas, got in his pick up truck and hunted those men down. But in real life he ends up sparing their lives saying and I quote:
“I’ve killed enough people already.”
The real John Wick
Derek Kolstad heard this, and John Wick was born. The real story sold the script. But to do this, you need to get the rights to such events. And getting exclusive rights to adapt these stories.
Finding an Agent or Manager to Sell Your Script
How can Agents help?
Agents are salesmen for screenwriters. The longer they are in business the longer there contact list of people who will buy scripts. They line up the right producers with the right script and build trusting relationships with sales agents and studio heads, negotiate deals getting you the maximum amount of money. They also will give you insider knowledge on what scripts to write for the future. But with all these great things comes a price to you.
The price is 10% of your earnings.
Along with that, they are hard to attract. They don’t take on everyone as a client. They have limited time depending on how many clients they have and because of this only take the best of writers on.
Why would they waste time and energy on a writer they won’t collect any commission from? The section above called “before you start selling” will get your script to a place that will atract an agent. Finding an agent can be challenging but rewarding if you catch one.
Most agents you can find at the drop of a hat the issue is getting there attention and selling them on you with a great script.
Why Are Managers good?
Managers are slightly different from agents and in some ways better. They work more with you on your script being hands-on helping develop new drafts. Once the screenplay is perfectly crafted they then shop it around town. They also have great relationships with buyers. The difference being they don’t negotiate deals; only agents or entertainment lawyers do this.
Because of the more hands-on approach they often take 15% and sometimes a producers credit in the final product. But the benefit to this is they work harder and have fewer clients giving you more independet atnetion.
Both managers and agents are career starters; it all depends on how much detailed attention you need for your career. Managers are easier to get than agents. If you want to know more about how to get one I wrote a great post linked below.
Your agent or manager will have this information but let’s say you’re just going to sell yourself. So many writers do this especially for there first couple scripts. It’s not abnormal for you to meet and great producers yourself.
Going to film festivals, screenplay contests or film distributor events. These places are gold mines for producers interested in new material. But above all else, you need to contact the right producer.
Jason Blume is a famous example of a producer who takes on small budget productions and makes a significant impact. Some of his movies are:
- Paranormal activity, Budget:11,000 thousand USD Box office: 193.4 million
- Insidious, Budget: 1.5 million USD, Box office: 97 million USD
- Get out, Budget: 4.5 million USD, Box office: 255.4 million USD
You can take a look at his entire resume of movies spanning over 30 films here. But there is another pattern you can tell from this short list that’s they are all horror/thriller films. In fact when he tries to do anything else it flops.
In short, if you were going to pitch Blume house productions a film, it would need to be a small budget horror or thriller with immense market capabilities. Nothing else will stand a chance in the meeting room.
You can do this type of research for any studio or producer or production company out there. They all have different interests in films and things they do better than anything else.
Take the Asylum film distribution company. Asylum is known for Sharknado 1 – 6, Snakes on a Train, Atlantic Rim, and my personal favorite Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies. You would take them a comedy or a well-written knock-off of an already popularized movie. Anything mockumentary would work.
How to sell a Screenplay Online without an Agent
So you’ve decided to become your own agent and manager, and you’re interested in selling your script straight to buyers. The best way to do that in the 21 century is via online platforms. Below are all the most popular online platforms with brief descriptions of the benefits of each.
IMDB Pro isn’t a script submission platform, and that’s why in my opinion its the best way to sell a screenplay online without an agent. Above I’ve mentioned that it’s hard to get in touch with the right people who would buy your script. But with an IMDB pro account, you have access to everyone’s email and sometimes phone numbers.
You might not think it’s very useful but an assistant who is board out there mind will read your script, and they do push it along if its right for the company.
The Blacklist is the most popular of all the screenplay submission sites because they seem to have the most executives trolling the site for great undiscovered talent. The Blacklist rates your script and gives notes. The higher rated scripts are normally downloaded by producers and are bought. The scripts on this platform are also known to be for higher budget films in the 50 to 100 million dollar range.
Think lower budget productions under 5 million sometimes a couple hundred thousand. What’s great about Ink Tip is they offer a newsletter that is sent out for there subscribed customers. This newsletter has info on certain producers and what types of scripts there looking for currently.
International Screenwriters’ Association
This association is a development platform that rates your script and sends it out to producers like the blacklist but they do way more. They test the marketability of said script as well as offer mentorships for you as a writer. This does come at a heftier price than just posting your script like the other platforms mentioned above. But if you feel like you need a management approach to selling your script this site is best.
In my opinion, there is almost no difference from spec scout and the above review platforms. It’s most similar to Inktip but they don’t seem to have any success stories leading me to think they just provide script notes and are just trying to advertise more than they are. So enter at your own risk.
This is more of a hub for industry professionals not just screenwriters to meet and greet and share projects and great ideas. The magic comes in the one on one producer pitches. Yes, you can pay for a skype based pitch meetings. These executives post films and TV shows they produced and let you know straight up what they want to hear — Romcom, thriller, etc. I highly recommend going here best $35.00 you will spend.
This website is more interested in getting you signed to work with studios than the rest. They actually brag about how they’ve gotten 72 writers working and the big named companies. Which includes ABC, Disney, and Universal.
How this works is you pick through their long list of industry professionals you would like to pitch. You write a pitch they read it within five days and give you a yes or no on sending them the script. Easy enough and its amazingly simple setup for any writer who doesn’t want to talk face to face and would instead write.
Selling Your Script at Pitchfests
The pitch fest is probably the most nerve-racking place to pitch. Good job to everyone who pitched movies like this. This is more of an old school way but it still works. Recently a lot of people have come out on certain pitchfests that seem to be scams. So below I’ve listed the two that I’m for sure that isn’t.
- Hollywood Pitch Festival
- Golden Ticket Pitchfest at Screenwriting Expo
Be careful with pitch sites do your research.
The contest is a great place to sell screenplays. Winning the right contest not only sells the screenplay but starts your career in terms of industry contacts. I wrote a great post on the 19 screenplay contests that actually matter. You can read that with the link below.
The power of contest comes in the winning of one of them. If you win they contest organizers need you to sell a script get a job etc. Because the more their winners win career wise the better they have for the marketing of there script contest. They will brag about you from the day you won to the day you write the next Marvel movie. As if to say “look at what we help do and you can be next, sign up here.”
When winning they introduce you to producers that would be interested in your script. Tv show excess that could use a writer like you on their staff anything they can do to win long term. Your success is their success.
Making a Short Film
So you might be thinking I’m just a screenwriter, not a full out filmmaker. So were the Duff brothers before S
These platforms are normally trolled by sales agents. They look for great stories to turn into full-length movies. Even if you’re not a director hire one with a crew for a couple thousand and craft a piece of your script into its own short. You might be thinking now I’m not going ot invest my own money into production or I don’t really have the money for this type of thing. Which my question back would do you really believe in your script?
Do what you have too to get where you want to be. David Samberg creator of Kung furry got zero interest for his film Kung Furry so he made a 30 minute short after that went viral he now will be working on a feature with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Fassbender. Now you might not have this story but there are a lot of stories similar where a writer creates a short that catches the interest of someone. All you need is one.
This is a newer way people are using to sell scripts that most in the industry haven’t caught on or aren’t willing to try. You have to be different.
Selling your Screenplay in other Countries
Take any of the above techniques you’ve seen and replicate them in other countries. Most people want to sell a script in America with a focus on LA. If you can make it here you can make it anywhere. But the world is a big place and there are more first world countries than just America. For example, Australia is a very underserved market.
I was listening to a podcast with FAST screenplay during my research for this post. The host mentioned how during a big award show for TV and films in Australia he was given the opportunity to speak to the producer with a hit in the box office that year. This producer mentioned he gets a maximum of 2 scripts per week. And because of this, he reads all the scripts hes given. No matter how bad. He was starved for content. whereas in America people are flooded with it.
The countries you should be looking to write for are:
- United Kingdom
The payment for screenplays is nearly the same as here in America with some slight variations. The lowest paying country would have to be India because of the extreme difference between the Ruppee and the Dollar. If you would like to know more about payment structure and how much screenwriters get
In Conclusion, you can see there is no straight path to success in this industry there are loopholes. You could know someone famous or be a family member of someone in the business. But because of innovation at least we all get to try. And I think in the future it will get more and more streamlined. But with this means more competition than ever.
Watch Max Landis a screenwriter in the industry talk about the truth of breaking into the film business. Keep in mind John Landis is his father a famous movie director in the ’80s.