When 99% of scripts submitted in Hollywood are rejected by producers, then we can ask ourselves: are industry professionals still buying scripts?
Every year the Writers Guild of America registers about 50,000 scripts and only 150 of them get into production. Statistically, that’s less than 1% of them.
Why is that and how do you get your script to cut through these depressing statistics?
You probably heard that “most scripts are bad” before. Yes, most screenplays are bad. I agree to a certain point. You and I both know a list of movies that are bad and where it’s evident the script was terrible, yet the movie still got made. Right?
If the statistic is less than 1% of scripts that get into production (0.3% to be exact) that would mean that 99.97% of the scripts that circulate are too bad to even be considered.
I would say, that’s not exactly true. While yes, there are more bad scripts than good scripts out there. There’s a lot more happening here too and it goes down to your connections, your credits, your representation and… maybe only one has to do with your writing: the themes present in your screenplay.
Network And Build Strong Connections
It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
Ultimately, most of the time the bad movies that still get made are from writers who are already known or the ones who know the right people. Now, that’s no excuse to write a bad movie simply because you know someone who will get it made for you. But, having connections helps get your already amazing script produced.
The best way to build a strong network is to attend in-person or online events.
What you want with these events is not necessarily to meet high level writers or producers, but to network with your peers. It’s crucial to build a powerful network of people who are at your level or one step further.
They’re the ones that will potentially recommend you for jobs, get staffed soon and maybe open the door for you, and who will want to create things with you. So… find your people.
There are great resources that will help you build a network of writers:
Roadmap Writers is an excellent community of absolutely amazing writers. In addition to being part of a group of talented writers, you will benefit from guidance from an amazing staff led by Joey Tuccio. I can only recommend them.
Additionally, you will also get access to pitching opportunities and meet producers, agents and managers.
It’s fully online, so you can do it from anywhere.
There are many cool groups on MeetUp that will organize in-person events for writers to network. They usually happen in every big city. Definitely a resource to check out!
There is a pretty big community on Reddit for screenwriters. I know that they share scripts with each other, get feedback and it’s a place where you can ask many questions. However, as you guessed it, since it’s not really regulated and anyone can join, it’s also a place where you need to keep realistic about your expectations and don’t take what is being said too personally. Since this is on Reddit, the community is entirely online.
Twitter is another place where you can find a community. Certain hashtags such as #amwriting will probably get you to a place where you can discuss with other writers like you. For Twitter, I will advise the same as for Reddit, don’t take it too personally and just have fun with it and try to find people that you truly genuinely connect with and who post content that you like.
Film Schools are expensive, but if you can afford even a shorter program they are a great way to connect with other serious filmmakers and make art together.
Participate in Festivals, Contests and PitchFests
Festivals, Contests and Pitch Fests are a great way to get in front of industry professionals.
Through contests you can get noticed for a script and read by high-level industry professionals who are often part of the jury. When your script does well (if submitted through Coverfly), it will end on the Red List and attract many eyes. Writers might contact you to ask to read your script and give feedback and so on. It’s a really cool way to get in touch with other writers and even producers out there.
Through Festivals, you can meet people in person by attending the festival. Most of the time, you don’t even need to submit a script to attend a festival. Festivals are a phenomenal way to connect with writers like you and with producers and other filmmakers. You also usually get to attend panels, workshops and other interesting events at the festival. So while you network, you also get to learn about several current topics.
Through Pitch Fests, you get to do just that: pitch.
It’s an intense event usually over two to three days where you meet dozens of producers, managers and agents a day and get to pitch your script over 5 to 10 minutes. It’s truly a humbling experience since you will usually see hundreds of other writers trying to make it and get something sold. But it’s also a fabulous experience to meet many different groups of people and ultimately, a great way to get better at pitching.
Shoot Your Short Film
One way to get a script bought in Hollywood is to have a successful short film that places well in festivals.
Many movies in Hollywood started as successful short films. Don’t believe me?
Let’s look at a few examples (there are many more)
The successful movie “When a Stranger Calls” (1979) was based on a 22-minute horror short film that was shot in three days by Fred Walton and Steve Feke. It ended up in a festival for a one-week showing in Los Angeles where two producers saw it, loved it and eventually optioned the right to adapt it into a feature film. None of this would have happened if Fred and Steve didn’t pick up a camera and shot a short film.
The Academy Award nominated movie “Fatal Attraction” (1987) also started as a short film called “Diversion” (1979). Because they loved the short film, the studio Paramount asked James Dearden to write a feature based on his short film that was extremely successful.
You might not know that Saw (2004) also started as a short film of the same name. It was originally a nine-minute short film specifically shot to pitch studios. This one goes to prove that money is no excuse when making a short since it was shot with no budget. Now, Leigh Whannell and James Wan already had connections and were able to show their movies to executives. Lionsgate offered them 1.2 million dollars to make the feature based on that short. And we all know how successful Saw became.
“Whiplash” (2014) was also based on a short film. Now, this one is interesting because Damien Chazelle made the decision to shoot a scene of the script. A great strategy when you’re hoping to get funds for a film. It’s what we call a proof of concept and pretty much goes back to what Wan did for “Saw.” Except here, Chazelle submitted the 18-minute short film to festivals and it had its debut at the Sundance Film Festival where the right people saw it and got behind it to fund the feature film.
Find Interesting Pieces Of IP
Hollywood buys IP (Intellectual Property) right now, like never before. If you find a true story that hasn’t been told yet as a movie and where you can acquire the rights (sign a deal with the people who own the rights) you are in a great position to sell a script in Hollywood.
Intellectual Property offers producers peace of mind because it oftens shows that there’s already an audience for this story. Often, IP is based on a successful book, an article in a major outlet, or someone’s life.
Finding IP and getting the rights to tell the story is a fantastic way today to sell a script in Hollywood.
Now, that’s good news but it’s also frustrating for many storytellers out there because box office numbers show us that people still show up for original films/stories. The movie “Get Out” (2017) was an original and an immediate box office hit. Netflix and Hulu are well known for developing their original movies and shows and they often end up being the most watched ones on both streamers.
Ultimately, movies based on IP aren’t going anywhere (Avengers, Transformers, Batman,…) and scripts that are based on IP will most likely always have an easier time selling than originals, but it’s possible that Hollywood will soon seek original scripts again, but not if they can’t guarantee that there’ll be an audience for it. A proof of concept (short film) or contest win can greatly help with securing a producer.
Find Reps That Will Submit Your Script To Who They Know
It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Remember? And that goes for your representation as well. Your manager, agent or entertainment lawyer is most likely well connected in Hollywood and will be able to put your well-written script in front of the right producers who will want to work with you because they know and trust your representation.
That’s when it’s crucial to sign with the right reps. You want someone who can elevate your career, and help you open doors that you wouldn’t be able to open on your own at this stage.
Finding the right reps is not easy and having an efficient rep does not mean less work for you. On the contrary, you will bring more work to the table and help them help you get into the right rooms.
What Themes Are In Your Script
The themes of your script matter a lot. Hollywood is constantly changing and reinventing itself. Things that did not matter yesterday are now Hollywood’s priority. Hollywood is evolving with the world around it and often wants to be the first to do so.
For example, for a long time, diversity did not matter in Hollywood. But in recent years, we have seen a shift (a crucial one!) where films about underrepresented voices were/are being made and not only that, are hugely successful!
Researchers at UCLA have analyzed hundreds of films between 2016 and 2019 and came to the conclusion that movies with diverse characters (gender, race, sexuality, disability status) ranked higher at the box office than movies who lacked diversity. People want to see stories that matter with people that look like the real world: diverse in many different ways.
With that, Writers’ Rooms in Hollywood are also more diverse than ever, leading to a lot better content on television and on streamers.
So, your screenplay’s themes and characters matter a lot. What can it teach the viewer all while entertaining them? How does your script make noise in a sea of other scripts? Why is this story important and why now? Those are questions that a producer wants to immediately be able to respond to when hearing your pitch or reading your script.
Here we go, storytellers. You just learned of plenty of creative ways that you can make sure you put all the chances on your side to have Hollywood buy your script.
Now, it’s important to note that because Hollywood doesn’t buy thousands of scripts every year, especially not from newcomers, there is no reason to give up.
You can use this to your advantage by switching your strategy. Instead of presenting your scripts to producers as scripts you hope to see produced, start seeing your work as samples of what you can do as a writer and why your voice is unique.
By doing so, you get a good chance of landing an Open Writing Assignment (OWA) and getting paid to write, all while building a reputation and getting more on-screen credits. You also will most likely get in a good position to get staffed on a show and write for someone else’s show. This will lead to you building credit as a writer, getting more experienced and maybe eventually selling your own show.