Monday, September 19, 2005


The early 90's gold rush of screenwriters heading for California may be over. But I read a lot of advice telling screenwriters they must live in Los Angeles to sell a script. Sure, you will be mere miles away from the power brokers and power lunches, but what do you do if you live smack dab in the middle of the country? I'm not sure I want to be huddled with all the other aspiring screenwriters living in cardboard boxes along Santa Monica blvd. Ten years ago maybe? Maybe not.

Personally, I think it's possible to make contacts without having to uproot your family for your pipe dream. I've been to Los Angeles and I've been to Las Vegas. Nice places to visit. Wouldn't want to live there. Had a little too much fun there. I'm from the Midwest and I like it here. Not much happens. You can get a lot of writing done. And more importantly I think you can have a unique voice here and not chase the latest hollywood trend.

I've received several emails asking how to contact producers. It's not a secret handshake anymore. If you have a great story, they will read it whether they say they won't read unsolicited scripts or not. This is the CYA policy. Most will take a standard release form and many times they have their own with their letterhead on it. It just means you won't sue them if your story sounds too much like one they make down the road. But that's another topic.

A few years ago, Christopher Wehner wrote a book called Screenwriting on the Internet: Researching, Writing, and Selling Your Script on the Web. Great book if you're not ready to load up the car for LA. I was interviewed for the section entitled "OF PLANES, E-MAILS & WEB SITES". I also did an interview about screenwriting on the internet for Absolute Write. You can read it here: Mark's Big Interview. Take note I was little greener than I am now.

I am happy to say that some of my best contacts have come through the internet. I've had a few options, a couple work for hires, and made a little green in the process. Remember with the internet anyone is just an email away.

Unique voice. Unique story. Fresh air.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Query Letter

The query letter can be your ticket into the golden gates of Hollywood. Sure, a great screenplay must follow, but the query will get you the read.

The query letter serves several functions. It tells perspective agent or producer that you want them to read your screenplay. It contains the logline of your screenplay. Simply put the logline is the TV guide description of your screenplay. And if you have placed or won a screenwriting contest or have any professional accolades, be sure to list those as well. The query letter should be no more than a page long. And always include your contact information. I know a lot of this info will be old hat for many, but I didn't have old hats when I started out, so bear with me.

Does the query letter work? Yes. Do you have to send a lot of them? Yes. How can you tell if your query is working? 30% request rate is pretty good. At least that's how I judged my returns. For my first screenplay "Lucid," I sent out tons of queries and got a lot of requests. This can be good and bad. Good because you're getting reads. Bad because you're saturating your own work. But it helps to be a little young and dumb when you're starting out. And don't worry about the odds. Remember it only takes one YES.

I talked a little bit about "Lucid" in an earlier post. This was my first screenplay. Back in '97 being young and dumb the logline read something like this:

In this Usual Suspects-style thriller, Peter Seven is a collector for the Boston Mob looking to change professions after Chester Scanlon, a new and detrimental addition to his collection route, kills an upscale investment banker. This attempt to change his line of work leads Peter Seven to Hans Sai, an eclectic French painter/professor
at Boston University with his own dark past.

As things go from bad to worse for Peter, he's forced to kill Chester Scanlon only to find him alive a day later, and it seems to have everything to do with Sai's mysterious artwork.

About my third query, I found a producer ectastic about this story. If I remember correctly, he even paid the postage so he could read it the very next day. That doesn't mean a hell of a lot now with pdf files and gigs of email, but then it meant about seventeen bucks. Like any newbie I fired it out there at a whopping 132 pages. It should've fallen somewhere between 90 and 110, but what the hell did I know. All mistakes aside I almost sold my very first screenplay three months after completing it. But that's another story and another soapbox.

Queries do work. I prefer email queries because you generally get a quicker response and don't have to deal with the should I SASE or not argument. Postage is a lot more expensive now. Be selective and do your homework on a production company. There are many examples of query letters out there on the net and in the screenwriting books. If anyone would like to add to the discussion feel free. And if you want to know what not to do, check out Query Letters I Love.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The AAA Contest

Another screenwriting contest opportunity.

Sponsored by Creative Screenwriting

DEADLINE December 1, 2005

Welcome to Creative Screenwriting's bi-annual screenplay competition. The AAA Contest is looking for the best and most talented writers from around the world. If you have written a great screenplay, please allow us to bring your work to the attention of the industry.

Our Grand Prize winner will receive $5,000 and agency/production company consideration, and our two runners-up will receive $1,000 apiece plus agency/production company consideration. We'll also send loglines and synopses for the top ten scripts to more than 250 agents, managers, and development executives who have requested them. Submit your best work in any genre.

Find the downloadable forms here Creative Screenwriting AAA contest

Sunday, September 04, 2005

How to Start Marketing Your Screenplay

I know this might be jumping ahead for some people, but I thought I would start off with a few ideas on how to find producers to submit your screenplay. As much work as you do on creating your screenplay, you have to spend just as much marketing it.

When I first started out everyone said you have to get an agent to sell a screenplay. The mantra was "no agent no sale". Then you find most agents aren't interested in you unless you've had a sale. Catch - 22: Can't sell a screenplay without an agent and can't get an agent without a sale.

After sending out dozens of query letters to agencies and getting very few requests, I decided to start contacting the producers myself. You have to be proactive with your screenwriting hobby, because until you get a check that's what it is. The saying is "it takes ten years to become an overnight success in Hollywood". And it can take even longer than that if you're not treating your hobby like a job.

So, where to begin? The first thing is make sure the screenplay is the best damn thing you can make it. Make friends, relatives, postmen read it. Get feedback. Find what works and what doesn't work. Better to find out from Uncle Charlie then a producer with dozens of credit and little time to nurture your budding talent.

Accept the criticism and learn from it. Don't get mad. Remember these people are taking time out of their lives to read your story. Make it entertaining as possible. But listen to what they have to say. With that said, there are professional readers and script coverage services that will critique your story for a price. A new screenplay has one shot to impress then it's covered. And that coverage goes into a database and is shared among other production companies. Bad coverage will sink your screenplay. So, again make it the best damn screenplay you can.

Now, places to look to submit your screenplay. First place to start is The Internet Movie Database. Here you can enter a list of movies similiar in genre to what you've written. There you can find a list of production companies and producers who make the type of films that you're writing. Another excellent place is Done Deal which list the screenplays sold and who bought them and even the agent that brokered the deal. And many times through search engines like Google you can find their address and contact information. Also, if you're willing to spend some money on your hobby, and you will, The Hollywood Creative Directory is like a bible of production companies containing contact info and list of credits.

So, here are some ideas and places to start. Next I will focus on that marketing tool known as the query letter.