Screenwriting – Business or Pleasure?

Yes please. Unless you, a relative or a government funded arts organization has a wad of cash to splurge on your vanity project , you can safely assume that the entertainment world is a hybrid of both. There’s no point complaining about how the purity of your art will be tarnished by crass commercialism, so deal with it. Many screenwriters (myself included) tend to be either wordsmiths or have the gift of the gab. Few have both. Whadda ya do? Get those skills in which you are deficient. Hang out with people you admire or people who know them. Network like crazy, because despite the solitude, writing is a people industry. Build relationships. I’ve had to force myself to overcome my shyness by calling producers and development executives when I previously used to email only.

Be in the consciousness of the key players and one day they will come good. You know who you are, but many don’t. You can’t control whether your script will be purchased or not, but you can control your self promotion and your writing. Just don’t appear desperate or resort to cheap gimmicks. Join writers’ groups for feedback, both online and real ones, write a blog, attend screenwriting events, contribute and be a member of the screenwriting community. We are professionals after all. Facebook, Twitter, Email, Blog, Socialize like you’ve never done before. We live in a world sans frontieres, so don’t limit yourself. Having said that, keep replenishing your inventory. Producers and development execs need to know you have range, tenacity, staying power and a bunch of projects in your metaphorical drawer. If you don’t to subscribe to hard copies of magazines, try subscribing to email bulletin boards such as Variety. I also love to listen to podcasts; perfect for those long journeys from Santa Monica to Hollywood and beyond. My favourites are “Creative Screenwriting Magazine” which features interviews with writers and features breaking in stories and “On The Page” which features interviews with various industry players.

As corny as it sounds, when you market yourself, YOU are the product first and foremost, followed by your screenplay. Producers need to know they can work with you for a few years. Your script can be rewritten, but personalities, less so. Be amenable to critique. Listen to it all and take what you feel is necessary to improve your script. If a reader has missed a point, let them know, politely. Thank them for their time and efforts. Process criticism from their point of view as well as your own. Nobody will willingly give you bad notes. Everybody wants a screenplay to be the best it can be.

As I’ve said before, ask yourself who is the audience for your project? What releasing platform are you proposing; festival, television, web, cinema? Who are the buyers and what are they looking for at that particular point in time? What is the zeitgeist (prevailing trend)? I remember a month when three alien scripts were bought within weeks of each other, by the studios. Now I know I need to hold off submitting to them because they will undoubtedly reject it. Make it your business to know these industry trends. Read the trade rags. The library is your friend and so are bulletin boards. An informed writer is an empowered one!

When you decide you want to write a story first research the marketplace. What is it’s scope? What is it’s budget? I know it’s producer stuff, but writers need to be aware of it too. Be savvy. A studio will not buy your quirky, low budget screenplay about your eccentric grandmother. Once you receive feedback, you need to rework your script and tailor it to the buyer’s needs and the marketplace. Once that is done, are you truly ready to take your script out to market. Although most buyers like the idea of being privileged with your story, they will understand that you will show it to other people too. Go wide, but be discrete. People talk. Given that many buyers have a pack mentality (they are human too), they may come on board if someone else has. After all, they will want to share the financial risk with other producers.

One final comment, enjoy the dance of wooing prospective buyers. Do you go out to dinner? Do you go to bed? Yes can mean, “I really love it, but I need to pitch it to my superiors”, or “”I hate it, but I know a buyer who loves your stuff”. No could mean just that or “not now”.  After all, they wouldn’t have requested to read your script if something about it or you didn’t attract them to it.

Go forth and write!


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