Get it out there, get read and see how the market responds.
I usually let my scripts lie idle for at least a month. Then I give them a final read before before sending them out. The time away from them removes the myopia that develops from being too intimate with your script. The freshness is amazing. Rather like a married couple spending time apart and then dressing up and going on a date to rejuvenate their relationship.
Asking what the best way to circulate is like asking which path a river must take down a mountain in order for it to trickle to the ground. Use a multi-pronged approach. The world is a small place.
The first task is to research production companies that are interested in your kind of material and send out query letters. There are many A-list actors with production companies who are actively looking for material for them to star in. Address your letters to the development executive. Spell their names correctly. I love it when people misspell my name (not), even after I’ve spelled it correctly on previous correspondence. I even had one assistant insisting that his spelling of my name was correct and I was at fault. How could I argue with that?
Don’t make the production company feel you’ve written to every single company in the Hollywood Creative Directory. It’s called untargeted, blanket direct marketing and generally yields poor results. Remember the junk mail you receive addressed to the the previous tenant (or current resident) informing you of an exciting new product or service based on your previous (non existent) interest? I tend to send letters in batches of around 10 – 20 to gauge interest. If there isn’t any, then I go wider and wider. Only list one project per query letter. On rare occasions, two projects have been pitched in the same query letter to show the writer has range. This is probably more important in letters to managers since they are investing in you as a writer rather than a single project. They may not like your initial idea. Hit the ground running. Start with the title and genre. Follow quickly with a logline and a one paragraph synopsis (the three acts of your story in up to 10 sentences) because they start to drift off if there is too much. Never deliberately exclude the ending, telling them they have to read the script to find out what happens. This bluff has never worked and is downright annoying and arrogant. List any accolades; contest placements, special mentions, awards etc. This indicates that you can write to industry standard. Then invite them to read it. Query letters are your sales tool. They can be delivered via email or snail mail (some agents still prefer it). Never send an unsolicited script to anyone. It reeks unprofessionalism and will not get read. It’s like those telemarketers who send you free samples that you didn’t order and call you to purchase more of the product.
Managers tend to be more lenient with unrepresented writers, as they are known to work with writers to bring the script to it’s best state. They have more time for you because they have fewer clients. Agents simply sell work as fast as possible and only take on project that are ready to sell. Sounds fair. You wouldn’t ask a real estate agent for architectural advice or to help you landscape your garden.
Call production companies and ask if they are prepping, or are in production with anything. If not, ask if they are accepting submissions and what are the submission guidelines. They may want a treatment, the first ten pages of your script or the entire script. They may ask you to pitch your project over the phone. It’s happened to me. Fortunately I was prepared after no less than a hundred rehearsals. You’d be surprised how amenable people are. You’ll probably speak to an assistant, who tends to be an aspiring producer and wants a script (hopefully yours) to launch their career. You’d be surprised at how many smaller companies are not as inundated with as many scripts as you might believe. Be polite and business like. Thank them for their time and terminate the call.
Unless they get back to me earlier, I wait a month and send a quick follow up email with the title of the script and logline, asking if they’ve had a chance to read it. This usually prompts a response. If they don’t respond, they are either not interested or my timing is out. My script is ahead or behind it’s time. If they respond and pass on your script (the vast majority), don’t despair. Many of these decisions are highly subjective and may not relate to the quality of your script. A producers needs to see a financial viability of your script. One production company wanted to slate my script for future production and to keep them informed of any developments on it. I always send a “thank you for your interest” email thanking them for the read. An associate of J.J Abrams was so impressed with my impeccable manners, she said that she’d move my writing sample up the ranks to ensure that it got read by her superiors. We are in the relationship business, so maintain them. The only reputation you want to get in this town is for being a good writer, professional and easy to work with. Many agents refuse to take cold calls altogether.
The proliferation of screenwriting contests (competitions to us aussies) is a minefield. An obscure contest with less than a hundred submissions is worthless. The Nicholl Screenwriting Contest is a big deal because it’s run by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Garnering any sort of finalist spot, is worth publicizing. Some contests circulate their finalists’ projects to various agents. Some agents want to meet the winners or semi-finalists of other competitions. Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton (Saw VI) won the Project Greenlight contest to open doors for them. Contests are notorious for being highly subjective in their judging, so not placing doesn’t suggest a bad script. Most readers try to be fair, but ultimately there can only be one winner.
There is also a proliferation of online pitching companies such as Script Pipeline, Virtual Pitchfest and Inktip. Production companies set up accounts with them and writers can pitch projects via an online proforma. I like Inktip because it is a true matchmaking service for writers and producers as both can search for projects by genre, budget and a variety of other variables. As technology progresses, there are companies such as Movie Hatch and Pitch Q, allowing writers to post video pitches of their projects. Some of these outfits allow members to vote on each other’s pitches.
Referrals are a potent tool for writers too. On many occasions, I’ve heard stories of writers who’ve received phone calls from producers based on a recommendation from someone else. Many agents only accept new clients by referral.
While your waiting for a response, write something else; another script, a short, a short story, a play; anything that keeps your creativity lubricated. Until you gain recognition in the industry, master one genre. You want to gain traction as a particular kind of writer such as broad comedy, horror, or action. Write as many scripts as you can in that genre so you become one of the best in the biz and people can refer to you. It’s just like calling your favourite plumber or hairdresser. Nobody has a favourite jack of all trades. Once you get produced you can branch out. Otherwise you’ll confuse the industry. They’ll think you’re a hack punching in every direction rather than being multi skilled.
Self promotion is a full time job in itself, but necessary for professional writers. I tend to do it when I don’t feel like writing, because I don’t feel guilty for not working.
So go forth and write query letters, my pretties! And good scripts too.