"How do I get people to read my fricking script?" I've been asked this question an awful lot lately -- even more than "How do I get an agent?" Yerp, it's harder than ever to get people to read. The reasons for this are many, but in short: rampant media consolidation means fewer buyers. As well, there are pretty much no major indies left; many veteran producers have lost their studio deals and discretionary funds, and the ones that remain -- the big guns -- are well serviced by agencies and management companies. So they don't need to really look outside the box (although a few still do, thankfully.) All of which means that agents and managers don't necessarily have to read as voraciously as they once did, because they're having enough trouble keeping their current clients working. Vicious cycle, eh wot?
Still, all is not gloom and doom. Though there may be fewer studios making less movies, there are film funds and foreign coproductions and crowdfunded projects and webisodes and so forth, and that means there are still pathways to get material made. So while you might be sitting there stewing in your own tantalizingly icy gazpacho of frustration, as we all do at times, keep in mind that all these obstacles are merely that. They are there partly to screen out the chumps -- the people who don't want it enough, who don't do the heavy lifting. We just have to be cool with the fact that while the jolly act of screenwriting means instant gratification, getting your stuff read is the exact opposite -- a slow, painful grind. Don't expect anything to happen on your wish-list timeline, sister.
With that, here are five things you can do to get your script read. Warning -- some of these are going to require effort and investment in yourself. Good luck.
|Black List's Franklin Leonard|
Warning: beware anyone who says they will shop your script for a fee (especially lawyers.) These people have zero juice, and your dough will disappear faster than a Popsicle in a blast furnace.
Ask any industry people about contests, and they will inevitably tell you they are totally useless. For people in a certain rarefied strata, that is true. Certainly most A-listers can't be bothered with contests, unless it's the Nicholl Fellowship. Hell, I sat at the same table with Gale Anne Hurd and Sid Ganis at the Nicholl awards dinner a decade ago. But the truth is there are plenty of companies who will at least look over the loglines of any "real" contest. So, we recommend Nicholl Fellowship, Scriptapalooza, Script Pipeline, Austin, Final Draft Big Break, the TrackingB feature and TV contests, and of course our own contest Writers on the Storm (on hiatus in 2014.) For all the others, proceed with caution. I know how easy it is to rack up $700 on the ol' American Distress card on Without a Box, desperately trying to advance our careers. Amazon (owner of WaB) thanks you, but your pet lizard Goober, who will have to subsist on floor sweepings for the next month, likely will not.
3) QUERIES. Finally, something that doesn't cost anything! Guess what -- good news/bad news here as well, and you already know what those are. Good = free. Bad = no response. Yep, you've got your imdbPro subscription (Amazon again, sigh) and you're ready to blast out those 100 queries to prodcos who have made movies similar to your script. Guess how many responses you're likely to get? If you guessed a big fat whoppin' zero, pat yerself on the back.
Here's the thing. While most queries are instantly deleted, a small percentage are not. That means you've got literally about 5 seconds to impress that creative exec with your email. It may be a shot in the dark, and most execs, agents and managers will say they never read queries, but guess what? RODHAM, the Black List darling of 2012, soon to be a movie, was a query (discovered by our own Agent's Hot Sheet panelist Richard Arlook from Arlook Group.)
So HOW do you sell yourself and your idea in 5 seconds?
- Be CONCISE. Three short paragraphs: intro, logline/idea, and thank you.
- Give them WHAT THEY WANT. Study the execs' taste at that company and target accordingly. Study the biz and see what's selling. The bull's-eye is narrow.
- Be AMAZING. Your writing needs to crackle in those few sentences. If the electricity jumps off their smartphone and fries their eyeballs, hell, you've got a shot. Use your VOICE. You're a writer. This is your audition for the goddamn Carnegie Hall here. Sing your damn heart out or go home.
2) DIY. The interwebs and cheap HD cameras have returned a certain amount of power to us writers. We no longer have to wait around for someone to "buy our script." Now we can shoot it ourselves and throw it up on the web. Maybe no one will ever see it. But maybe, just maybe, it might go viral. According to Robyn Shwer from Mace Neufeld Productions, ten million views is the magic number to get most major prodcos in town to pay attention. Easy-peasy, right? Um...
Anyway, the point here is, so maybe you shoot a short version of, or a trailer for, your movie. Asking for a 3-minute time commitment is way easier than asking folks to give up two hours to read a feature script. And if they like it, heck, then they might actually read the full-length version. Hollywood has definitely become Short Attention Span Theater. And "test reels" are more and more common. Even Edgar Wright had to do one to sell Marvel on his vision for "Ant Man," which is now greenlit and coming 2015 (I guess Marvel didn't see Wright's recent turkey "The World's End.")
Hell, you can even shoot your own feature(s) using your own money or crowdfunding, etc., and start your own production company. That's what we did here at Coverage Ink -- after doing two shorts with big geek names like George Takei and Lou Ferrigno, we're shooting our first feature in 2014. In that case, who needs anyone to read your script? Ahem, well, except for the 14 Coverage Ink readers who read multiple drafts and helped us develop it. Which brings us to...
The rest of us have to settle for doing the hard work and making our stuff as good as it can possibly be. You bet that's a pain in the rump! It means not settling for first or even tenth draft. It means NEVER sending out a script until it gets consistent "considers" or raves from everyone who reads it. Truth is: the reason most people never get anywhere is that we send out our stuff before it's ready. Only much later do we get some notes back, and we go, "Oh, right. I guess I do need an Act II." But by then you've blown out the script to everyone you know, and those few industry friends have passed and You Are Done.
But now suppose you sent out something which was the superfarfalating antimatter bomb of awesomeness? Suppose you did twenty drafts on that puppy over a year or so, and ironed out every imperfection? Well... most people would still pass. But a few would be like, "Whoa, Nellie!" See, here's how you know when your script is really ready to go: when other people enthusiastically volunteer to help you. Until that time, as painful as it may be, you just gotta keep rewriting.
But when people are willing to make calls for you, to stick their neck out? You're in.
And that's how every single one of us who does not have the benefit of being Harvard mafia or the son of a studio exec's nanny's gardener breaks in: hard, hard work and a passionate advocate or ten. It can and does happen all the time. But writers hate this because for most of us it seems unattainable, because we don't think we'll ever get there. So we take the easy way out and send our early drafts to contests and so forth, assuming it's like a lottery. It's not. No one wins by random drawing. You win by quality. And quality will win people to your side, who will compel the movers and shakers to read your script.
Best of luck to all and happy holidays!
Jim Cirile is a writer/producer and founder of screenplay analysis/development service Coverage Ink and Coverage Ink Films. Their award-winning short LIBERATOR is now on DVD. Jim also writes for Creative Screenwriting and has two e-books, "The Coverage Ink Spec Format & Style Guide" and "Agent's Hot Sheet -- a Decade of Wisdom From Hollywood's Top Reps."