This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 001: A Few User Submitted Questions Answered. Click here to listen or watch the original Podcast.


Welcome to the Sell Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers,
screenwriter and blogger over at In this week’s
episode I will be answering some user submitted questions about screenplay
formatting issues, whether or not I recommend contest and pitch fest, and
how to sell your screenplay when you don’t have any credits and don’t know
anybody in the industry.

So this is literally my first episode, so I figured I would just do
something that would be pretty easy while I figured out how podcasting
worked. My plan is to publish about one podcast per month depending on how
much time they take to create. But for this episode I just wanted to feel
my way through it and see how it goes, so please bear with me.

A couple of quick notes. Any websites or links that I mention in the
podcast can be found in my blog in the show notes. You can find all the
podcast show notes at I will also be
publishing a transcript of this episode on that page. Just look for episode
one. Also, if you want my free guide, How To Sell Your Screenplay In Five
Weeks you can pick that up by going to
It’s completely free. You just put in your email address and I’ll send you
a new lesson once per week for five weeks, along with a bunch of bonus
lessons. I teach the whole process of how to sell your screenplay in that
guide. How to write a professional log line, how to write a professional
query letter, how to find agents, managers and producers who are looking
for material. It really is everything you need to know about selling a

So each episode I thought it might be interesting if I just talked a little
bit about what I was working on. I always find it really interesting just
to hear other people kind of talk about what they are doing and what they
are working on, and you can usually just pick up some pearls and wisdom
here and there just by hearing the ins and outs of their day. So I thought
that might be an interesting segment for the podcast.

So I have actually been working on a writing assignment which I actually
got from one of my email fax blasts. I actually sent out a script called
Meat-cleaver Massacre. It was a horror comedy, and a producer read it, and
he actually was developing a mob comedy, so he thought that the tone and
the scope of the projects were similar. He died up hiring me to write on
his project. They had a pretty well developed outline. It was probably an
eight to ten page outline, so they had a pretty clear story down and some
idea of the characters. I just went in and did some polish not he outline
and then basically wrote the script for them. I have one more polish to do.
I’m just waiting to get some notes back on that.

It was kind of interesting in that it was not a story that I would have
written myself. If it had been up to me, if I had thought of the idea and
put it in my idea bank, it was a very simple story and frankly I was very
concerned when I first got the thing that I would be able to push it to 90
pages or 95 pages because it was so simple, but I actually think it turned
out pretty well. It has me kind of reevaluating how I go about looking at
the next spec script that I’m going to write.

Simple stories can actually work very, very well. Something like National
Lampoon’s Vacation is a prime example of a very, very simple story, but if
it’s executed right it can be very funny and very entertaining, and this
was similar. It was a pretty simple story like that. It was just a matter
of coming up with the zany characters and putting them in situations, and
that really drove the humor. In the end I had no trouble getting it to
whatever it ended up being – about 95 pages. So I’m actually kind of
rethinking. I’m going back through some of the log lines and some of the
story ideas I’ve had a seeing if maybe I should take a second look at them
because of this.

So now let’s just get into the main segment of this week’s episode, which
is answering questions submitted by people on my email list. I just sent
out an email to everybody and just said, ‘What screenwriting questions do
you have?’ A huge percentage of them were very specific formatting
questions. ‘How do you do this in a screenplay? How do you describe this
scenario in a screenplay?” The one thing I think you should kind of keep
in mind when writing a screenplay is – in high school they would have this
MLA guide and you would do a research paper, and you had to, like, make the
research paper adhere to these very strict guidelines that some governing
body had created. In screenwriting there is none of that. There’s some
basic screenplay formatting, which is pretty much taken care of if you have
a screenplay software like Final Draft. It will pretty much format your
screenplay correctly. All of these other formatting issues – a lot of them
are so obscure and so specific, that it’s not like I have ever tried to do
a lot of the things that were described, or a lot of the things that people
were asking about. So my best advice when it comes to formatting is just
make sure that it’s clear; that the action is clear. Just make sure people
that are reading the script will understand what’s happening on screen, and
don’t get too caught up in the complexities of formatting.

Screenplay formatting, as I said, it’s really very simple, and if you have
some screenwriting software like Final Draft it takes care of it. You don’t
really have to worry about it and it shouldn’t be any kind of a stumbling
block. The screenplay formatting is really just a utility. When the script
goes into production there’s certain things that different departments
need, and that script is really the blueprint. So most of the formatting
things like capitalizing interior and exterior, and capitalizing the name
of the person speaking, it’s a utility so that people can easily see it and
understand what’s going on when you’re in production. So at this stage of
the game don’t get too caught up. You really can’t do it wrong. If you have
some very complex thing, just break it down and describe it. Make sure it’s
clear, take your time, writing is rewriting – just rewrite it a couple of
times. Maybe give it to a friend and let them read it. Ask them if it’s
clear. Ask them if they understand what the action is, so that’s really my
best advice for formatting issues. Don’t get too caught up in the
specifics. Just make sure that it’s clear. Write it out. Rewrite it if it’s
not fear to the people who read it, and that should get you a long ways to
having a completed script.

So I got a lot of questions on contests and pitch fests. People were just
asking me if they thought that they should sign up for this contest or
attend this pitch fest. When I first started writing screenplays I did
enter a bunch of contests, and I never did very well. Then I ended up
selling something after about maybe three years, and a lot of the contests
are specifically for people that have no sold stuff, but I just never
really did very well in contests. I just never continued with it. I have
never been to a pitch fest. I will say this. There is the Nicole
Fellowship, which is a screenplay contest, and that one is well regarded in
the industry. If you can place highly in that, that’s definitely a good
feather in your cap and it’s definitely something that has a certain amount
of clout. Other than that, all of the screenplay festivals and contests –
they might give away a little money or they might introduce you to some
managers and stuff, but they are pretty podunk.

Here’s the thing. The smaller contests – your chances of winning are
probably pretty good. Keep that in mind. One thing I will say is that you
should really temper your expectations. Even winning the Nicole Fellowship
does not mean that you are going to all of a sudden have a screenwriting
career. It just means that you have done something that you can add to your
query letter and your resume and you can tell people about, but you can go
to the website – and as I said, the Nicole Fellowship is probably the top
screenwriting contest, and you can go to the website and look at some of
the past scripts. The vast majority of them have not been made into movies.
Two exceptions that I know of, there was a script called Butter that got
made into a movie. I actually watched it on Netflix. It’s on Netflix On
Demand right now, so you can check it out. It’s kind of a quirky comedy,
and that’s my guess about what does well in contests – these sort of quirky
comedies. Not necessarily what you might see as a mainstream Hollywood
film. But, again, maybe I’m the wrong person to ask because I never really
did that well in contests.

I have never been to a pitch fest. I did actually know someone who was a
producer at a pitch fest, and she was a nice lady, but she really just
worked at a production company and she didn’t really have any juice to
green light movies. She was, like, one of the actual so-called producers at
these pitch fests. So again, I would just really temper your expectations.
I mean, most of the people that are attending the pitch fests as the
producers are not really the high rolling producers that can just green
light your script if they like it. They are going to be, hopefully, just
hard working producers, and if they like your script it might lead to some
introductions or it might lead somewhere. So overall here’s my sort of
thing about contests and pitch tests. If the money isn’t a big deal I would
recommend entering as many as you possibly can, because at the end of the
day the more credentials you have the better off you’re going to be. I have
definitely heard of people getting agents and getting managers from doing
well in contests. It’s just something you can list in your query letter.
It’s something that you can tell people, producers or agents when you meet
them, ‘Hey, I was a runner up in this contest. Hey, I won this contest,’
and even if it’s not a big contest that they have heard of it could still
help a little bit. It gives you some validation as a decent screenwriter.

Now, on the flip side, when I first started out screenwriting I was working
at a tennis club at the front desk earning, you know, seven or eight bucks
an hour, so the $50 was a lot of money to me then, and at the time I really
felt like I could do better just submitting scripts to production
companies. So if the money is a big issue and you really can’t afford it, I
would go in that direction. I think doing cold query letters is a more
effective path; sending letters to production companies. Especially in this
day and age. I mean, you can go on IMDB pro. You can start finding email
addresses. IMDB pro is only $20 a month, and I think they give you a month
for free. It might only be $15 a month, but it’s pretty inexpensive. I
think they give you a month for free. So you can go on there and you can
start to get some email addresses for free, and you can start to send out
emails for free. So if money is an issue I wouldn’t necessarily waste my
money on contests or pitch fests.

But if money is not an issue, you might as well; my philosophy is just do
everything, try everything, and see what works for you. You might find that
you place well in contests, and that’s how you kind of build a little
momentum. You might find that you are excellent at pitching your script in
person, and maybe you meet the right person at this pitch fest. So I don’t
think there’s any harm in trying these things, but just realize that
winning the contests, you know, having a producer like your log line at a
pitch fest, it doesn’t mean that all of a sudden you are going to be an A
list screenwriter and you are going to have a screenwriting career. It’s
just a small stepping stone, a small bit that you can put on your resume
and start to use to get some leverage. But at the end of the day you have
to sell some scripts. You have to get some scripts into production, and you
have to start accruing some actual screenwriting credits, and I think that
can be more easily by actually submitting to production companies.

So the single biggest question that I get is, ‘How do I sell my
screenplay?’ I get a ton of emails from people who are saying stuff like,
you know, ‘I just finished my script. Can you send me a list of agents who
are looking for material’, or, ‘Can you send me a list of producers’, or,
‘Can you help me sell my screenplay?’ So this isn’t really surprising
considering my blog is called, and that’s really
what my blog and this pod cat is all about. It’s really about trying to
help people to sell their screenplay.

There’s no one way to break into the industry and sell your first couple of
scripts. If you ask a bunch of different successful writers you really will
get a bunch of different answers. Everybody kind of has a slightly
different take on, you know, what the best way to break is. Their story
will be slightly different from the next person. The single biggest way
that I have heard of people breaking in is getting a low level job in the
industry and basically networking, seeing what is selling, just kind of
getting in the industry, immersing yourself in the industry. That generally
means moving to LA, maybe New York, but really LA, and finding a low level
job as a production assistant, as an assistant to a producer, an assistant
to a writer, and just being around the industry. Then on your weekends or
your spare time, your vacation, you start to write some spec scripts. So
that’s really the single biggest way that I have seen just by talking to
writers who are successful. That seems to be a common thread.

But the cornerstone to my strategy is actually not that. My strategy, and
the way I have sold a bunch of scripts, is just by sending out a ton of
cold query letters. Just head on over to IMDB and do a search for Ashley
Scott Meyers, and you will see my credits. I have a few halfway decent
credits, and virtually all of them have been a direct result of me sending
out cold query letters. What that means is, basically, I just write up a
query letter, I put in a log line and a little bit about myself, and send
it to a producer. A small percentage of these query letters will actually
result in a positive response where the producer will agree to read the
screenplay. Then, hopefully, one thing leads to another and options, and
eventually, hopefully, they produce it.

So I mentioned my free guide at the top of this show. That really does go
through all the actual steps to launching a query letter campaign for your
screenplay, so if you don’t already have that, check it out. I will link to
it in the show notes, but again, that’s a really top to bottom, step by
step guide to how you can sell your screenplay using this cold query letter
approach that I have used.

Here is my thinking, and this is kind of a more overarching idea about how
to sell your screenplay. You can apply it to a lot of things, but to sell
your screenplay you basically need some combination of talent, hard work
and luck. I just want to define talent. I define talent as the God given
abilities that you were born with and have very little control over. Some
people are just born with more creativity and more aptitude to write, and
there’s really not a lot that we can do to overcome that. We can, of
course, work on it, but just in terms of this little example I am going to
give, we are just going to define talent as those things you are born with
that you can’t control. Skill and hard work is the next thing, and that’s
everything that you can control. How hard you work, how much time and
energy you put into screenwriting – that’s sort of that part of the
equation. Then, of course, there’s luck, and that’s just basically a
lottery type event where you happen to be at the right place at the right

So to tell a screenplay, let’s just say you need 100 points. To get those
points you need some combination of those. You need to write a great script
or good script. You need to work hard, and at the end of the day you need a
little bit of luck. But here’s the thing. Luck is not really a business
plan. Luck is not something you can count on or control. It just happens.
There’s that old saying, ‘Luck is when preparation meets opportunity’, and
that’s not really what I’m talking about for the purpose of this example.

Let’s just say you go to Vegas and you sit down at a roulette table. Let’s
say you put down a bet on every single number on the table. The odds are
now actually in your favor that your number will come up. I mean, they’re
not in your favor, it’s 100%. You can go to Vegas and you can literally put
a bet on every single number, and the odds of it coming up are 100%. So you
have effectively eliminated luck from the equation. There’s no luck
anymore. You have put a bet down on every single number. Your chances of
your number coming up are 100%. Now, I know that that isn’t a profitable
strategy in roulette. You will eventually lose all of your money. But the
point is that you have effectively boiled the luck out of the equation, and
here’s the thing: with screenwriting it is a profitable equation. There’s
really no downside to sending out a gazillion query letters and essentially
covering every single number. if you do sell one screenplay, the strategy
is profitable. All of the money and the time you’ve spent trying to sell
that screenplay will make sense, and it will be profitable.

So if you kind of follow this along to the inevitable conclusion, it really
then just becomes a function of, ‘How am I physically going to contact
every person in the industry?’ Or, even taken a little more realistically,
‘How am I going to build an enormous database of people in the industry
that I can contact?’ But what we are doing is, again, we are just boiling
out the luck part of the equation. We are going to build such a massive
database that it covers so much ground. You won’t ever be able to cover
every number, but you will be able to cover a lot of ground if your
database is big enough, and again, that has kind of been the backbone of my
strategy. I have just tried to continuously remove as much luck from the
equation as possible, and over the years I have built this enormous
database of contacts and I am always building it, making it bigger,
tweaking it, and trying to get to the point where I’m literally covering
everything. Again, I understand it’s not a perfect metaphor. I understand
you can’t cover every single number, but the bigger your database gets the
more ground you can cover.
The thing is, it doesn’t really matter whether your script is good or bad.
The bottom line is, the more people you send it to, the better chance you
have of getting an option and getting a sale. The bigger your database the
better your odds, even if your screenplay is bad. Not that you would want
to have a bad screenplay.

So the one thing I do want to make clear is that this strategy isn’t for
everyone. It’s a ton of work. It’s not an easy magic bullet, do this, do
that, and then all of a sudden you are a screenwriter. It’s a ton of work.
That should be clear. I mean, you have to write a ton of scripts so that
you have a ton of material to keep sending out. What sort of happens with
this strategy is that you get a lot of low level producers in the mix, and
those are typically a lot of the ones who are responding to your query
letters and optioning your scripts. That’s fine, because some of those
lower level producers can still get movies made and do get movies made, but
what happens is that you have to option a lot of scripts that don’t get
made. So what that means is you have to write a lot of scripts. You just
have to keep churning out a ton of material and keep sending it out,
getting a ton of options, because most of the options that you will have
will not materialize. They will not turn into produced scripts.

So you need to write a ton of material for this strategy to work. You also
have a to build a huge database of contacts, and that’s not easy or simple
either. I mean, there’s a lot of different sources. It’s easier now than it
ever was before, but it’s still not that easy. You have to go out and just
open up your Excel spreadsheet and start building up a database of
contacts. There are some more complex ways of doing it if you have a little
bit of a programming background, but the bottom line is that you are going
to need to spend time and money and energy building this database of
contacts. Then, once you’ve written a ton of scripts and you have built a
database of contacts, then you have to be really persistent and just keep
sending out your script. So that’s kind of an overview of my strategy.
Again, I don’t want to say that this is a magic bullet or it’s just simple.
It’s definitely not simple. But it is possible. If you are willing to do
the work you can really start to eliminate that luck element from the
equation and you can really start to get some scripts out there.

The one thing I do kind of want to be clear about, though, is that I don’t
want to undersell the other ways to break into the industry. I mean, these
other ways are still very viable. The single biggest way I have heard is
people getting low level jobs. So my strategy is not necessarily the best
strategy. It might be the best strategy for me and it might be the best
strategy for you, but it might not be the best strategy for you. So what
you need to do is you need to really just get out there and try everything,
and that’s really what I did. Try everything and see what works for you.
That’s what I did. When I graduated from college I moved to LA, I got low
level jobs in the industry and I submitted to contests. I did everything
that I could think. I submitted query letters. I just happened to find that
the query letters were working for me, so that’s kind of the direction I
went in. But it’s not the only direction, and you really want to get out
there and try absolutely everything you can think of and everything you can

Just one little note about moving to LA is to keep in mind – I keep saying
low level jobs. You don’t even necessarily need to get a low level job in
the industry. A lot of people who write me are older, they might have
families but they have a career that they have been working at for five or
ten, or longer number of years – almost every profession, at least in some
degree, is represented in the entertainment industry. So you don’t need to
just get the production assistant, or the assistant to the writer, or the
assistant to the producer job. I mean, if you have some sort of another
career you could probably apply that to the entertainment industry. I mean,
if you are a lawyer, certainly the entertainment industry needs lawyers. If
you are a bookkeeper, an accountant, all production companies, all movies,
when they are made, there’s production accountants. There’s all sorts of
different levels of accounting going on with production. If you are a
programmer, I mean, movies need websites, so you can maybe break in and get
that. IT – every company has their IT person these days, so almost every
skill that you might have if you have been working at a career, you might
be able to simply apply it. Move to LA, apply that skill to some position
in the entertainment industry, and again, that gets you in sort of the flow
and the thick of things. You start to get a real feel. You get your finger
on the pulse of what’s selling, and you talk to people, and all of that
stuff is very valuable. You know, I mentioned contest earlier and that’s
another thing. You need to try it and see if it’s going to work.

So I know I have just kind of glossed over a lot of this, and in future
episodes of podcasts I will get into the real nuts and bolts of effectively
launching a query letter strategy, but again, if you want an email just
sign up for my free guide. I will link to that in the show notes.
Hopefully, though, there is one big takeaways, and that is, if you ask the
questions, ‘How do I sell a screenplay?’ The answer is that you have to
take action. You have to get out there and you have to start doing
something. I get a lot of emails from people who have finished a script,
but they just haven’t really done enough to even know if the script is any
good, to even know if there’s any chance of ever selling it. They have
submitted to one or two production companies and they are waiting to hear
back, and they have submitted to one or two contests. That’s not going to
be enough. That’s not going to cut it.

You have to get out there and really just try some big things, and put a
lot of effort into selling the script. Newer writers, in particular, put a
lot of emphasis on writing the script. ‘Hey, I’ve written this script’. I
would say you need to spend as much time marketing your script as you do
writing it, so if you just spent the last six months writing your script,
plan on spending the next sixth months with the same amount of time. If you
wrote an hour a day for six months, plan on spending an hour a day for six
months just trying to market your screenplay. Try everything, not entering
one contest, not two contests, but dozens and dozens of contests; not
sending out five query letters or ten query letters, but sending out
hundreds and thousands and thousands of query letters. Start to take a step
back and see how you can rearrange your life so that moving to LA is
possible. You have to take action. You have to just do something big. These
small little things that I hear from so often are not going to cut it, so
hopefully that’s the big takeaway and hopefully that has been helpful.

But, again, in the next couple of podcasts I will definitely be getting
into some more of the real nuts and bolts of how to effectively launch a
query letter strategy. In the next episode I am going to give you a brief
overview of how I got into the business and how I sold my first couple of
screenplays. I think, just like a lot of people who are listening to this,
when I first got out here I didn’t know anybody in the business. I was just
a guy with a dream, and I started plugging away. So hopefully the lessons I
have lean red, you can learn a little something from them. I don’t think I
have an overabundance of writing talent. I think I am just persistent and
hard-working, and that’s really what has helped me sell a few screenplays.
So I think I can help you do the same thing.

If you found this podcast helpful please go into iTunes and give me a
review. This is literally my first podcast episode, so I’m really open to
any and all feedback that you might have. I really want to make this the
best podcast on screenwriting, and getting your feedback will go a long way
toward helping me do that. So please, if you have time, go into iTunes and
just leave a comment, leave a review, and I will definitely read it. If you
are watching this on YouTube, you know, give it a like or put a comment in
the comment section and pass it along to your friends. It’s much, much

I just want to take a quick minute and do a plug for my upcoming online
course, How To Choose A Marketable Concept For Your Screenplay. The single
biggest mistake that i see new screenwriters making is that they write a
script based on a concept that is completely unmarketable. By signing up
for this online course I can hopefully help you avoid that problem so that
your finished screenplay will be built on a solid foundation. This is a
live online course that will be taught by me. Anyone with an internet
connection can attend. You can even attend on your iPhone or your iPad or
other mobile device. It’s scheduled for one hour, but I will be answering
every question, so make sure you schedule a little extra time to hang
around afterwards in case we go over the allotted hour. I will be running
the course on Saturday, September 21th, at 10 a.m. Pacific Time. You can
sign up to take this one class if you’d like, or, if you’re already a
member of my selling your screenplay select program the cost of admissions
is included with your monthly membership. Also, the class will be recorded,
so if you can’t attend the live webinar you can get the replay any time you
like by joining selling your screenplay select. To learn more about this
class, simply go to

I want to end each episode with a segment I’m going to call Writing Words.
It will hopefully offer a little motivation and inspiration. So a couple of
weeks ago I attended a mastermind group, and it was actually an
entrepreneurial mastermind group, and the two presenters each told a story
at the beginning of the session. It was related to how to, you know, create
a successful business and be a successful entrepreneur, but I think the
stories really relate to a lot of things in life, and certainly relate to

The first story was – the presenter said that when he was a kid he took
karate, and one day he went into his karate class and the sensei was there.
He had a bunch of boards, and him and his partner were kicking through
these boards. They said, ‘Today we are going to teach you how to do that’.
So they gave all the kids some boards and they started trying to kick
through them. They partnered up, and this guy’s partner was holding the
board and he just couldn’t kick through it. He was kicking as hard as he
could. He couldn’t kick through it. The sensei came up and said, ‘What’s
wrong? What’s wrong?’ He said, ‘I just can’t kick through it’. The sensei
went to the holding the board and just turned the board 90 degrees, and
then said, ‘Try it now’. He took a kick and just cracked right through the

When you are kicking on a board you have to get the grain right. If you are
kicking against the grain it’s very, very difficult, and the point is, is
that small little changes can make a big difference. It can make all the
difference. It can be the difference between success and failure. So kind
of keep that in mind. You have to be smart. You have to make these little
changes to what you’re doing and make little improvements. Those things can
really add up, and those can be the difference between selling your
screenplay and not selling your screenplay.

The next story this guy told – he was in a bar once and he ran into this
very successful business guy. He said, you know, ‘What’s the secret to
being successful and being rich?’ The guy said, ‘You know, it’s no secret.
Just go out, work seven days a week, fifteen hour days and do that for
about ten years and you will be successful’. You know, that kind of sums it
up. Maybe that’s a little excessive, but the point is that sometimes
there’s no replacing just putting your head down and doing the work.

I think if you really look at those two stories, those are really the key.
That’s the backbone of my philosophy with everything I do, but certainly in
screenwriting. You have to be smart about what you do and the things that
you do, but you also have to just put your head down and do the work. If
you do those two things – you are smart about what you do and you do a ton
of work, then good things are bound to happen. I believe that you too can
have some success. So that’s it for this episode. I hope you enjoyed it.
Thanks for tuning in, and goodbye.