This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 002: How I Sold My First Few Screenplays. Click here to listen or watch the original Podcast.
Welcome to Episode Two of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley
Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at SellingYourScreenplay.com.
In this episode I’m going to give you a brief overview of how I got into
the business and sold my first few screenplays. I think I’m probably like a
lot of people who are listening to this podcast. I didn’t grow up in L.A.
and I didn’t know anybody in the business when I first started out. Through
trial and error I slowly made headway and eventually sold a few scripts.
Hopefully, you can learn from my story and implement some of the things
that have worked for me.
I got my first review in iTunes. I want to thank Byron Lee Marsh for doing
a review and giving me five stars in iTunes. Thank you very much for that.
If you listen to this through iTunes, please do login and just leave me a
review and a rating. I’m really trying to improve the podcast, and getting
feedback like this really helps me do that, so again, thank you to Byron
for leaving me a nice review and giving me some stars. Thanks.
A couple of quick notes. Any links or websites that I mention during the
podcast will be in the show notes. I also will publish a transcript of this
podcast in case you’d rather read it for whatever reason. You can find the
podcast show notes at SellingYourScreenplay.com/podcasts.
Also, if you want my free guide, “How to Sell Your Screenplay in Five
Weeks,” you can pick that up by going to SellingYourScreenplay.com/guide.
It’s completely free, you just put in your email address, and I’ll send you
a new lesson once a 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 and query letter, how to find
managers, agents and producers who are looking for material. It really is
everything you need to know to sell your screenplay.
Each podcast episode, I just want to take a minute and explain a little bit
what I’m working on. Hopefully, you can learn something from this.
I actually just finished up a spec screenplay, and I’m getting ready to do
a blast for that screenplay. I’m always trying to figure out what producers
are looking for, so I always scour the various online sources where
producers are looking for screenplays. Whenever I get a rejection from a
producer, I always follow it up with an email asking them what sort of
material are they looking for? I’m just trying to kind of keep my finger on
the pulse of what producers are looking for, and what kind of scripts they
think they can get financed and get produced.
One thing that I seem to be hearing quite often, since production costs
have kind of come down, there seems to be this real need for low budgets,
one location screenplays. “Buried” and “Phone Booth” are two fairly recent
examples of one location scripts. Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” and “Rope”
would be examples of one location scripts.
These films, if they’re done right, they can be good, but they can also be
done fairly cheaply. Producers are always looking to create a product
without having to spend a lot of money.
I’ve been thinking about what I could do for a one location screenplay. One
of the films that I did a couple years ago, we eventually found
distribution, and it was a lot of trial and error trying to find
distribution. I talked to a lot of distributors, and one thing that kept
coming back from distributors was that sexy thrillers are always good films
to have because they play well overseas. Comedy’s a little dicey overseas,
romantic comedies, again, just a little bit dicey overseas, but sexy
thrillers pretty much play throughout the world. There’s another sort of
Hollywood truism and that is that there are not enough good roles for
Thinking about these three things, I set out to write a one location, sexy
thriller that had a female protagonist. That’s basically what I have. I’ve
finished the script, and now I’m getting ready to blast it out.
A lot of time you hear from other screenwriters and screenwriting gurus,
they give you this advice to write what you’re passionate about and not to
worry about trends. What I just explained sounds like it might be contrary
to that. I don’t necessarily think it is. I mean, I personally like
thrillers. I always enjoy watching them. I’ve written a bunch of thrillers
over the years.
It’s within my wheelhouse, and really all I’m doing is taking a step back
and focusing what I would normally write anyways, and trying to fit what
I’m going to normally write into some constraints. I kind of think in some
ways that’s actually more creative, to give yourself constraints, and then
try and be creative within those constraints. The constraints were, “Hey,
can I come up with a sexy thriller idea that basically takes place in one
location, and then tell that story through the eyes of a female
I still think you do have to write what you’re passionate about and what
interests you, but I also think, at the same time, you can take a step back
and try and focus what you’re writing. Just keep an eye out towards what
you’re actually going to be. . . where you’re actually going to sell the
script and what producers might be interested in the script.
I’m actually doing an online class on September 21st, and the topic is
actually choosing your concept. The online class is called “Choosing a
Marketable Concept.” I’ll give you some more details later on in the
podcast about that.
Anyways, in the next few days, I’ll be doing this blast. Hopefully it all
goes well, I’ll report back and have some good news to report on the
podcast. Anyways, wish me luck.
Now let’s just get into the main segment of this week’s episode which is
about how I started out in the business and sold my first few screenplays.
I’m sure there’s many people out there who are basically like me. When I
went to college, I really had no idea what I wanted to do. Luckily, I was
on the tennis team and I met a couple of guys who were accounting majors.
They got jobs. They were seniors when I was a freshman, and they got jobs.
They were going for interviews that spring semester, and they both got
jobs, so for lack of any kind of a better idea, I decided to be an
accounting major. By junior year, though, I knew I didn’t want to be an
accountant. I still didn’t really have any ideas about what I did want to
do, and I didn’t want to stay long and take extra time to graduate, so I
decided to suck it up and be an accounting major.
One of the electives for accounting was called Economics of India. For
whatever reason, it was taught in this very obscure class in the library.
Across the hall from the class was the poetry reading room. One day I got
there early to class, and the door was locked from the classroom, so I just
wandered across the hall into the poetry reading room. They had this book
called “Writer’s Market,” and it’s put out by Writer’s Digest, and it’s
actually still around, to this day.
In that book, “Writer’s Market,” they had a section on screenwriting. They
listed a bunch of production companies who would supposedly accept
submissions from new writers. This was pretty exciting to me. I had always
had in the back of my mind that I thought it would be neat to be a
screenwriter, but I just had no idea what to do, so I was never motivated
to write because I had no idea what to do with the script if I actually did
Keep in mind, this was the early to mid-90s. It was really before the
internet, so there was no Googling anything, or anything else. Running into
this “Writer’s Market” was really a pretty unique thing. As I said, it just
Basically, I. . . They had a nice little section at the beginning of it
that said, “How to Write a Query Letter.” They described the steps, how to
pitch your script in this query letter. So, I wrote up 10 pages of
screenplay that I thought were just hilarious, and I picked two companies
who seemed especially open to accepting screenplays from new writers.
It said back then, it said to include a self-addressed stamped envelope or
self-addressed stamped postcard, so I did that. I sent the query letters
off. Again, this was to two companies. One of the guys, he sent the
postcard back and it said, “Thank you for that undated, untitled
submission,” and he politely said no, thank you.
Another guy, though, was just nice enough, I guess I had included my phone
number, and he actually called me. Looking back on it, I had no idea why he
called me, he just was a really nice guy, and he could tell that I had no
idea what I was doing. He just called me and gave me some advice. The
advice basically boiled down to go read Syd Field’s “Screenplay.”
If you haven’t read it, I highly advise it, you go and check it out. Again,
I’ll link to that in the show notes. It’s a really classic screenwriting
book, and everybody should read it. Even all these years later, it’s still
pretty good advice.
In any event, graduation was moving up, and I ended up getting into a
screenwriting class at another college. I went to a very small liberal arts
college that didn’t have screenwriting, but they had some sort of a share
program with a college across town, and they had a screenwriting class.
So I took that screenwriting class, and I started to think, “You know what?
I’m going to just. . . ” I had absolutely nothing to do when I graduated,
no job prospects. I didn’t want to be an accountant, so I figured, “You
know what? I’ll move to L.A. when I graduate.
So, I did. I graduated and moved. The first job I got in L.A. was at a
tennis club working at the front desk answering the phone. One of the other
guys who did the same job I did, working the front desk, he was going to
CSUN, which is California State University-Northridge. He was getting his
MA in film. They had the same basic program with a screenwriting emphasis.
Again, I was just kind of plodding along. This was within the first year of
being here. I was writing scripts and stuff, but not really having any
success. The state universities out here in California are really cheap, so
I just went and enrolled, and I got into that class, or I got into that
program, again, working towards my master’s degree in film with an emphasis
The classes were not that great. I really don’t think I learned much from
the classes. By this time, I had written a good number of scripts and I had
read pretty much all of the screenwriting books, so I was pretty much up on
the academic nature of screenwriting.
But there’s always these little things that give you value from the
experience, even though it’s not part of the curriculum. There was a guy in
the classes with me. His name was Stan Williamson. He had just written and
optioned a script that he wrote called “Just Write.” It stars Jeremy Piven,
long, long before “Entourage” and Sherilyn Fenn. It was actually a pretty
good little movie, and it ended up. . . He optioned it when he was in this
class, and they ended up producing it, and it turned out pretty well.
Again, it’s just one of these chance meetings, but one day we were walking
out of class, and I just asked him, I said, “How did you option? How did
you sell it?” He basically told me. He said he had submitted it to an ad in
the back of the trades.
Again, this was the mid to late nineties by this time, so like “Hollywood
Reporter,” “Daily Variety,” in the back of those trades they would have
classified sections, I’m sure they still do, but they would have classified
sections, and producers would occasionally post ads saying they were for a
screenplay. They would give some criteria, maybe a comedy or thriller, or
whatever. You would see it, and they would have their mailing address, and
you would just send them a hard copy of the script.
He said he did that. Really, he would consistently submit to these things.
I had done a little bit. I had seen the ads, and I had submitted a few, but
I had never gotten any response whatsoever, not any nos, nothing, just
zilch. I just stopped submitting.
He said, over the years, he had optioned numerous scripts this way, and he
had earned, he claimed he had earned $10,000 to $15,000 optioning scripts
over the years. So, hearing that, again, I’m just eternally grateful that
he was willing to share this with me, I got really motivated, and I just
started really submitting to those ads religiously. I would make a real
effort every week to go down, look through the trades, and send in my
I had a bunch of different scripts in different genres by this time, so I
could cover just about every ad. Just one quick side note, I don’t think
these ads still exist in the trades. I think, for the most part, these type
of ads have moved online to various sites. Even stuff like Craigslist, I
will occasionally still submit to ads there, but those are the kinds of ads
that you would see, the kind of stuff you would see on like InkTip or
Craigslist today, those are the types of ads you would see in these trades.
In any event, again, this is probably the late ’90s, and I’m religiously
submitting to all these ads that I can find. At first, I would send in
stuff, and I didn’t get a lot of results quickly, but I started to get a
few sort of minor results. I’d get an occasional phone call. I’d send in a
script, or I’d send in. . . Sometimes, they’d just say send us a log line,
so I’d send a query letter with a log line, and the producer would call me
and I would talk to them.
I started to realize that these people were real and they were making
movies. One producer read one of my scripts and called me, and I actually
met with him. He was a real low budget producer, but he wanted to hire me
to write an idea. He had a treatment, and he wanted me to write it up for
him, and he ended up going with another writer. But again, it was like a
first meeting. I got in there and I could see that if I submitted long
enough and consistently enough that these would actually start to pay off.
Again, I just persevered and eventually I did start to show some consistent
results. The first screenplay that I ever optioned and sold was a movie
called “Dish Dogs.” Literally, I saw an ad in the back of the trades,
“Variety” or “Hollywood Reporter,” sent them the screenplay, they liked it,
and they eventually made it.
I optioned a film noir thriller screenplay and made a few thousand dollars
just for the option. They didn’t. . . It was all around the same time, and
they actually did not end up producing the movie. But again, it was a
legitimate option with a legitimate production company.
I also met a writer, a pretty well-established writer. He was setting up a
writers group, basically to write up his ideas, and he was paying us by the
hour to come in. He would come up with some ideas and then we would write
Another one of my credits is a film called “Reunion.” That was another one
of these cold query letters where I met a director who was doing really low
The bottom line was, after a couple of years of really consistently
submitting, I started to see some pretty concrete results. Now, I don’t
want to gloss over the sheer volume and consistency of the query letters
that I was sending out. As I said, this was probably a span of about three
years. I was working a regular job at the time, 40 hours a week, so it’s
not like I had all the time in the world to go do this, but I would make an
effort once a week to go down to the library and I would flip through these
different trade magazines.
Literally, in this three, four, five year period, probably a five year
period because I continued to submit even after I started selling stuff, it
probably took me two or three years before I really sold something this
way. For probably a five year period, I bet I did not miss more than a week
or two in this five year period of going down to the library and sending
these things in.
It was not simple and it was not easy. I mean, I had to really put forth
the effort. This is really important because I really believe that a lot of
the success I’ve had has been because I’m just so consistent and persistent
with my marketing.
In any event, once “Dish Dogs” and “Reunion” were finished, I mean, I sold
the scripts, they got produced, I made a real effort to find an agent and I
made an effort to start approaching other production companies. But it
unfortunately became very clear very quickly that despite having these
credits, they were not really my big breaks. They weren’t really going to.
. . It wasn’t just going to catapult me to an A-list screenwriter,
I was earning my living by this point as a screenwriter. As I said, I had
this job writing up this writer’s ideas, and I was optioning and selling
some stuff. But there’s just this idea, a lot of new writers think that
once they sell a script, get that first script under their belt, that it’s
all smooth sailing from there. I’m here to tell you that, unfortunately,
that’s not the case. It didn’t happen. It didn’t happen for me. I sent
letters to agents, and I ended up getting kind of a crappy agent, but I was
not able to get a good agent.
Perhaps I’m not a great networker, either. I’m not really particularly
outgoing or social, so maybe there’s opportunities that I’ve missed. I
think in some ways, it’s a little bit of a myth. Unless you really sell a
big studio film, or if you sell an independent film, it’s got to do well,
it’s got to get on the radar for you to really hit that A level. “Dish
Dogs” did not do that.
There I was. At this point, I didn’t have a job other than screenwriting. I
realized that I needed to really expand my marketing efforts, and basically
keep doing what I had been doing to get me to that point. That’s what I
really did. I just kept sending them out. I kept figuring out better ways.
Again, I met with a producer once. She actually said, she said, “Send
faxes. We don’t get that many faxed query letters, and those would probably
work.” So, I tried that. By this time, we’re probably talking early to mid-
2000s. I just started building a large list of agents, managers, and
production companies. Just everywhere on the Internet that you could find
them, find the source of information, I would just put into my database and
start doing these massive email and fax blasts.
Really, to this day, that’s the basis of my strategy. I continue, to this
day, to write spec scripts and send them out. Earlier in the podcast I
mentioned my approach to writing a marketable screenplay. That’s definitely
part of it. Before you start writing, really think about where you’re going
to send it. That’s basically what I do. I try to write a good, marketable
screenplay, write a good log line, write a good query letter, just submit
it far and wide to my database, and hopefully I option and sell the
One thing I like to point out, too, is I didn’t say write a great script. I
think there’s this idea of write a great script and it will get noticed.
It’s a bit of a myth. You don’t need a great script to make my strategy
work. You need a good script. You need something that’s halfway decent, but
if you really do have a great script, you’ll just blow the wheels off this
strategy because some of the scripts that I’ve optioned have definitely not
In any event, as I said, this is basically just now I’ve got this strategy
down. It’s basically just rinse and repeat. You can check out, that’s
probably worth doing if you haven’t done it. Go to IMDB, and just type in
my name, Ashley Scott Meyers, and just have a look at my credits. As I
said, with the exception of one credit that I. . . With the exception of my
most recent credit, all of my credits have come through cold query letters,
just sending out query letters, pitches and optioning scripts, then
hopefully the screenplay gets made. If you just want to kind of see how
effective this strategy is, I would say, the proof is in the pudding. So,
if you haven’t done it, check out my credits.
The one credit that I do have is actually a movie that’s currently in post
production called “Ninja Apocalypse.” It’s a low budget martial arts film.
That one actually did come about, I wouldn’t say networking, and in some
ways, it was a cold query letter. The director of the film actually brought
me on to it. He was a fan of a script that I wrote a few years ago. It’s
kind of a long story, I’ll spare you the details. But it wasn’t really the
direct result of a cold query letter, but other than that, all my credits
are really a direct result of a query letter.
If you want to learn more about the nuts and bolts of what I just explained
in terms of watching an email and fax blast campaign, I would encourage you
to check out my free guide, “Selling Your Screenplay in Five Weeks.” I go
through all the specifics of exactly how to do this. It’s all based on my
experience, which is kind of what I just described. If you want to get into
the nuts and bolts and try and launch your own campaign, check out my
guide. It’s at SellingYourScreenplay.com/guide. Again, it’s free, you just
put in your email address, and I’ll send you the five lessons which
basically goes through all the steps that you’ll need to take to
successfully have an email and fax blast campaign.
Hopefully, now that I’ve explained my strategy, you’ll see that it can work
for anybody as long as you’re willing to do the work. Growing up, I really
had no role models. I grew up in a small town, Annapolis, Maryland, and
there were certainly no filmmakers in Annapolis, and there really were no
artists to speak of. Really, it was there was no role models in terms of
trying to be a screenwriter.
I thought it would be a neat thing to do, but I really didn’t think it was
possible. I was a mediocre student in school. I certainly showed no
particular aptitude for creative writing, or really anything in school. I
was pretty much bad at everything. When I moved to L.A. I didn’t know
anybody in the business. In fact, I didn’t even know anybody in L.A. If
this can work for me, it can really work for anybody, including yourself.
It’s not simple and it’s not easy, but if you’re willing to do the work, I
do think that it can work for you. Nothing that I did really required a lot
of luck. It was just a matter of working hard and being persistent. Again,
I don’t want to make it seem like it was easy, because it was a ton of
work, but the bottom line is it can work.
It’s possible. It is possible if you’re willing to devote the time and the
effort to becoming a good screenwriter. It’s possible, if nothing else from
today’s podcast, hopefully you can at least come away with that feeling
that it’s possible.
For me, growing up, I really didn’t think it was possible. I just really
had no role models, so that was really a big hurdle, I would say, for me,
especially to get started. Since I really didn’t think it was possible,
there wasn’t a lot of motivation to really start writing, to start
learning, because it just didn’t seem possible. But after I found that
“Writer’s Market,” I started to think, “Maybe this is possible.” After I
sent out those first 10 pages and that guy called me, all of the sudden I
started thinking, “Maybe this is possible.” I’m just eternally thankful to
that guy who called me. Whether he knows it or not, he essentially launched
my screenwriting career.
Looking back at it now, it’s very non-typical for someone in Hollywood to
do that, to get some terrible pages and to actually take time out of their
busy day and call, so I have no idea why he did it. Believe me, it wasn’t
because he saw potential in my pages, because he didn’t. My pages were
terrible. I knew nothing about screenwriting. It wasn’t formatted, it was
nothing. I had never even seen a screenplay, so I literally just opened up
a Word document and started typing and sent those pages to him.
If nothing else, though, by him calling me, it really made it seem like
this was possible. Same thing at CSUN, when I asked Stan how he sold his
screenplay, and he told me. He could have been vague and not wanted to
share that information because really, by him telling me, it just meant
there was more competition. I was going to be submitting to the same ads
that he was submitting to, and so it in some ways probably lessened his
chances of optioning and selling stuff, but he told me, and I got to see
firsthand that this guy sold a script. He’s a nice guy and he sold a
script. Again, it just was a real moment where I started to think that this
was really possible.
That’s really how I want to conclude the main segment. If nothing else,
hopefully from. . . Hopefully you’ve gotten some ideas about a real
actionable plan about how you can go out and market your screenplay. At the
very least, hopefully, you’ve heard my story and can relate to it, and
realize that I’m not super smart or anything else, or some great creative
genius with all kinds of writing ability. I’m just a guy who went out there
and persisted and now I’ve sold a bunch of scripts, so it’s possible. I
really think if you put the work in, you can do it, too.
I just want to take a moment and plug my upcoming online class. It’s going
to be on September 21st at 10:00 a.m. That’s a Saturday. The topic of the
class is “Choosing a Marketable Concept: How to Avoid the Single Biggest
Mistake Made by New Screenwriters.” This really is, I mean, I’ve been
running my blog now for quite awhile, and one of the services I offer on
the blog is helping people write their log line and query letter.
One of the things I’ve noticed over the years is people, especially newer
writers, they choose concepts that are totally unmarketable. I thought that
an online class trying to help people get past that would be very helpful,
so if you want to learn more about that, just go to
SellingYourScreenplay.com/classes and you can learn more about it. All the
particulars are on that, but again, that’s September 21st at 10:00 a.m.,
and that’s a Saturday.
This class is part of my Selling Your Screenplay program. I have a whole
bunch of benefits to members, including these classes, plus a monthly
conference call where you can ask me any screenwriting related questions. I
also have a form where you can ask me questions and I’ll actually review
your log line and query letter. Also, if you’re a member, you have access
to my database so you can actually purchase an email and fax blast, and
that will go out to all the same people that I’m sending my own query
letters to. If you want to learn more about those services, just go to
SellingYourScreenplaySelect.com. Again, that’s
I’m planning on releasing a new episode about once a month. Hopefully I’ll
be able to increase that as I get better at actually producing these
podcasts, but just look for a new episode on the first Monday of each
In next month’s episode, I’m going to be talking to Script Doctor Eric.
He’s worked as a script analyst. He’s also read scripts for agents, and he
actually has a produce credit, as well. He can offer us some great
firsthand knowledge about the whole screenwriting process.
I just want to end this podcast with the writing words section. In the mid-
2000s, when poker became popular, I, like a lot of other people, got into
playing online poker and going to the casinos and reading poker books.
There was a story in one of the poker books that I remember and look back
on. I think it was a book by Barry Greenstein called “Ace on the River,”
but I’m not entirely sure. I think that was the book.
In any event, the story went something like this. There were two sports
gamblers who were betting against each other and one of the guys started
losing a lot. One day he put a huge bet on a long shot. The guy who took
the bet ended up telling one of his friends that if he lost, he wouldn’t be
able to pay the bet. The long shot was just too great, and if the other guy
one, he didn’t have the money to cover the bet. Luckily for the guy, the
long shot did not win, and he didn’t have to pay him.
But, the point in the book was you don’t want to be in a position like
this, where you’re risking something, but have really no chance of winning
something. I’ll even take that a step further. You want to be in the
opposite situation. You want to be in the situation where the guy was who
took the bet. He wasn’t going to pay, he was going to. . . He got some
money, and if he lost, he simply wasn’t going to pay, so he had really no
downside. He had a good bit of upside, but no downside.
This is kind of how I view life. We get 80 years or so, and we kind of can
do whatever we want, and there’s really no downside to doing what we want.
Yet, it’s not to say there’s no consequences. I mean, if that guy who took
the bet, if he had lost and not paid, he would have had to move to another
town or risk getting his legs broken. So, there are consequences, but the
bottom line is if you want to be a screenwriter, there’s no downside to
Think about sitting on the couch all weekend and watching sports, or
sitting on the couch and watching “Entertainment Tonight!” or any number of
other shows. What’s really the upside? There’s really very little upside,
perhaps, some fun relaxation, but the downside is you’re arteries are going
to clog and you’re going to die. There’s not a lot of upside, but not a lot
But think about this. If you sit down and start writing, if you’ve never
written a script, and you’re listening to this podcast, clearly you want to
be a screenwriter. So, there’s no downside to sitting down and actually
writing. You lose a little bit of time, but the potential upside is huge.
You can launch a screenwriting career. Even if that doesn’t happen, though,
just seeing your script get made into a movie, even a low budget movie,
even if you write a short, there’s just very little downside to being a
screenwriter and writing a script. That’s the greatest thing. Hopefully
If you’ve written a few scripts, I would urge you to take a step back and
ask yourself, “What’s really the downside to moving to Los Angeles?” I
mean, if you’re serious about being a screenwriter, there’s a ton of
upside. Your chances are exponentially better of breaking into the industry
if you live in L.A. than if you don’t. What’s really the downside? Any sort
of a career or job you could probably get in Los Angeles. You could have
the same sort of life you have where you currently live.
It’s a complicated thing, so I’m not just telling everybody that it makes
sense for everybody, but I would just urge you to really look at the
situations that you have and think about the upside and the downside. Try
and find situations where there’s a ton of upside, and not a lot of
So, that’s it for this week’s episode. I hope you enjoyed it. Thank you for
listening, and goodbye.