This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 010: Jacob Stuart Talks About Limited Location Low Budget Feature Film Scripts.

In this episode Jacob Stuart talks about how to launch your career with the log budget, limited location feature film script.

Ashley: Welcome to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley
Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at In this episode’s main segment, Jacob
Stuart, who I interviewed in episode seven, is back to talk to
me about one-location low budget feature films. There’s a good
market for these scripts right now, so this is a great way to
break into the business. That’s coming up. If you find this
episode valuable, please help me out by giving me a review in
iTunes. I want to thank MissBrass, SeanSpeak, Renee, DevinMckay,
Marketman, MyNameIsCrazy for leaving me nice reviews on iTunes.
I want to thank Ginger Shine, Adam Strange, Eric Joyce, Tracy
Nell, Christine Pegisi, Bill Harten, Richard Hector, and Andrew
Pratt, who all left me nice reviews and comments on YouTube.
Thank you very much for those.

I wanted to address one comment that seems to come up quite a
bit if you’re watching this via YouTube. You’ll notice that I
don’t look into the camera. I’m actually reading from an outline
that I prepared for the show. I’m not really very good right now
at reading and looking into the camera, but I do realize this
would be a much better way of doing it. Hopefully I’ll get
better at just glancing at my outline and actually talking into
the camera as I continue to do this. To try and generate some
iTunes reviews, I’m going to be giving away one free email/fax
blast to someone who leaves a review on iTunes from now until
February 8th, 2014. I’m extending the contest because a few
people seem to have problems getting their comments posted. So
hopefully the extra few days will help with this.

But also, I realized that I said in the last episode that I
would accept entries until the end of January, but I actually
record the episode a week or so early. So I’m actually recording
this episode before the contest has ended, which obviously
wouldn’t make sense for anyone who posts a comment after the
recording is done but before the episode airs. The contest is
still up and running. Go into iTunes and enter a comment under
this podcast, and you’ll be eligible to win a free email/fax
blast. This fax/email blast is the same blast that I use for my
own screenplays and it’s the same blast that I sell on my blog.
Just leave me an honest review on iTunes, and then during the
next episode, which will come out on February 17th, I’ll
randomly pick one person who’s left a comment on iTunes. Again,
the cutoff date for the entries will be February 8th. I’ll
probably record that February 17th episode right around February
9th, so try and get your comments in before February 8th. Then
the winner will have a choice of either a free agent/manager
blast or a free producer’s blast.

Also, I’ll be picking a name from everyone who has posted a
comment, including the people who have already posted, so if
you’ve already posted a comment, you’re already entered to win.
You don’t need to enter another comment. To be eligible, you
must post your comment through the iTunes interface. I’ve had a
number of people ask if they can post it on YouTube or some
other platform. Right now I’m just specifically trying to boost
my iTunes comments. To be eligible, again, you do have to go
through the iTunes interface. iTunes makes it pretty hard to dig
through the comments from other countries. I’ll be checking the
U.S., UK, Australia, and Canada, but if you don’t live in one of
those countries, just drop me an email telling me which country
you live in so I’ll remember to check the comments in that
country. Thank you. A couple of quick notes. Any websites or
links that I mention in the podcast can be found in my blog and
the show notes. I also publish a transcript with every episode
in case you’d rather read the show or look at something later
on. You can find all the podcast show notes at 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 and query letter,
how to find agents, managers and producers who are looking for
material. It really is everything you need to know to sell your
screenplay. Just go to I’ve
been getting a lot of questions lately about my email and fax
blast service. A lot of the questions will be answered by
joining my free email list. When you join, I send you detailed
instructions about how you can actually build your own database
of contacts. You can make this work. You don’t have to purchase
my email or fax blast. You can build your own database, and I
actually go through all the steps to do that. I explain all the
steps before and after that as well, how to write the log line
and query letter. If you’re wondering what all this is about,
what this fax blast and email is, just take a minute and join
the email list. It really is free, and it really will explain my
whole approach to marketing screenplays. A quick few words about
what I’m working on. The main thing I’ve been working on right
now is a final polish on a spec comedy screenplay. I’ll
hopefully be done in the next couple of weeks, and then I’ll
begin blasting it out to my list. I would say this script got
pretty mixed reviews in my writer’s group. It’s got some
problems. I think I have a pretty memorable ending. The ending
did seem to polarize the group a bit. Some people seemed to
really like it while others thought it was too outlandish. I
actually think this can be a good thing. I mean, if you have an
ending that everyone is lukewarm on, that’s a big problem. But
at least some people seem to be surprised and delighted with the
ending, so that’s potentially a good thing.

Last week I finished up a very quick polish on my sci-fi
thriller which I recently optioned. It was as very light polish.
Just a few minor notes from the director. The option on the one-
location sexy thriller script that I mentioned on this podcast
is due in the next couple of days, so the producer has to either
pay me some money to extend the option or she’s going to have to
let it go. So it will be interesting to see what she does.
Anyway, that’s about all I’ve got going right now. Now let’s get
into the main segment. Today I’m talking to Jacob Stuart about
the limited location low budget feature film. He’s going to be
running a class on this topic on February 22nd through my blog
and the SYS Select program. Here is the interview. I hope you
enjoy it. Welcome, Jacob, for coming back on the Selling Your
Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate your taking some time to
talk to me. How are you doing today?

Jacob: I’m doing great. How are you?

Ashley: Good, good. In February you’re going to be teaching a class on
the SYS Select program about writing a low budget one-location
limited cast feature film. Can you give us a little information
on that class?

Jacob: Yeah, absolutely. It’s definitely something I’m very passionate
about, and we can talk more about this down the road on how I
found success and why I think it’s so important. Some of the
bullet points that I’m definitely going to talk about, I think
are some of the most important things that I get the most
questions about, are making sure that your script is contained
and understanding what contained means, how to take your big
budget script and turn it into a single location script. We’re
also going to talk about found footage scripts, like the Blair
Witch Project, and how to make those work, even…

Ashley: Yep, I see a lot of those on InkTip and stuff. There’s a lot of
production companies looking for those found footage type

Jacob: Absolutely. A lot of people who aren’t familiar with
screenwriting and film just kind of really think that the
producers are just kind of coming up with this idea. No, there’s
actual scripts, and there’s a way to write a script for that,
like Paranormal Activity.

Ashley: Sure.

Jacob: Yeah, another thing is keeping suspense all the way to the
climax, ditching the standard query letter and learning how to
pitch your script for low budget. I kind of talked about that in
the short film one, ditching the whole query letter and how to
sell your short script and just getting to the brass tax of
here’s how many locations, here’s the actors, etc. I’m also
going to talk about where to find these leads, because, like you
said, InkTip has a lot of them. We have a lot of those with SSU.
Then how to pitch that and where to advertise that. Like putting
it up on an InkTip, for instance. I’m also going to talk about
how to master dialog in a single location without giving too
much away. I’m going to talk specifically about Reservoir Dogs
and Tarantino and how he broke the rules of how you would write
a big budget film with three or four pages max for one scene,
and why his opening scene that took place in one location is 11
pages, and why that worked. Then, lastly, I’m going to take up,
and this will probably be about one fourth of the class, on how
to produce your low budget short. Utilizing the locations and
actors that you have. How to find funding. Distributions
companies that specifically seek this stuff and festivals that
welcome low budget indie thrillers.

Ashley: That’s great. That sounds like a great class. I can’t wait to
listen to it myself. Let’s take a minute and just talk about why
it’s so important to write a low budget script and get some of
these credits. One of the things I know from the people that
have joined Selling Your Screenplay is there is a lot of people
out there writing these big studio movies. The competition is
fierce, so your chances of actually breaking through with one of
those is a lot smaller. I don’t know that people fully
comprehend sort of the logistics of what it takes to sell a
studio script. You have some ideas on why this is so important?

Jacob: Yeah, absolutely. You said it just right. A lot of people don’t
really understand why keeping location and actors down. This is
a great way for someone who doesn’t have a credit to become an
optioned screenwriter immediately, become a produced
screenwriter immediately, and get paid. Film has changed just so
much in these past five years, just since 2009 or 10 with the
Canon 5D and 7D where any photographer can go out and film top
quality products that look just like film. Everybody is a
filmmaker now in retrospect. Because of that, a lot of people
don’t have a lot of money. They have their grandma’s basement or
they have the bedroom or they have an office, and that’s all
they have. And they have a camera and they have a few lights.
They don’t have a lot of resources, so they want low budget
stuff. That’s why with Screenwriting Staffing Utopia I’m
constantly getting stuff saying, “I need a budget under
$500,000. I need it $100,000.” I get some that say, “I need it
under $30,000. I need to have one or two locations. Here are the
locations I have. I don’t want any more than six actors.” But
the great thing about these kind of jobs are if they have
$2,000, $4,000, $6,000 sitting there to pay for a script,
they’re ready to give you that. You don’t have to sit there for
two or three years for this option agreement to find investors.
No, it’s such a low amount, they can shoot it right away. So not
only are you getting paid right away, but your product is going
to be so easy to shoot that you’re going to get to see it on the
screen in festivals within a year or so.

Ashley: Yeah. The other thing is, and I include myself in this, when I
first started out, is there’s this sort of idea that once you
get your first credit, everything will just open up and you’ll
have made it to some sort of screenwriting Nirvana.
Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. What I found after selling a
couple of scripts, was that you have to just keep working as
hard. Unless you get a movie that’s really either at least a
modest hit or gets some sort of serious critical recognition or
something, you’ve got to just keep getting movies made to keep
your career going. I’ve written some really lower budget stuff
and I’m finding that getting these things optioned is really not
that difficult. As you said, there’s producers out here that
have…And some of these budgets are not even $100,000,
$200,000. Really like the $600,000 or even the $800,000 or the
$1 million. There are producers out there that have that much
money and they have a business model, but they need something
very, very specific that they can shoot. $1 million sounds like
a lot of money just to your average Joe, but to shoot a feature
film, it’s not that much money. You’ve just got to keep rolling
the dice and keep getting material made.

Jacob: I completely agree. You made a good point about getting these
scripts optioned, because even big studios don’t always just
option scripts so fast, because they know it’s going to take so
much time to find investors and they have to hire line producers
and so forth to break this down, how many props, how many
actors, to go talk to these investors. But when an indie
producer has a script that takes place in maybe two or three
locations, they’re going to option your script really fast
because they know exactly how much money they have, how much
money it’s going to take to make this script by just reading it.
The turnaround time is going to be so much quicker. They go to
an investor and say, “Hey, we’re shooting this in a motel.
That’s it. That’s all the money we need.”

Ashley: Yeah, yeah.

Jacob: Producers are more into going to option your script faster than
that. But no, I absolutely agree. I’m not against writing big
budget films. I’m sure you have one. I have one. I wrote one
that I know would probably take a good $50 to $100 million to
write, and that was actually my first script to ever do. It’s
okay to do that, and it’s fun to do that and you can be
creative, but I think it’s time for some writers who maybe do
have 10 or 12 blockbuster films to kind of put those away for a
little bit and go to something a little bit more simple,
something strong. Get that option. Get that sold. Get your name
out there. You’ll be surprised that producers might say, “What
else do you have?” “Oh, I’ll show you this one.”

Ashley: No, I agree. I get emails, as I’m sure you do, from writers
that are diligent writers that have written 10, 15, 20 scripts,
and they have no options. I feel like a lot of times that’s one
of the biggest things they’re missing, is just sort of a
practical idea of what actually can get out into the marketplace
and actually has a chance of success. If you’ve written five
scripts and had no success, this is absolutely mandatory that
you listen to what we’re saying here and write something that’s
low budget, because if you’ve written that many scripts, you’ve
probably put in the time to actually get the skill set. You
probably are a halfway decent writer. You have the determination
and the persistence to keep going. This is a good, good way to
just get out there and actually get a credit and start really
building a career.

Jacob: Yeah, that’s a really good point. Yeah, exactly. If you can
write that many scripts with a strong story, you already have
the basics down.

Ashley: Let’s take a minute and talk about some really good films. Just
in the last 10 years or so, 5 years, the studios even have
started to look for some of these one location scripts. There
was a very popular one called Buried. I think it was Ryan
Reynolds. I remember watching that one. I had heard the pitch
that it takes place all in this coffin. This guy gets buried in
a coffin. I’m sitting there thinking, “Well, it couldn’t be
completely in the coffin, could it?” Sure enough, it’s
completely in the coffin. It was at least a studio movie. It had
Ryan Reynolds in it. There was the, I think it was a remake
where Colin Farrel is stuck in the phone booth.

Jacob: Yeah, yeah.

Ashley: Yeah, Kiefer Sutherland. I can’t remember the name of the movie
now. There is even a market for these at a pretty high level if
you write a really good one, to say nothing of just the low
budget ones. Let’s talk about some of the other big films. You
had mentioned some that you really like. Let’s just take a
minute to talk about those.

Jacob: Yeah. Some of my favorite ones are 12 Angry Men. I’m also a big
fan of Breakfast Club and Rear Window. Breakfast Club, for
instance, it’s just like Buried. I didn’t know anything about
that movie until you just said that. Honestly, that’s the best
pitch I’ve ever seen. A guy is stuck in a coffin for the whole
movie. I want to read that right there. With that, you can get a
good actor because you have more budget. Same with Breakfast
Club. It takes place in a classroom. There’s really not a lot of
action going on. It’s dialog. They created these characters
where their personalities clashed. Because they had a little
extra money, they could get named actors. The same with 12 Angry
Men. It’s amazing to think that you could have 12 men sit in a
jury area and the movie lasts so long. I was just doing research
before we spoke, and the movie is 96 minutes long, but only
three minutes of that is outside of the courtroom or where they
are jurying.

Ashley: Yeah, the jury room.

Jacob: Yeah.

Ashley: Yeah, yeah. Let’s dig in to 12 Angry Men. I mentioned this to
you before the interview. I’ve seen Breakfast Club, but it’s
been a couple of years. I watched 12 Angry Men just the last two
days. It’s actually available, for all the listeners. Here we
are in February of 2014. It’s currently available on YouTube. I
don’t think it’s legal, but somebody went and just uploaded the
entire film. It’s pretty decent quality. It looks like it was
digitized pretty well and just uploaded. So it’s free for
everybody to go and watch. I had never seen it. I had heard of
it. Let’s run through that one in a little bit more depth. The
one thing that I was really impressed by was you have 12 men,
and for a novice writer, I think one big problem that you would
run into is that all the characters sound alike and seem alike.
They did a great job really making each of the 12 men very
distinct and really understanding the point of view of 12 very
different people. Some of it was as simple, I would say, they
gave one guy with an accent, so you could kind of tell him.
There were some blue collar guys and some white collar guys, so
they dressed the blue collar guys a little bit. They weren’t
wearing their ties. They had an old guy. So they had some sort
of physical traits that kind of helped us understand these
characters, but really it was the dialog and the point of view
that these characters had that made them distinct. It wasn’t
just, “What was that? Who’s that guy? What’s that guy saying?”
Very, very distinct characters.

Jacob: That’s a great point. One of the things I was going to add too
is in the movie we’re only told two people’s names. Just like
you said, you watch that movie and you know who each character
is, their background, where they come from, their personality,
all of that. We don’t even know their names.The writing in that
is absolutely amazing. Like you said, that was one of my notes,
was just each character has its own specific personality which
creates its own intensity and its own conflict. That’s what
makes great movies. Big blockbusters where it’s in tons of
locations or just one, if you have that, your film is going to
be successful.

Ashley: The other thing I liked about 12 Angry Men was despite, as you
said, it all takes place basically in this jury room, and one of
the great things was they were able to pull out some really
dramatic moments. There’s the great moment where the Henry Fonda
character pulls out…I’d just say this too, spoiler alert. If
you haven’t heard the movie, you’d probably want to watch it
because there will be some spoilers in our discussion. There’s
the great moment where Henry Fonda pulls out the second knife
and slaps it on the table. They reused that thing, “Okay, let’s
take a vote,” to kind of gauge the temperature of the room, and
they kept going back to that. That’s kind of like your plot
points and sort of your close line that you’re hanging the
structure on, is they kept taking a vote of how the jurors were
voting. It starts off 11 to one, and then by the end it’s 11 to
one the other way. That really gives your script some forward
momentum so you can tell that things are moving forward and
changing. It was just a really smart use of, as I said, sort of
a dramatic convention.

Jacob: Actually, yeah. I never really thought about that. Yeah, that’s
completely right. Yeah, they did all of that. There was never a
dull moment in there, and they always stuck something in there
that forced the change of the story. That’s like those in a
lot… Just go to Rear Window real quick, which was a Hitchcock.
Hitchcock has done several one-location movies, including Rope
as well. This man’s in a wheelchair and he’s out of his
apartment and he spies on people, but he witnesses a murder.
When you throw something like that in a story, that right there
in your log line or your synopsis when you’re just pitching, it
already grabs the reader or the producer or anyone. Then when
you add, “Oh, and it takes place in one location,” they may
option that before they even read it.

Ashley: Yeah, yeah. I actually had a meeting last week with a producer,
and I have a one-location thriller that basically takes place
all at a hotel. I was just talking to them, and I could see
exactly what you’re saying. The producer’s eyes lit up when I
started to talk about this script, because they knew that it
would be easy to shoot, and because it’s sort of a sexy
thriller, there’s a definite marketplace for that. Another
thing, just taking back to 12 Angry Men. I just jotted down this
other note. This is a thing that new writers have a real hard
time with, but 12 Angry Men did it absolutely just masterfully.
The way they laid out the exposition, there was no clunky
exposition bombs. It was just slowly we got what had happened in
the court case and what had happened surrounding this murder.
Just very organically and naturally they laid out these pieces
of the story and the back story and what had happened up until
that time. There was never these clunky moments like you felt
like someone was just saying something just to give us some
exposition. Very natural. That’s something that, again, a script
like this, when you watch it, you don’t necessarily notice it,
because it’s well done. But when you read a beginner’s script
where they give you these just exposition drops, it gets very,
very clunky. That’s another thing that I would say is an
important lesson from 12 Angry Men.

Jacob: Absolutely. Yeah, it’s funny. When Tarantino does films like a
Reservoir Dogs, there’s so much dialog, but none of it really
gives a lot away. It gives us just what we need. If it was done
poorly, we would notice, but you don’t notice it. You just
expect it to be good. There is a trade to it, and you have to
learn it. That’s kind of one of the things I want to do in the
class. You can only teach so much with that, but there is a way
to make the dialog snappy and to keep the story moving and
create conflict just like in 12 Angry Men, because they’re so
different, without giving the entire story away. It’s like Chris
Nolan always says. His films, it’s like you have the mouse in
this maze. Some people shoot it where you see the mouse and all
the wrong ways it goes, but you see the end. He shoots it where
we are the mouse and we experience it. That’s the thing that you
have to do with [inaudible 22:50] thrillers.

Ashley: Yeah, for sure, for sure. Well, that’s great. Are there some
other things maybe we could talk about on some of the other
movies, the Rear Window and Breakfast Club? Any other points you
want to bring out?

Jacob: I think one of the things with Breakfast Club that I enjoy the
most is we don’t have any dialog in the opening. You just see
these characters. Honestly, it’s not so much the direction. Like
they get this script, and then the director and cinematographer
come in and change all this. Breakfast Club is one of those
ones. I can maybe send you a link, but you can download the
script and read it. You’ll notice that there is very minimal
dialog, but we know who the jock is, we know who the druggie is,
we know who the bad boy is and the prom queen simply by the cars
they pull up in, the way they’re dressing, the way they hold
them selves, just all of that, how they sit in the chair. If you
can really see how they do that, you can get rid of some of that
dialog. This is all in one location. It’s great writing. I think
the thing that people need to realize about one-location scripts
is a lot can be credited to the director in a lot of films, but
the screenwriter who can master the one or two-location script
should get a big portion of that credit. Yes, the director has
to choose certain camera angles, and there’s a different way of
shooting that. Those kinds of films, I think it’s great to read
the script as well. You have much more of appreciation on how
hard it is but how to master it at the same time.

Ashley: Yeah, well I’ll find the script. We’ll definitely link to
the…I’ll see if I can find the 12 Angry Men script and the
Rear Window script as well and see if we can link to those.

Jacob: Definitely. Now, I haven’t seen the newer 12 Angry Men, so I
don’t know much reference on that, but the first one, I think
that’s the one I would recommend as well.

Ashley: Yeah, that’s the one that I watched. As I said, it was on
YouTube. Well, that’s great, Jacob. It does sound like a really
interesting class. As I said, I’m looking forward to it.
Hopefully some of our users will sign up and look forward to it
as well.

Jacob: Great.

Ashley: Perfect. Thanks again for coming on, and we’ll talk to you in

Jacob: All right. Talk to you later.

Ashley: If you’d like to learn more about the class that Jacob is going
to be teaching, go to Again,
it’s going to be on February 22nd. It’s a Saturday at 10:00 AM,
Pacific/Standard Time. In this week’s writing words section, I
want to expand on some of the things that Jacob talked about
today. There is a ton of advice out there for the beginning
screenwriter, and it’s basically pretty simple. When you’re
first starting out, you need to write a bunch of scripts and
read a ton of screenplays. You probably don’t need to worry
about too much else. Most of these early attempts aren’t going
to be all that great, which is fine. My first screenplays were
terrible. You’ve got to just go through those early stages and
get to the point where you’re actually able to write something
that someone wants to buy. I don’t know that there’s really any
trick to it. You just need to put your head down and do the
work. I feel like most of the people who join my site, read my
blog and listen to this podcast are probably past those
beginning stages. So today I want to talk a bit about how to go
from that stage where you’ve written more than a few screenplays
but still don’t have any produced credits. I think there are a
ton of people in this situation, and I actually think there is
not a lot of good advice out there for them.

A lot of the advice that you see from established writers goes
something along the lines of, “Just write a great script.” That
was never really helpful to me. First, I’m not sure I’ve ever
really written a great script, but mainly it seems like advice
from someone who doesn’t really understand how or why they
succeeded. I feel like most of the people who give out that sort
of advice have either been very lucky or they’re simply super
talented or some combination of the two. But in either case, I’m
not sure there’s a lot we can learn from them. I heard Tim
Ferriss on a podcast a while back. He’s the author of The 4-Hour
Workweek, The 4-Hour Body, and The 4-Hour Chef. If you’ve never
heard of Tim Ferriss, one of his main focuses is how to learn a
skill super fast. One of the things he was talking about on this
podcast is the idea that if you want to get really good at
something, you shouldn’t look at the people at the very top of
the profession, because they most likely have a lot of god-given
talents that you and I simply don’t have. Think about this just
for a second. This makes a lot of sense. If you want to learn
how to play golf, looking at Tiger Woods probably isn’t going to
help you much with your game. He can do things with his body
that you and I simply don’t have the physical gifts to do. Tim’s
point was you want to try and emulate someone further down in
the rankings. Looking for a guy who doesn’t have a ton of
physical talents or god-given gifts, and try and learn from him.

Back to screenwriting; I don’t know that anyone out there has a
real actionable template for succeeding at screenwriting for
this intermediate level, and that’s really what I’m trying to
provide here. Let’s talk about some real actionable things
intermediate writers can do. There are three main problems that
I see with intermediate writers. Number one, and I’ve talked
about this a ton on my podcast and written about it on my blog,
but too many intermediate writers fail to understand the markets
and what they actually have a chance at selling. Number two,
many intermediate writers simply aren’t putting in the time and
writing enough material to give themselves a real chance. Number
three, a lot of writers that I talk to, they’re just not
aggressively marketing their material. A lot of writers, they
get to that stage, that intermediate stage where they’ve maybe
had some success. Maybe they’ve won a contest or received some
other recognition and have been able to land an agent and
manager, but then they rely solely on their agent and manager to
market their material. Putting your future in someone else’s
hands is a recipe for working your day job for a very, very long

Let’s talk about the first problem a bit. Failing to understand
what you can realistically sell. That’s what Jacob’s class is
all about. These limited location feature screenplays are
relatively easy to sell. There are people out there looking for
them, and if you have a good one, you will get it optioned. If
you have enough of them, one of them will eventually get
produced. The marketing is fairly straightforward. You can find
these leads posted on Craigslist, InkTip. Use a blasting
service, an email and fax blast service like mine. Again, this
is a very realistic way of actually becoming a professional
writer with real credits. These budgets are usually pretty
modest, but they usually have a budget, and you will get paid
and you will get a credit. All of a sudden you’ll go from being
an intermediate writer to an actual optioned and produced
professional screenwriter. My very first Selling Your Screenplay
Select class was all about choosing your concept. It’s available
for replay if you join SYS Select. Selling a studio level
screenplay, and I kind of mentioned this in the interview with
Jacob, selling a studio level screenplay is just really, really
hard. There’s a ton of people trying to do it.

Your screenplay has to be really good, and you’ve got to get
really lucky to sell one. It does happen for outsiders. Long
shots can come in, and so you do hear of these things. It is
possible, but it’s a whole lot easier to sell one of these low
budget feature film scripts. It doesn’t have to be great. It’s
just got to be good. It’s got to meet certain criteria. A lot of
the criteria isn’t necessarily great writing. It’s one location
that the director has access to. It’s a role for a specific
actor that this director wants to cast in their movie. I really,
really would advise you to take a step back. If you’re one of
these intermediate writers, you’ve written a bunch of scripts,
take a step back and really examine your concepts and really
examine your marketing. Now, let’s talk a bit about the second
problem that I mentioned. Not writing enough material to give
yourself a change at succeeding. Selling any screenplay is a
long shot, so you’ve got to get enough volume, which means
option screenplays, to turn one of those options into an actual
sale. Let’s just say you need to option five screenplays to get
one produced credit. That means if you can get 10 options, your
chances of actually getting a produced credit are pretty good.
Now, let’s look at what I’ve done over the last year. In the
last 12 months I’ve optioned four scripts.

One of the options has essentially lapsed. The producer was
supposed to pay me an additional option payment in October and
he didn’t want to pay it. He’s a nice guy and I think he’ll do a
good job with the script, but honestly, I’m not all that
convinced that he’s going to make it happen. But the bottom line
is the script is sort of still tied up. I’m not sending it out
widely, because I do like this director and producer and I do
think that they have a shot. That’s one of my scripts. It’s just
tied up. It’s not really optioned, but it’s sort of tied up. One
of my other options, the producer has to make an option payment
in the next few days. I mentioned this in the what I’m working
on section. I would put this maybe at, like, a 50/50 chance
whether or not she’s actually going to make that payment. But
only a 50/50 chance of her actually extending the option. I
don’t think there’s a real good chance that she’s actually going
to produce this movie. Maybe. She’s a producer. She’s got some
credits. I’m hopeful, but realistically, I’m not counting on it.
One of the other options that I have, the producer emailed me
the other day. He said he’s having a hard time raising the
money, and he’s trying to go through the script and figure out
how to shoot it a lot cheaper. That one I optioned maybe five or
six months ago, and he had a year long option, so he’s got a few
more months. Again, I’m hopeful, but I’m certainly not counting
on it. Then the last option. I mentioned my sci-fi thriller
which I talked about on the last podcast episode. I still have
high hopes for it, but the option just started, so it’s really
hard to tell how that one will turn out.

My point in going through all of this is just to kind of show
you that it takes a lot of option screenplays to actually get
one into production. Once a screenplay is optioned, it’s off the
market and tied up. So you’ve got to have a bunch of well
written screenplays that you’re out there marketing. You’ve got
to be writing new stuff all the time. If you just have two or
three good screenplays, I just don’t think that’s really going
to be enough to actually push you through to the next level. I
mean, who knows? You might get lucky. I hope you do, but it’s
just going to be very, very tough. With only two or three
screenplays, once you option those two or three screenplays,
they’re tied up, as I just sort of explained with my scripts.
Even if the options are not that high paying, they can be tied
up for a year, two years, and you’re just waiting. There’s not a
great probability that any one of those is going to come
through. If you’re constantly writing new material, then you’ve
got this whole sort of cycle of getting more stuff optioned.
Like I said, if I can have 10 scripts optioned at one time, I’ll
start to feel pretty good about my chances. I’ll start to feel
like, “Hey, that’s a pretty good chance.” To have 10 scripts
optioned, you’ve probably got to written 15 scripts, because
you’re always going to have some that are duds that don’t quite
hit the market right. That’s one of the things that I see with a
lot of these intermediate writers. They get to a certain point
where they’re written two or three scripts, and they kind of
just don’t keep the pedal on the floor. They don’t keep pushing
ahead. They don’t keep writing new material. That’s the second

Now let’s talk about the third problem. This is not aggressively
marketing your screenplays. As I said, I talked with many
writers who rely on their agent and manager to send out their
material. In an ideal world we as writers would be able to just
sit around and write all day and let somebody else worry about
the marketing, but that’s just not a reality unless you make it
to the very, very top of the profession. No one is going to care
about your work like you do, and no one is going to market your
work as aggressively as it needs to be marketed. Agents and
managers are just people. There’s really nothing that they can
do that you yourself can’t do. Some of them hopefully have been
in the business for a long time, so they have some contacts that
you may not have, but you should be building your own network of
contacts. Just think about this from the agent’s perspective. If
you were one person that was representing 10 or 15 or 20
writers, how much of your time is going to be spent on any one
writer? If you have 20 writers, 5% at most. Maybe you have some
really good writers that are bringing in most of your money, so
you shift your time to trying to get those out there. But as an
intermediate writer who’s got an agent, you’re probably not that
guy. You’re not the one bringing in the money. You’re not going
to get a lot of attention even if you have an agent. They’ll
send your stuff out. They’ll do some stuff to just see if they
can strike lightning. If they do, great. They’ll ride that. But
no one is going to care about you. Even if you spend 50% of your
time writing and 50% of your time marketing, that’s going to be
a lot more time marketing than your agent is most likely going
to spend on you.

Then there’s the writer who doesn’t have an agent, and all
they’ve done is entered a few contests or tried one or two
online services, and they think that’s enough. It’s simply not
enough. I don’t want this to seem just like it’s me shilling my
own email and fax blast service. Again, in my free guide I
explain how you can build your own database if you don’t want to
spend money on the service. Really, you can do it for very
little money, next to no money. Really, you can build your own
database and send out emails for free. For the last few scripts
that I’ve marketed for myself, I’ve also used other online
services. There are really many at this point. I still look
through Craigslist regularly. As I said, the last couple scripts
that I finished, I put them on InkTip, I’ve uploaded them to the
new Black List service, and I even have been recently, the last
couple times, I’ve tried a service called Virtual Pitch Fest. I
would also add contests to this mix. Many contests specifically
exclude writers who have made money as a screenwriter, so it’s
not something that I do any longer. But if you meet the contest
requirements, I do think this is another thing you can be doing
to try and move your career ahead. The other thing is marketing
is not some secret magical sauce. A lot of good marketing is
just covering your bases and being persistent. It’s nothing more
than being diligent. Just do everything you can think of and see
what works. The good news is that in this day and age it really
is just a matter of spending a few bucks, and you can get your
script out there pretty easily. Not just through my service, but
through any of the other services that I’ve talked to.

The services that I mentioned on here, InkTip, The Black List,
Virtual Pitch Fest, those are fairly well regarded in the
industry. They’re not scams. They may or may not work for you,
but they’re certainly not scams. So you’re not going to be just
totally wasting your money with them. I really believe if you
have leaks in any of these three areas and you plug those leaks,
you’ll start to option and sell some stuff. Really, virtually
everyone I talk to who is in this intermediate stage has some
mix of these three problems. I get emails from people all the
time who have written 10, 20, I even got an email from a guy who
had written 30+ screenplays and never sold anything. I would say
someone like that clearly doesn’t have a problem with writing
enough material. He’s certainly writing enough, but he’s got to
have one or two of the other problems. Either he’s writing
scripts that aren’t marketable or he’s not being aggressive
enough on the marketing front. There’s really only those two
possibilities. I talked with another writer recently who had a
manger. One or two scripts, the manager liked, but the writer
wasn’t really pumping out new stuff. Nor was she trying to
market it herself. This writer is very talented. She’s an
excellent writer, but she doesn’t have any credits. I really
believe it’s because she’s not producing enough scripts and
she’s not doing anything to market her scripts herself. She’s
just relying solely on her manager. The bottom line is that if
you’re having trouble getting to the point where you have a few
things optioned, you need to really just take a step back and
try and look at yourself realistically and honestly. Look at
yourself and try and figure out where you fit in these three

I suppose there is a fourth possible option and that is that
your scripts are simply not very good, but I honestly don’t
think that’s the problem for most of the people that I talk to.
If someone has taken the time to write 5, 10, 15 scripts, they
usually get at least halfway decent at it, even if they’re not
the most talented writer in the world. As I said, a lot of these
low budget scripts where you’re just trying to break into the
market, these one-location feature film scripts, they don’t have
to be great. They don’t have to be the greatest script ever
written. They just have to be competent.

One other possibility might be that you’re not really through
the beginning stage, and your scripts aren’t up to professional
levels. You’ve got to be brutally honest with yourself. I would
say if you’re listening to this wondering if your scripts are in
a professional level, it means that they aren’t. To be at the
professional level, you will need to be good enough to recognize
a professional level script when you see it. If you can’t tell
if your scripts are at that level or not, it means they’re
probably not.

One other thing that I would like to point out is that this
strategy isn’t any different than what I’m doing. I’ve sold a
few scripts and earned a sizable percent of my income from
screenwriting. Quite often I’ll talk to a writer who’s had some
significant success in the business, they’ve sold a studio level
film, but they’re struggling now. I’m always amazed at how
little they understand about the marketing of their scripts.

A lot of time they’ll be bowled over when I tell them how many
scripts I’ve sold and all without an agent or manager. So this
strategy is really for everyone except beginners and the few
people at the highest levels. Everybody in between intermediate,
and I would consider myself well past the intermediate,
professional screenwriter. It’s really everyone in that range.

If you’re a beginner, you need to take some time and really just
get the fundamentals down. If you’re at the highest level of the
screenwriting profession, your agent and your manager and your
network of contacts, really those are the people that you’re
going to, and that’s how you’re getting your work. But everybody
that’s not writing as much as they want, everybody who’s trying
to break in, written a bunch of scripts, I really think this is
the strategy, just getting out there and looking at yourself and
plugging those leaks.

One other final point I want to make. This isn’t just about
blindly following my advice. You’ve got to get out there and see
what works for you and push in that direction. There is a lot of
subtly and nuance to this whole process that can only really be
figured out by actually getting in there and doing it.

This is kind of a hard thing to describe, but there’s really
nothing like talking to a producer and asking them what they’re
working on and why they’re working on the projects they’re
working on. You start to understand sort of the practical
aspects of screenwriting. As I said, it’s a real subtlety and
nuance actually hearing it from a working producer’s
perspective. It can really help you navigate your own writing.

There’s a limit to what I or anybody else can tell you, because
everything that I hear is filtered through me. That might not
quite work for you, but if you’re out there and you’re
networking and you’re talking to producers, and then their words
are going through you, you can start to figure out, “Well, I’m
good at this,” or “People seem to really like this part of my
writing, and I can maybe push in that direction.” It’s just not
about some sort of a blind checklist and, “Okay, we’ve got three
problems, and I’m plugging this problem and this problem.” It’s
really about getting out there and doing it and talking to

Anyway, that’s our episode. I hope you found it useful. I really
do appreciate your listening. Tune in next time. As I said, the
next episode will be coming out February 17th. Thanks and talk
to you later.