I get a lot of very passionate emails from people that proclaim their undying commitment to screenwriting. They usually go something like this:
“I’ll do what ever it takes for as long as it takes to sell my screenplay.”
Or more specifically something like this:
“I will do whatever I need to do to make it happen even if that means sleeping in front of the office door of a producer.”
People put too much emphasis on events (i.e. making a big sale) and don’t spend enough time focusing on the process that lead up to the event. This is important to realize. A screenwriting career isn’t a wall that you must blast through with one huge burst of energy. It’s a slow gradual process that takes shape over the course of many years. Of course there are those lucky few who seem to come out of nowhere and become huge stars overnight. It does happen and it’s one of the things that makes the entertainment industry so exciting. But there is an old saying in Hollywood that goes something like this: “the overnight success took ten years.” Keep that in mind. Life is long. A screenwriting career is like a marathon not a sprint. Figure out a plan that you can stick to for the long haul. Don’t burn out on unsustainable bursts of half-backed ideas like sleeping at a producer’s office.
Don’t worry, this post isn’t just to tell you what NOT to do. I also have a few ideas about what you should be doing.
Virtually every screenwriter I’ve ever meet has a different story about how they broke in. The event differs. But there is almost always a common thread to all the stories, and that’s the hard work the person put in before they broke in. The process is almost always the same. I’ve meet screenwriters who broke in by working at an agency or production company. I’ve meet screenwriters who broke in by knowing someone who knew an agent or producer. I’ve meet screenwriters who broke in by sending out cold query letters to agents and producers. I’ve meet screenwriters who broke in by getting a referral from their film school professors. There really are countless stories about how screenwriters broke into the industry.
But nearly every one of them tells the same story about the ground work they laid before they broke in. They wrote screenplays at night, early in the morning, and on weekends while their friends partied, watched television, or slept. They wrote their screenplays when they didn’t feel like writing and didn’t feel inspired. They read screenplays on the morning commute or during their lunch break while their friends read the newspaper or chatted about last night’s ballgame. They went to screenwriting events and networked or they worked non/low paying jobs at production companies to build their industry connections or they sent out a ton of cold query letters to agents and producers.
Incidentally, I’ve met dozens of working screenwriters and I’ve never met a single one who had rich parents who bank rolled their beginning screenwriting career. Nor have I ever met one who broke in because of nepotism. The process (of working hard) is always there. I’m not saying this has never happened, I’m sure it has, but it’s a very common excuse used by people who don’t want to do the work.
So don’t get caught up in spectacular events like sleeping outside a producer’s office or making that million dollar spec sale. Concentrate on the process. The process isn’t as dramatic or sexy as the event but it works.
If you do all of these things does it guarantee you will succeed? Of course not. But it gives you the best chance. And if you really did persevere for 10 years or so I’d be surprised if you didn’t have at least a produced credit or two.
I make a real effort to make this blog as useful and practical as possible. So I always like to actually give specific examples about how you can put my advice into action.
There is basically two sides to the process. Becoming a better screenwriter is one side which includes lots of writing, lots of reading other people’s screenplays, and seeing lots of movies. Then there is the marketing and selling side. With this blog I try and concentrate on the marketing/selling side of the process.
There are dozens of ways to market your screenplay. I would say from what I’ve seen the most typical is the film student or recent college graduate who gets a job at a production company or agency, makes contacts, and then networks their way to getting their material read.
I was never good at these low paying jobs so I didn’t win any friends doing them, and I’m horrible at networking (schmoozing), so this avenue didn’t really work for me. I am diligent and persistent so I started sending out query letters and I’ve never stopped. Every option and sale that I’ve made has been through a query letter.
A big part of this strategy is getting the database and sending out the query letters. I offer this in my email fax blast service. But you do NOT have to use my service to use this strategy, you can do it all yourself as I outline in my post, How to Sell Your Screenplay (in a nutshell).
Again, you still can’t forget about the other side of the process – the writing – but you must have a marketing plan in place too.
A few months back I wrote a post called the 100% guaranteed sure fire way to get your screenplay made into a movie. If you haven’t already read it, check it out. I think this post is a good actionable piece of the marketing process. Raising money isn’t easy and it takes a ton of work, but it is a great way to get your script turned into a movie and to start building your resume.