I got this question recently:
“I have a question for you. What is the quickest you’ve sold a screenplay, and did you sell it through an agent, manager, or what?”
Not a single sale or option I’ve had has been initiated by an agent or manager. Every sale and option has been a direct result of me marketing my material, mostly through query letters. I teach all about this in this post: How to Sell Your Screenplay (in a nutshell). And I even will facilitate the email/fax blasts by sending your query letter to my database of contacts through my screenwriting tools (click here). I have had agents, managers, and lawyers help negotiate deals after I found interest, but no agent or manager has ever helped me actually find interest in my scripts. I’ve done that part myself.
The quickest I’ve ever sold anything is about one year after finishing the screenplay. If you have a really good agent or manager it can happen quicker since they already have a network of contacts to get the material to, but if you don’t have a really good agent or manager I would say one year is best case scenario and very unlikely.
The first spec screenplay I ever sold, Dish Dogs, sold in about one year from the time my writing partner and I completed our first draft. I sent the script out to random companies and then optioned it to one after about six months. Then it took the company that optioned it about six months to secure the funding. So it took about a year from the time I started sending the screenplay out until the time it actually sold. But a lot had to go right for this to happen. In hindsight, my writing partner and I were very very lucky that it went so smoothly.
On the other end of the spectrum, my most recent spec script sale is a film called Rushlights which I wrote in 1995 (actually before I wrote Dish Dogs) and optioned it to the director/producer in 1999. The optioned was exercised (I sold it) over ten years later and the film is still in post production as I write this in 2012! Not only that, I had optioned the screenplay to two different companies before this that were not able to raise the funding for the movie. So it can take a while.
Just so you can get a feel for why this can take so long here is what usually happens with my spec projects:
- I finish the spec screenplay
- I start sending the screenplay out to my database of contacts and start submitting it to any and all online leads I can find
- I find a producer who is willing to option the screenplay (this can take weeks, months, or most likely years or sometimes I never find a producer interested in a project)
- The producer who options the screenplay has to raise the money to shoot the film (again, this can take months or years or in most cases it simply never happens and the option expires without a sale)
- The script either sells or I go back to step two and start sending it out again
For many spec scripts that I’ve written I’ve been through this entire cycle two or three times (or more) without ever selling the screenplay. I’ve had more than two dozen script options over the years and only four produced scripts, so most options will never go anywhere. Each step in the cycle can take years and once the option expires and the producer gives up I have to go back to step two.
A lot has to go right for the script to sell at all much less in a year. The key is to keep writing and keep sending out new stuff so that you always have a few things optioned at the same time. I really can’t emphasize this enough. If you write one script and get it optioned – good for you – but don’t sit back and just wait for it to take off and launch you into the screenwriting stratosphere, keep writing and keep trying to get other scripts to market because it’s probably going to take several near misses to get a hit.
I actually wrote a similar post a little while ago which might be helpful: How long does it take to sell a script?