Good screenwriters are in high demand in Hollywood, and even new comers to the business can earn in excess of six figures for the right script. However, for every script that is optioned or sold, there are hundreds that are rejected. If you have spent the last several months or years polishing your first, second, third, or tenth screenplay you may find yourself in a difficult position. How do you get your screenplay attention in an over-saturated market? The answer is to gain exposure as a screenwriter through the right avenues. This article will cover several avenues that a new screenwriter can take that will help them to gain exposure and develop a reputation as a good screenwriter. This in turn should help them to break through the rejection barrier, and hopefully get producers to open their doors to at least reading your screenplay.
Exposure Avenue Number One: Screenplay Competitions
The first way to gain exposure and develop a name in the screenwriting business is to enter several screenwriting competitions. There are dozens of these types of competitions held throughout the year, with various themes and entry fees. I do need to caution you, you don’t just want to enter a competition because it exists. Winning or placing in a less reputable competition is not worth as much as placing or winning a more reputable competition, so do your homework. The things that you will want to look for in a competition are (1) that it has been running for several years; (2) the prizes have some value such as publicity in a trade publication, money, submittal to producers, etc.; and (3) the competition has good feedback from past participants.
You don’t have to win a screenwriting competition for it to be a good investment, as placing or evening making it through first or second round cuts can help give your writing credibility. However, these competitions are expensive and entering several of them can take quite a bite out of your monthly budget. To maximize the benefit of your entry fee investment I recommend that you enter only competitions that are targeted at your type of screenplay. By this I mean, don’t enter a comedy feature screenplay into a competition with a horror genre theme, and vise versa. Instead carefully read through the submission guidelines and see what the competition is looking for. Some may be looking for a low budget feature to produce as the end result, while others may have a general theme where anything is welcomed. The important thing to remember here is to know your genre, and make sure that your screenplay conforms to the rules of that genre.
Another piece of advice that I can give you is to carefully follow the instructions given in the submission guidelines, and to proofread your screenplay before submitting it. Conform to all of the formatting guidelines, especially in regards to the cover page and supplemental materials that the competition asks for. Your screenplay can be rejected before it ever gets read if you don’t follow the directions. Also you screenplay will not be given the attention it deserves if it has a lot of grammatical mistakes and spelling errors. Some judges may even reject your screenplay based on these mistakes, so take the time to get your screenplay perfect before you send it off.
As you begin to place in, and win screenwriting competitions you can add this information to your query letters. I recommend that you place your competition accolades in the last paragraph of your query stating what competition you entered, and how your screenplay did. For example: SCREENPLAY TITLE made it into the finals of the American Accolade Screenwriting Competition in 2005. As you will also note, you should always spell the title of your screenplay in capital letters in your query letter and other communications.
A good place to find a list of reputable screenwriting competition, as well as reviews of each competition is at http://www.moviebytes.com.
Exposure Avenue Number Two:
The second way to gain exposure as a new screenwriter is to get your screenplay “professionally” analyzed. I put the word “professionally” in quotation marks because there are a lot of novices and less experienced screenplay readers that market their services for less money. In general these services that run for less than two hundred dollars are not analyzing your screenplay at all, but are simply covering your screenplay. The difference is the value of the final product. An analysis should be an in-depth examination of the marketability and structure of your screenplay. It will end up as ten or more pages of information, as opposed to the coverage report, which is usually only three or four pages. A coverage report, as opposed to a script analysis, is comprised of a summary of your screenplay (synopsis), a logline, and general notes about the structure of your screenplay (good or bad story structure). This information may be useful to you for composing a good query letter, but it really isn’t worth $200, so don’t purchase coverage reports. You can hire a query service to compose the same information for a fraction of the price.
To find a good script analysis look for people located in California or New York. Companies in these locations know what production houses need to know, and they know the ins and outs of the movie business, and they know screenwriting. Also look for analysis services with qualified personnel. They should have industry experience, and have experience analyzing screenplays for top companies. If you don’t know if the script analysis company that you are considering is qualified, ask for a referral from a writer’s guild literary agency.
The cost of a good script analysis is going to be $300-$600 depending on the depth of the analysis and who is doing the analysis. Because of this high cost you won’t want to have every one of your screenplays analyzed. Instead select the screenplay you think has the best chance of getting produced. You can use the information generated by the analysis is several ways to promote your screenplay. First, many analysis companies have contacts with production houses and they are willing to pass on good screenplays that they come across for a finder’s fee paid either by you or by the production company. Finder’s fees and information regarding second parties reading your material should be disclosed to you prior to you paying your fees and submitting your material. Secondly you can use the information generated by the analysis to fix story structure and character problems. These improvements will help your screenplay to do better in screenwriting competitions, and give you a better chance of getting it optioned or bought by a production company. Finally you can add to you query any positive notes written in the analysis. Be sure to also indicate that X Company has analyzed your screenplay, and give the results about their opinion about its marketability and its audience appeal. You can also add that a copy of the analysis is available for them to review upon request. This will help to entice the production company to at least look at your script, which is half the battle.
Exposure Avenue Number Three: Screenwriting Organizations
Another way in which you can get your name out is to join a screenwriting organization. There are several such organizations ranging from general screenwriting to genre specific organizations. Participation in these types of organizations will not only give you inside information about developments in the genre and industry, but it will also help develop your marketing network.
Writer’s Guild of America: This organization requires earning points based on the sales of screenplays to guild associated production companies. The benefits of membership to this association is that you get insurance coverage, higher pay rates for your materials, and union negotiation strength for your contract deals. You can also register your work with this organization to help protect yourself against story theft and plagiarism.
The Scriptwriters Network: This organization provides members with industry information, seminars, and industry contacts. Membership is voluntary. It will cost you a one time application fee of $15 and an annual membership fee of $75.
For more organization search the Internet for genre specific organizations or location specific organizations. For instance, there are several city specific screenwriting organizations such as the Atlanta Screenwriters Group. Belonging to a local organization will give you the inside track to local screenwriting competitions, grants, and film projects.
Exposure Avenue Number Four: Query
Perhaps the most important thing that you can do to get your name and material in front of producers is to send out queries. After you have polished your screenplay, have edited it thoroughly, and have composed a top rate query, you need to play the numbers game. Send your query to as many producers and production companies as you can. This piece of advice is not an encouragement to SPAM, or take unscrupulous measures to reach producers, it is, on the other hand, an encouragement to do your homework and develop a database of producers who accept unsolicited queries.
You can mass query two different ways. First you can hire an e-query service that will help you compose a query letter, and then they will send it out to everyone in their database that accepts material like yours. Production houses usually specialize in specific types, or genres of material, and sending them anything other than what they are looking for is a waste of time and energy. E-query services can send out hundreds of targeted queries for you, and out of this batch you are likely to get at least one or two people who will be willing to take a look at your screenplay. If you don’t want to pay someone to send out your e-queries you can do a little research online for contact information about companies that accept e-queries and what types of material they are looking for.
Moviebytes.com under the Writers Wanted tab has a list of production companies that are looking for materials. Each entry has the company’s name, their contact preference, and a short description about what they are looking for.
Venice Arts is a great e-query service that I have personally used several times. I always get a good response from the e-queries sent out, and they provided you with a list of companies and their contact information that they queried for you. You can then use this list for follow up, as well as to start your own contact database. You are not permitted to re-sell the list that they give you, but you can use it for your own personal use. They also provide a free list of resources that includes companies that accept e-queries on their website.
Getting your name out to producers is a very difficult and time-consuming process. To help get your screenwriting career off on the right foot, make sure to do your homework, and to put in the time needed to develop a name for yourself. Follow the industry’s protocols, as unscrupulous practices will only get you black-listed. Finally, the best advice that I can give to any aspiring writer is to keep writing and keep trying, timing is sometimes more important than content when marketing a screenplay.