It takes a lot of effort, time and possibly even a good amount of sweat and tears to write a kick-ass screenplay. Some of us have been at it for years. There are plenty of classes and books to help you along the way as you craft your story for the screen, but the one thing most people don’t mention is what to do after you have a screenplay that’s ready for the marketplace.
Screenplays are products and to sell one, you need a literary agent. Some writers get by with just lawyers, but if you’re a new writer, you’ll likely want to start by getting a manager. A manager who believes in you will be able to refer you to agents with whom they have relationships. Agents, on the other hand, are most useful when you’re at the point where studios and/or producers are interested in one of your screenplays and can negotiate a deal. Most industry professionals recommend getting both a manager and an agent to set up your career with the best odds of success.
If you don’t have any of the above, the first thing you’ll want to do on your quest for an agent is to get your screenplay read by industry professionals. Here are the best ways we’ve determined to get your script in front of Hollywood eyeballs and move your career to the next level.
1. Make Query Phone Calls
It used to be common to send query letters, then emails. Finding an agent’s assistant’s email address is easy and there’s very little stress clicking the send button. But it’s just as easy to find that assistant’s office phone number, too. Very few people make phone calls anymore so this is a chance for you to stand out. Most likely, you won’t be able to get the assistant on the phone your first try so try a few times (1:00 PM to 2:00 PM PST is the industry standard lunch break, so avoid calling then).
If you do get them on the phone or are forced to leave a message, the secret is expressing your passion for your project while sounding like a sane adult. If you can make an argument as to why the story in your screenplay is the most gripping, relevant or funniest story of the year, you may get some interest. If you’re leaving a message, leave your phone number AND your email address, as they are more likely to email you back. But be smart about who you contact. If you know a manager represents primarily comedy writers, there’s no need to waste your time calling them about your post-apocalyptic sci-fi epic.
2. Attend Screenwriting Conferences and Summits
Some of the better conferences like Story Expo (held in New York and Los Angeles six months apart), Toronto Screenwriting Conference and ScreenCraft Writers Summit, invite successful screenwriters, literary agents and managers to give talks and be available to answer questions. These events are set in a much more casual environment than most industry events, so the odds of walking up and introducing yourself to a literary manager at one of the social mixes are in your favor.
3. Send Your Script to Screenwriting Competitions
Most of us have heard stories about doors opening for a screenwriter after winning a screenwriting competition. At the very least, many managers will request to read the winning script and that’s a good thing. But do your homework. Screenwriting competitions can get expensive so you need to target the competitions you enter. The likelihood of a raunchy comedy winning the Nicholl competition is pretty low, so send them your best dramatic screenplay. If you write horror, focus on The Bloodlist. Austin Film Festival has a great competition and their conference is very writer-friendly. There are several good competitions out there that can open doors for new writers.
4. Go to Film Festivals
Even if you don’t live in Los Angeles or New York, you can still go to film festivals like Sundance, Slamdance or South by Southwest and meet other filmmakers, producers, agents and managers. Bring a stack of postcards or business cards that have the name of your screenplay or web series, the logline, your website/blog and your email address.
5. Get a Job as an Assistant
If you’re in Los Angeles or New York, or even some of the cities where a lot of filming takes place like Vancouver or Atlanta, there are plenty of film companies and production studios looking to hire that amazing assistant. It’s a great way to learn the business and to make contacts. If you’re nice, professional and helpful, someone will certainly be willing to read your script.
6. Stunt Marketing
What is stunt marketing? It’s promoting your script in a clever way that hasn’t been done before. Billy Domineau wrote a Seinfeld spec called “Twin Towers” about 9/11 that went viral and landed him a job on Family Guy. Henry C. King purchased billboards near Sony in Culver City and in Studio City near Universal Studios directing anyone interested to look up his script on blcklst.com. These methods are unconventional so do your research before spending any money.
Here is the Writers Guild of America’s list of accredited agents. Be sure to let us know if you have any success!
ShaneeEdwards graduated from UCLA Film School with an MFA in Screenwriting and is currently the film critic for SheKnows.com. She recently won the Next MacGyver television writing competition to create a TV show about a female engineer. Her pilot, Ada and the Machine, is currently in development with America Ferrera's Take Fountain Productions. You can follow her on Twitter: @ShaneeEdwards