So You’ve Written the Perfect Screenplay – Now What?

by Carrie Gadsby on February 13, 2011

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You’ve done it.  You have spent weeks, months, even a year or more getting your story down on paper.  Perhaps you have gone to the extra length of getting the input of a script consultant to ensure that it is in the best shape possible.  Writing a script is a major accomplishment!

So what’s next?

That all depends on what your motivations and objectives are.  Some writers just need to purge their story onto paper as an exercise.  Others may have visions of their film hitting the festival circuit, garnering press and accolades, and some writers may have a larger goal in mind – mainstream international box office success!  While all really great goals, it is important to be pragmatic.  While there are those amazing success stories out there, it certainly isn’t a home run every time.   To give your script the best possible chances of being looked at, produced and distributed, there are steps you can take to help you along that journey.

Your Target Audience

You must give some consideration to who your target audience is.  What are your lead characters like, and who would find them most accessible?  Are they male, female, gay, straight?  What is the genre of your story, and where does it take place?  Do your characters speak English, or do they have diverse ethnic backgrounds?  All of these aspects and many more must factor into defining your target audience.  If your goal is international exposure and success, you have to have as many common denominators in place that will help it translate to that kind of audience, whether initially through box office, or via ancillary means.  It is all about how you frame your story and position your project.  Once you have thought about who you have written your story for, next you have to determine how you are going to get it to them.

Planning Your Approach To Funding

First off, if you don’t have exceptionally deep pockets and a burning passion to produce, you will have to find the money somewhere.  To a certain extent, it is a bit of a “chicken and egg” scenario, because there are different avenues to explore, and they can work in conjunction with each other, but you need to be savvy, and most of all – patient.

There are several ways you can start the ball rolling.  First, you need to decide how you plan to define your specific role.  Do you want to be involved in getting it off the ground, which would mean acting as a producer?  Or would you just like to pitch it and sell it and hope that it gets made?  In either case, the merit of your project will increase if you do some research and due diligence.

The objective is to create interest in your project, and to gain strategic and creative “attachments”.  Actors, directors and producers can all be attached, but it is difficult to get some without the others, and all require funding, or the very real promise of it.  With the right attachments, funding may become more accessible because of the packaging.  For example, if you attach a recognizable actor in a significant enough role, it may encourage a production company to seriously consider reading, and maybe even producing, your script.

When you have various elements attached to the project, it can be seen as a vote of confidence in the strength of the story and the project overall.  It can open doors, and hopefully, bank accounts.  There are no hard and fast rules about how to package or sell your script, and no two potential projects are alike in how they may come together.  This is meant to act as a catalyst and to give you some ideas.

Preparing Your Pitch

How do you get started?  Do your research and prepare!  Prepare a one-page synopsis of your script, and develop a two minute pitch that you can deliver orally on the spot – you never know when you might need this.  You can also do a character break-down or description of the key roles in your script to help you pitch them.

And then it has a lot to do with hustle.

Do research on production companies to find those that might make a good fit for your script in terms of genre, budget levels they work with and other key factors.  Come up with a short-list.  You could, at this point, submit your script to be reviewed, but right now, it is just that, a script, and there is nothing to differentiate it from all the other scripts that have also been submitted.  It doesn’t matter how amazing your story is if no one picks up the script to read it.  This is where attachments can help.  Anything “extra” you have that will make your submission unique is an asset.  A properly presented screenplay with elements already attached can set itself apart from all the other screenplays in the stack.

A good starting point, believe it or not, can be with the actors themselves, especially in Canada.  If you have any connections in the business, network all you can.  If you know a way to get your script in front of someone that could help with this process, do it.    Remember the character break-downs and descriptions I mentioned earlier?  Now is the time to use them.  Come up with a list of potential actors you would like to see in each major role.  I am not suggesting you come up with your favourite action hero or someone who did 100 million in box office last year.  Your list needs to be, sensible, and potentially achievable.  You need to be creative and strategic here – think of actors that have some “name” appeal and are recognizable in some way, but have maybe been out of the loop for a while.  Is there a fun cameo in your story?  Perhaps a specific actor would be interested in a quick two day shoot for fun.  You never know what the circumstances are of any particular actor, so be realistic, but come up with some unique, inspired ideas.  Keep in mind, you want to go after actors that will be attractive to a distribution company as well.  You won’t know until you try.  Your goal here is to “pitch” your project and make it appealing enough by description, that it will convince an actor to actually read it.

For Canadian films and Canadian actors, things are somewhat less complicated than navigating through the major gate keeping agencies south of the border.  Research your actor on the internet, and you might be able to find their contact information, whether in Canada or Los Angeles.  You may even find their own specific website that accepts materials directly.  Whatever contact information you find, if it says they accept materials for submission, follow their submission guidelines to the letter.  Often, that is the one page synopsis only, so make sure yours is accurate and compelling.

If you are able to get an actor to read your script, you may get an expression of interest for a particular role.  The door is now open a crack.  How you proceed  depends on the rapport you are able to establish with the actor’s representatives, and what they would like out of the equation.  If an actor is willing to come on board, you now have an attachment that can help you shop your script.  Then you can move on to sharing your script with production companies and distributors.

Again, research is key.  Figure out the best production companies that would be a likely fit for your project, and make a submission.  Be sure to express in your letter to them that you have an interested actor to play a particular role, waiting in the wings!

Practice Your Patience

The window for a production company – even in Canada – to review a potential project and get back to you can easily be three months or longer.  This is normal and a part of the process.  If a production company is interested in exploring your project, they may have their own ideas for how to package it further, and often have relationships already in place with distributors and directors.  Always be open and flexible to their ideas, and if you are just interested in selling your script, you may have found a home for it.  If you are interested in staying more involved, that is something you will have to discuss with interested parties.  The major coup here, is interested parties.  When making submissions, expect a fair share of disappointment – it goes with the territory.  You will likely get many “passes” or have difficulty even getting it read by anyone.  Persevere.

You may also approach distribution companies directly.  Canadian and international distribution companies may get involved, but you have to do the legwork before you make your submission.  Give them as many reasons as possible to pursue looking into your project further.  An interested actor, producer or director can make the difference, and help your script to stand out.  The most important thing is what you are starting with – the script has to be good!  Then it is up to you to get it in front of the eyes that make the decisions and can make a difference!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

B2 January 30, 2012 at 4:22 pm

Carrie,
I enjoyed this read. It gave me new perspective. I’m curious about a few things though. If one would like to add an attachment, as you named it, what exactly would they need to present to the actor they are aiming for? Aside from presenting a synopsis, what is the proper way of informing the actor that this idea has not yet been pitched to a production company? Furthermore, what is the best way of saying such without leading to skepticism on the actor’s part? Surely, it cannot be easy for them to take an “unknown” person seriously while knowing the screenplay has no promise at the time. So, is it just a matter of mailing off a synopsis attached with a letter to the actor’s agent/agency?
Thanks for the article and thanks in advance for any further info you may provide.

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