“Talent is helpful, but guts are an absolute necessity.”
Jessamyn West (1902-1984)
Screenwriter & Novelist from Indiana
Credits include The Big Country, Summer Flight, Friendly Persuasion
“Great scripts always sell or get optioned for real money. Sometimes not right away, but it happens.”
The Starter Screenplay
One of the parallels I often compare with filmmaking is the world of athletics. The average person who is mildly aware of the athletic world may be able to recognized 25 names of NFL players, 25 MLB players, 25 NBA players, 25 PGA golfers. (For the athletically challenged that’s football, baseball, basketball and golf.) Notice I just said recognize. Not know their stats or what team they play on—just be aware of them on some level.
Bump that number up to 100 in each sport and I bet you’d lose most people in the United States. Meaning if you combined four of the most popular sports in America you are down to less than 400 recognizable names—out of a county of 300 million people.
But the reality is there are tens of thousands of people who earn a living related to football, baseball, basketball, and golf. They are coaches, trainers, and other support staff. They create training aids and maintain golf courses. They work at the high school, college and semi-pro level. They may not be getting rich, but they are earning a living.
As an acting teacher once told me, “You don’t have to be Babe Ruth to play baseball.”
And so it is in the world of filmmaking. I bet if you took all of the well-known producers, directors, actors, cinematographers, actors making feature films today the average person might be able to recognize 400 names. Not know what movies they’ve worked on—just be aware of their names on some level. Again slim pickins. (And many of those recognizable names may not have made a film for five or ten years.)
But there are a lot of people out there earning a living in and around the film industry.
So what are the alternatives to your marketing your script? This is a field full of landmines (fraud). I sure don’t have all the answers here but here are some suggestions:
1) Screenwriting contests
From my perspective the best things about screenwriting contest is it gives you a deadline. Worst thing about them I can sum up in five words: fraud, fraud, and more fraud.
Top contest: Nicholl Fellowship (deadline for 2011 is May 2)
2) The Internet
There are many different websites out there that claim to connect you with producers and agents. The best thing about these sites is connections have been made resulting in produced films. Worst thing about them I can sum up in five words: fraud, fraud, and more fraud.
Legit site that has resulted in produced films. InkTips ($50. for four months)
There are hundreds of grants out there and over the years has helped fund many features, documentaries, and short films. Downside is it is a time suck. Lots of paper work, it’s competitive and sometimes political on who gets the grants and for what. This is the route that Florida filmmaker Victor Nunez (Ulee’s Gold) took early in his career.
Lots of these out there as well and I’m sure some connections have been made. And I’m sure a lot of time and money has been wasted.
5) Start a blog/website
(Hello?) Remember when you’re marketing your script you are also marketing yourself. I had a lunch meeting a couple of months ago with a wealthy businessman interested in making features, having an Emmy-winning blog didn’t hurt my credibility.
And even now I’m aware that there are actors and people with money who are aware of my script Shadows in the Dark because of this blog. And I welcome them to contact me. Two days ago I had a friend read my blog and told me his son is interning with one of the big four agencies in L.A. and he could at least get my script read there. This stuff happens but you have to be proactive and you have to just keep swinging for the fences.
In less than a day you can get a domain name and put together a simple website using your blog as the site. (I recently updated my personal website (www.scottwsmith.com) using a template and wordpress and asking a couple of questions to my techie friends, and spending about $100.)
7) Cable TV
HBO, Hallmark, AMC, Lifetime and others are make films and these days they are often times they are better than what’s in theaters (Temple Grandin, Grey Gardens). If you’re resourceful you can query those companies directly and sometimes they pop on in Inktips and other forums requesting logline. Remember it’s a businesss that always needs new product. Every Valentines Day comes around and groups like Hallamrk and Lifetime need new films. In fact, I’ve never written a screenplay centered around a holiday, but I’ve seen many requests for them.
8) Raise Your Own Money. Make your own film.
If your script was optioned today by a Hollywood producer it would still be two to five years before it found its way to theaters. The bigger the risk, the longer it tends to take. And the numbers that I’ve heard are that the ratio of films optioned to what actually gets produced is 40:1. Ouch. Last week I traded emails with a screenwriter in the Chicago area who optioned a script for 300 against 600. Meaning he got $300,000 up front and would get another $300,00 if the film got made. (A home run by the way. And one that was set-up by the writer’s real estates attorney who knew an entertainment attorney .) Anyway, the deal was made back in 2008 and I asked him what had happened to his script. He said it was in development hell. He got a couple assignments after that that left a bad taste in his mouth and now he’s back to just wanting to do produce and direct his own movies there in Chicgao.
If you decided to make your film yourself it’s possible to shoot and edit your film this year and submit it to Sundance and people be watching in next January. If it doesn’t pick up a distribution deal there’s iTunes (Edward Burns style) and you taking it to theaters yourself (Kevin Smith Style) and selling DVDs on your own via your own social network. Remember that quote we started with; “Talent is helpful, but guts are an absolute necessity.”
I haven’t seen a time in my life where the skill level of so many people with so high an interest in filmmaking. Producers, directors, cameraman, editors.What started 15 years ago with AVID and 10 years ago with Final Cut Pro has unleashed a world of editors at various skill levels. Two years ago with the advent of the Canon 5D a who group of talented still photographers started bill themselves as cameraman. There’s a talent explosion going on.
And there’s always been more talented actors than work out there. Film festivals are everywhere. People are making short films for You Tube and Vimeo. And while a lot of it is crap, some of it is pretty good. Some of it is spectacular.
But the one area that continues to be the hardest thing to nail is screenwriting. So the chances are good that wherever you are in the world, there are young and old people from all kinds of cultures who have a camera and an editing system and a dream to make films. What they don’t have is a good script. You need to find these people any way you can.
You know what a producer is? A producer is someone who says, “I’m going to make this film, and I’m going to find the money.” It’s that simple. Be that person. Be your own producer. Make a couple short films. Staring pulling a team of creative people together. Start small and grow. Become familar with Kickstarter. You can still submit your work the traditional Hollywood route. But don’t overlook You Tube. Facebook, Twitter and whatever social media was invented this morning to promote you and your work. Not for everyone…but it is an altenative.
A couple of weeks ago I talked to a screenwriter who had several hit films in the 90s who is thinking about doing 2-minute web videos as a way to rejuvenate his career. I don’t think for a second that he’ll have much problems finding willing actors and production crews to help. Stuff like that can be shot and edited in a day. Take the success he’s had in the past and mix it with the new way of distribution and he may have an empire in five years.
Maybe you will too.
But don’t get to caught up in the empire thing right now. Just keep writing, dreaming , and moving forward.
P.S. I came up with eight alternative ways to market your script. Help me find two more ways so I can make it an even 10.