How to Sell Your Screenplay
Episode #10 of the course Getting started screenwriting by Jurgen Wolff
In the previous lessons, we covered how to write an outstanding screenplay and how to format it. In this final lesson, you’ll learn how to sell it, focusing on the process in the United States. In Canada and many countries in Europe, there are agents who will help you market your work, but in other countries, you will have to approach production companies directly.
Why You Need an Agent and How Agents Work
Most studios and producers will not read a screenplay unless it comes to them via an agent. They depend on agents to screen out the worst material and negotiate a deal with you.
An agent will try to get you the best deal possible. Even more important for a new writer is that a good agent knows which producers or studios are looking for what kind of scripts.
Agents usually get a commission of 15% of what you get paid. Reputable agents do not charge upfront fees nor do they push you to use the services of script editors. Also, the agency contract you sign will have a clause that allows either of you to terminate the contract.
How Do You Get an Agent?
The Writers Guild of America site features a list of agents who are signatories to the Guild agreement. ScriptsandScribes.com also has a list, as well as interviews with a number of agents. Always check an agency’s website for the latest submission information. Some will consider submissions only from people referred to them by existing clients.
In other countries, do an online search for “literary agencies,” and see whether there are any that handle scripts.
There are many people wanting agents, so it may take some time for you to land one. First, send a query letter, one page on which you indicate the script’s genre, title, and one or two paragraphs summarizing the story. If anything about you is relevant, include that—for instance, if your script is set in Japan and you lived there for five years.
Don’t make extravagant claims like, “This will be bigger than Harry Potter!” Nor should you mention ideas for sequels or merchandise.
If they’re interested, they’ll ask to read the script. If not, most just won’t answer at all. Send out six query letters, wait about six weeks, then send letters to six other agents, and so on.
Can You Submit Directly to a Production Company?
Some companies will look at a script if you first sign their release form. These state that you won’t sue them if they already have something similar in development—which legitimately does happen quite often.
Wikipedia has a world-wide list of production companies. HollywoodScriptexpress.com has a list of US companies, with contact information. Be sure to check the company’s website for submission information.
And consider protecting your material. Just sending the script in a sealed envelope to yourself is not recommended. Register your script with the relevant authorities—e.g., if you’re from the US, it’s the US Copyright Office, or to use the method I prefer, register it with the Writers Guild of America.
That brings us to the end of the course. Here’s a quick recap of key points:
• Screenwriting can be a lucrative career as long as you’re able to think in images and are willing to persevere and collaborate.
• Great stories connect with the audience on an emotional level, and many start with the question, “What if …?”
• Powerful protagonists and antagonists both have strong goals and qualities the audience can relate to.
• A story should have a strong conflict that escalates to a moment of truth and a resolution.
• Each scene should leave things changed in some way—bringing your protagonist closer to or farther away from achieving their goal.
• The secret of writing good dialogue is knowing your characters really well.
• The description of the action, the setting, and juxtaposition are tools you can use to make the script come alive in the mind of the reader.
• Script formatting software makes it easy to master the screenplay format.
Breaking in as a screenwriter takes talent, perseverance, and some good luck. I hope you’ve enjoyed the course and found it helpful. I hope to see one of your movies on the big screen someday!
The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories by Christopher Booker
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