Three Ways to Get Your Screenplay Read

By : Categories : career advice Comment: 5 Comments

It’s the standard lament of the aspiring screenwriter: How do I get an agent if I can’t even get anyone in the industry to read my work? That’s a tough one. People inside the business – and not just agents and development executives-  are innundated with requests to read other people’s work and a lot of it is not worth the time spent reading it.* So here’s a little advice on how to get read in Hollywood:

1) Win Something. Three screenwriting contests that are sure to garner attention for you as a writer even if you are just a finalist (but are also very popular and VERY competitive) are The Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, Chesterfield Film Company Writers Fellowship, and the Disney Fellowship. (Note: Running a screenplay contest can be very lucrative for those who do it, so do not be tempted to pay an entrance fee to every contest you find out about until you research whether winning it will mean anything to anyone but you and other “outsiders.”)

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2) Know Someone. I mean, really know someone, not get a stranger on the phone and have a ten minute conversation with them and then ask them to help you get representation and/or financing for your film. (It happened to me a couple of weeks ago. I politely declined. And even if I did know them better- or even considered them a friend, I might’ve had to decline because I am so busy.)

I know, it may seem callous when you hear a “no” from someone (or get a “no” letter or email back) (or get a “no” in the form of no response to your request), but it’s a time consuming favor to ask and, even if they do like your script, unless they are an agent or a development executive, they still have to do more work to get your script into the hands of someone who can do something with it (rep it, help get it made, etc.). And if they don’t like your script, there’s the tricky dance of conveying that without ruining their relationship with you. It can be a lose-lose for the reader.

So, yes, develop relationships with people in the film biz (or TV, if writing for TV is what you aspire to) and at a certain point where you feel it’s appropriate, ask them to read your script, but don’t take it personally if they say “no” or “not right now.” You’re asking a lot. But do ask (again, at the right time).

3) Write a Killer Letter. Yes, it happens. Query letters sent to the right people get read and if the letter is really compelling (has a great opening, enticingly conveys the gist of your unique and well-written screenplay, and “sells” you well as a writer), the screenplay will get requested and then considered.

Management companies are a good target for a great query letter, as long as you do your homework and send it to companies that rep and/or make similar projects. (In other words, if you have a Will Ferrell-type broad comedy script, find out what management or production company make those types of movies and send it to them. Sending your letter to a company that reps and/or makes dark dramas will waste your time and get you nowhere.) Also a promising target is an agent’s assistant at a mid-sized talent agency. Discovering new talent/material and passing it along to their bosses is the way a lot of assistants get promoted to junior agent. Having you as a potential client is also good for them, as a way of showing the ability to break new talent and (therefore) make money for the agency.

Another possible way to get read:  I get asked about InkTip.com periodically. It’s a site that purports to connect established producers and reps with unrepped writers and material. Though I can say it certainly looks legitimate and a lot of the companies who have supposedly found and allied with talent from the site are recognizable, and I have never heard anything bad about Ink Tip, I cannot give it a full endorsement because I don’t know anyone personally who has either found talent/material on the site or gained representation or had work optioned from the site. I will continue to research Ink Tip and let you know when I can confirm my endorsement or if my opinion changes the other way.

*The assumption I make as I write this advice is that your script is really good. It has a great concept, fully developed characters, and spot-on dialogue, and has been rewritten and polished to a sheen. (In other words, we are not talking about a partially developed or even unfinished script or – gasp! – first draft. Getting those into the world will do exactly nothing for your career, except sully your reputation right out of the gate.)

Anyone have any other ideas? Questions about the above? Please comment if you do.

Photo by Katy Tafoya 

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About JennyYM

Jenny Yerrick Martin is a veteran entertainment hiring executive with 20+ years in film, television, and music. She created yourindustryinsider.com to give students, recent grads and others a true picture of the layout of the industry, and how to break in, transition to a new area, or achieve more success on their current path.

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  • Matches Malone

    June 13, 2011 at 10:43 am

    Bad news, the first draft of my first script is an award winner. Of course, it still sits on the shelf unproduced, so I guess I’m the exception that proves the rule(s).

  • admin

    June 13, 2011 at 11:22 am

    Unproduced is not surprising. Such a small percentage of scripts actually get made that winning a contest is no guarantee of that. But did it get you read around town and maybe even repped. Was it a major contest?

  • frances patrick gama

    February 19, 2013 at 10:16 pm

    grateful thanks

  • Paul Brooks

    July 9, 2013 at 6:00 pm

    Interesting. It seems that there is no one, surefire way to have a script read or produced. Outside of the “who-you-know” and “contests” theories, it would seem better to just write those letters that stand out. In retrospect, what else is there to do? You can cross your fingers, toes and anything else you can ambidextrously cross, but that only equates to sitting on your hands with hope in your pocket. You might as well believe in fairies or pixie dust while you’re at it; especially if you live outside of the West Coast. As Spock would say, “Your logic is sound”. Thank you.

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