The Screening Room:
Getting Your Foot in the Door

by Laura Brennan

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I'm a college student in the middle of writing a script. I was wondering how to go about getting my foot in the door to get it made?

Believe it or not, getting people to read your script isn't as hard as actually writing the darn thing. But it does take planning, patience and persistence.

First, do the research. HCD Online is a terrific source for production companies, and it lists their credits, what they're looking for, and a phone number. HCD online costs the earth for a one-year subscription, but they have a very reasonable one-week trial offer, so plan your strategy and do your research fast. Try to find fifty companies that seem to be a good match. [Editor's Note: This site is no longer active and the book is no longer in print.]

Then, get out the phone. Call each company in turn, tell them you have a movie to pitch, and if they are receptive, pitch it. Practice the pitch beforehand to anyone who'll listen, and get it down to under three minutes -- just the essentials, and why people will want to see it. Sell the sizzle -- as if you were trying to convince a friend to go see the movie with you. Let them know it's a completed script. Your goal here is to get them to ask you to send in the script.

They'll usually have a release form to fax or e-mail to you, and you'll sign that and send it along with the script. Sometimes (very rarely) they'll ask for an agent to submit it. If you don't have an agent, the easiest thing to do is ask them if an attorney will suffice. If so, you simply pay an attorney a flat fee to submit your script with a note on his or her letterhead. Always write on the envelope: "Requested Material Enclosed."

Don't worry about the idea being stolen. If you don't pitch to anyone, your idea may never get stolen, but it'll also never get made. You can protect yourself by writing up your treatment and registering it with the WGA, west (check them out at http://www.wga.org) and by keeping a log of every place you call -- name, number, with whom you spoke, whether or not you pitched, whether or not you sent a treatment or the script, and what they said. For instance, they may tell you they're already working on something similar, and you should jot that down on your log. There are only a few ideas, with a million different spins on them, and the same pitches are heard, and ideas developed, all over the place. Be polite and friendly at all times; you want to be able to call them back to pitch your next movie even if they don't want to read this one.

Get your script in to as many companies as you can; unlike magazines, simultaneous submissions are the norm. Companies with studio deals are particularly good, because they already have access to development funds. On HCD online, you can search specifically for companies with deals.

Above all, be sure the script is ready before you start pitching it. Thousands of scripts are shot down, not because they're inherently bad, but because they're just not ready. Get your friends to read it, get fellow writers to comment on it, get your professor's notes on it, get it to the point where it's really, truly as good as it can be. You might also join a screenwriting group. I'm a member of The Scriptwriters Network (http://scriptwritersnetwork.com) where you can get feedback from other screenwriters.

I recommend a minimum of four drafts before you send it out. The first draft is never ready, the second draft fixes problems, the third draft brings it all together, and the fourth draft polishes. It's a ballpark, but it's two drafts more than most new writers do, and I guarantee it'll help you to stand out. And proofread. Don't rely on spellcheck. You're going to a lot of trouble to get people to agree to read you; you don't want to blow it by not having the script in perfect shape when it lands on their desk.

Finally, a word about follow-up: once they've asked you to send them the script, go ahead and ask what an appropriate follow-up time would be. Three weeks? Three months? Whatever they say, thank them and tell them you'll follow up then. Mark it on your calendar (and on your log sheet), and give them a call when the time is right. In the follow-up call, simply tell them you're calling to see what the status is. Either they've read it and loved it (in which case other people in the company are probably reading it, too), or they've read it and it doesn't fill their needs (thank them and ask if you can pitch to them later on with your next project), or else they haven't had a chance to read it yet. If that's the case, ask them if you can follow up in another month, and then do so.

Did I say this was easier than writing the script? Let's just say it's a different set of skills. But if you can get this down to a fine art, sooner or later you'll see your name in lights.

Copyright © 2003 Laura Brennan
This article is not available for reprint.


Laura Brennan has written for a number of television shows, including The Invisible Man for the Sci-Fi Channel. She also co-created the children's series, Queen Augusta's Heroes.

 

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