I have a good idea for a movie that I wrote specifically for a certain actor. How should I go about contacting the actor?
Although you may not get the actor you want, writing for a specific actor can be yet another avenue to success. Many actors have their own production companies (commonly, although often erroneously, called "vanity deals") and the studios sponsoring these companies want to be able to charge the overhead to a feature's budget -- in other words, they have a financial incentive to cut through the red tape and greenlight movies that come from vanity deals.
There are two ways to contact an actor or director:
The first and best way is to find out if the actor/director has his/her own production company. The Hollywood Creative Directory Online [Editor's Note: No longer available or in print] allows you to search by name, and provides contact information, credits, and phone numbers. Call, pitch your idea, and see if they're willing to read your script.
The second way is to call the Screen Actors Guild (http://www.sagaftra.org/) or the Directors Guild (http://www.dga.org -- contact info is on the bottom of their FAQ page) and ask for the agency department. There, you can get the names of agencies that handle different actors; you can make three separate inquiries per call. You give them the actor/director's name, they give you the name of his/her agency. I don't think they give you the phone numbers, but you can always call LA information. Call the agency, ask to speak to the agent who represents your actor, and see if you can get them to agree to read your script. Going through agents is harder, strangely enough, than going through a production company, but it's still worth a shot.
You should also have several back-up actors, and be open to looking at other production companies. Sure, Sophia Coppola decided she only wanted to make Lost in Translation if she could get Bill Murray; however, when the chances for that looked dim, she was willing to write another movie rather than make that one with a different actor. And, not to take anything away from that film or her abilities as a director, she didn't have to worry about financing, since it was produced through her father's company. If you don't have a screen legend for a dad, getting your script read and sold is a numbers game; the higher the numbers, the better your chances.
There is a third way to get to a specific actor or director, and that's through friends. Who do you already know in the industry, no matter what their job? It's a very, very small business, and if you know someone who likes you and likes your screenplay, ask them if they'd be willing to pass it along to the people they know. Referrals are gold, and they're the best way to get your foot in the door.
Finally, be really, really sure that your script is ready. Take a class and workshop it. Enter contests that give written feedback. Get picky friends to proofread it. Join a writers group. Never, ever send a first draft to a production company. You only get one shot, and a script is never ready after only one draft. One draft gets it down, the second makes it make sense, the third polishes it. You should get notes from other writers to bring to light the things you're too close to see. Too many writers make the mistake of pouring tons of time and energy into the first draft, then skimping on the rewrite in their eagerness to get the darn thing done and out. Unfortunately, not sending out the very best possible work means that all that initial time and energy was wasted. You have to be great to get noticed -- not just a great idea, but a terrific execution.
When your script is ready, be fearless. You have what everyone wants: a top-notch idea, well-executed. They can't run the movie business without such writers. Good luck!
I live in the Midwest and am very happy here. Is a career as a screenwriter out for me because moving to Hollywood is not an option? What about selling my ideas instead of my scripts?
You absolutely do not have to live in Hollywood to write and sell movies. If you were interested in a TV career, that'd be different -- you have to be in town for that. But for screenplays, if you write a great screenplay, it's possible to sell it over the phone: you call producers, you pitch the idea, you get them to say they'd like to read it, you mail it to them, they buy it. Okay, it actually takes more than one screenplay and more than a few calls, but that's the gist. It's a numbers game.
Selling an idea is a little harder. Ideas are all over the place; it's the execution -- ie: the writing -- that matters. It's not that people don't sell ideas, it's that it's hard to sell an idea if you don't have a track record. The only exception is if you control the rights to a true story. Otherwise, go ahead and write some of your great ideas; if you want to be a writer, all it takes is you and your persistence. Geography is not destiny.