How can I successfully sell a screenplay?

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Answered by: Matthew, An Expert in the Scripts and More Category
Since movie stars first began to grace red carpets with their presence, Tinsel Town has been the destination for eager hopefuls looking to fulfill their dreams of precious stardom and file into the exclusive niches of the lucrative entertainment business. One of the most difficult of niches to break into is the world of screenwriting.

We all want to know how to sell a screenplay. A lot of Hollywood hopefuls want to be actors; a few want to be directors; some want to be agents or producers; but all want to be screenwriters. So what makes the world of being a professional screenwriter so appealing to the masses? Is it the famous stories we read in Variety of some new young gun from the flyover states landing a million-dollar spec sale? Is it the lavish lunches and meetings at places like The Ivy and Chateau Marmont? Is it the thought that maybe someday your 120 pages of 12 Courier will be filmed and shown in every Megaplex around the country?

It must be all of that, because that is what makes screenwriting so exclusive and so difficult to break into. Hollywood is a secluded, tightly-bound group of people interwoven into an elaborate system built to keep you out. Essentially, it's an exclusive club. Without all of the knowledge you need to get in, entry is out of reach to most. But it's not just a password you need anymore. You have to know someone who knows the password; you have to know how to package, bind and submit your script; you have to know the basic format and dos and don'ts; and you have to be smart enough to do all of that correctly.

It's like a test. Most aspiring scriptwriters simply think that if he or she writes a script, they are automatically going to be accepted and be the next Joe Eszterhas or Shane Black. Think of yourself as a bridge designer. Anyone could technically build a bridge, but in order to be sturdy and stable, it needs to properly designed and tested. You start with an idea for a movie. After you download a free screenwriting program or get ahead of yourself and pony up the shekels for Final Draft, you research other scripts. Scrolling through a list of available screenplays online, you look for your favorites and dig in.

It doesn't look so hard. I can see the movie in my head. That's because you have already seen the movie. Try reading a screenplay for a movie you have never seen, see the movie afterwards and compare how similar the two are. It's eyeopening how much can change from script to screen. First off, you need a riveting title. It's the first thing you introduce your script as and the first thing producers and agents will see on your cover page. Why doesn't a title need to be one the most important things in your package? Then you need a concept. Nearly every story, if told in an attention-grabbing, short pitch, meaning two sentences or less, it can be labeled as "high concept". The Hollywood system thrives on "high concept". That means that a project is easy to sell, easy to market, easy to capitalize on and easy to profit from.

At the end of the day and the end of the name, the movie business is just that -- business. It's all about money. Before you first start thinking about the submission process, you must create a commercially viable script. From there, follow the simple instructions you read about in submitting to producers and agents. A major misconception is that you absolutely must have an agent to sell a script. And while that is true, you don't need an agent to start your career. The problem, as I'm sure you're all aware, is the ever-present existence of the "no unsolicited materials" pretense, but it doesn't state "no queries".

You can still send a letter via email or snail mail to agencies if you think your idea will catch the eye of someone. But I'm here to tell you that producers are your way to go. Having sent the bulk of my projects to producers first, they have the ability to suggest your name and talents to their agent friends. As producers, they have to put together projects through numerous agents for actors, directors, writers and so on, so producers have several sources to use on your behalf.

I gained my agent through a recommendation from a producer who received my script and was friends with this high-profiled representative. From there, once the agent is on board, their job is to take it to their long list of contacts within the studios and production companies all around town. With the right process, the ability to follow instructions and making yourself into a commercially viable commodity, you too can learn how to sell a screenplay.

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