Originally published by Raindance.
I’m currently going through the experience of writing a screenplay myself, and aside from the required self-motivation, self-discipline and self-criticism, it can hard to know where to go with it once you’ve actually written the damn thing. The completion of the said screenplay may initially feel like the hardest past – there have certainly been days when I wished it would just write itself – but now it seems as if getting it out to the world, and to the right people in it, might actually prove more tricky. So here are some tips I’ve learnt and stumbled across along the way, accompanied by pictures of cute cats to make it all seem that bit easier…
1. Pat Yourself On The Back.
Have a nap. Brew yourself a cup of tea. Put your feet up. Now is the time to bask in your productive glory. You’ve persevered through procrastination and writer’s block to complete something that resembles a film. Arguably, the hardest graft is yet to come, but the first and most necessary hurdle is behind you.
2. Polish That Baby Up.
You want your script to shine amongst the pile of others that sit atop every producer’s desk? Polish it until you can see your reflection. Keep tweaking, retouching and refining. One read through and rewrite isn’t enough. Every time you come back to it, you’re bound to have a fresh perspective and with each revisit you’ll cut out the flab, train your ear for authentic dialogue and perfect the pacing. Eventually you’ll have a script that is tight, trim and lean. Basically, everything you’re not post-Christmas.
3. Phone A Friend.
If you don’t trust your perspective that much, pass the script onto to a friend. Or even better a foe. You want someone that won’t be afraid to give you constructive criticism. Sure, it’s nice to hear from your closest friend that this is the best script they’ve ever read. But unless your friend is Martin Scorsese, it might not be wholly accurate. If you know any fellow writers, exchanging scripts is a good way to break free from tunnel vision. Additionally, spotting errors and issues in someone else’s script can be a helpful in training your eye to do the same for yours. Then, take on board that feedback. And go back to step no.2. This is lather, rinse, and repeat kind of process.
And by party, I mean read-through. Collect a group of Oscar-winning wannabes or theatrical types together and exploit their talents for your own benefit. Having a group of actors lend emotional weight, nuance and intonation to your script could be vital to seeing if it works off the page. If it doesn’t sound right coming out of their mouths, the likelihood is you haven’t written convincing dialogue. Your characters will come alive in front of your eyes and this could be a great opportunity to see if they’re all individual, distinct and really necessary. Then, based on their performances and feedback – you know the drill – go back to Step 2.
5. Be Patient.
Passion can be poison to one’s career. Don’t be hasty when the script is written. It can be exciting to feel that your script is moving along nicely, but sending it off prematurely could be the death-knell to its progress. The conditions for sending a script to the BBC Writers Room explicitly states “We do not accept resubmissions of work that has already been assessed, even following a rewrite – so make sure it is as good as you can make it before sending it in”.
Equally, producers or agents are unlikely to sift through something they’ve already cast an eye over and didn’t think was especially good. It’s a cutthroat industry and you have one chance to impress. Make it the best it possibly can be before investing in all those stamps and getting outbox happy.
By now you should have a script that is looking pretty ship shape. If you still want a professional opinion, there are script-reading services that can give you the objectivity and authority you may have hitherto been lacking. Either way, now’s the time to start summarising your film and getting ready to sell it.
Pitching comes down to the 5 ‘C’s:
The art of pitching lies in clarity. Ideally, you should be able to condense the plot of your film into one or two sentences. This is one formula floating about on the internet that can help sift out any ambiguity as to what your story is about.: “My story is a (genre) called (title) about (hero) who wants (goal) despite (obstacle).” Trim out any ‘likes’, ‘ums’ and ‘wells’ and avoid generalisations or comparisons. This film should not remind the producers of a really successfully studio film that has just been done, it should be original, specific and…
Make whomever you’re telling, and selling it too, want to pick up the script and read the 100-or so pages.
And to make it compelling, you need a hook. The stakes should be high. You’re asking people to join your character on a journey and there should be an obstacle in the way – either internal or external – that makes this journey captivating.
We need to care enough about this person to spend two hours of our life listening to their story. And for producers it could mean a great deal more time spent bring that story to life. The character is the medium through which we engage in the conflict. Who are they? What do they do? And why should we care?
Coming full circle back to clarity, select the 3 or 4 most important plot points and expand upon them in chronological order. Don’t jump through your screenplay haphazardly or include too many twists, it will only become confusing and by extension, off-putting. The story, and your pitch, needs to flow.
7. Blacklist It.
Up until quite recently, I thought the blacklist was the worse possible place for a script to reside. Like a purgatorial no-mans-land, where rejected scripts went to die. Turns out, for budding screenwriters, it’s the place to be. It advocates entrepreneurial spirit and a DIY attitude. You upload your script and it goes into a pool of unproduced screenplays that are then ranked by Hollywood executives. Three out of the last five Best Picture winners were Black List scripts, as were seven of the past twelve screenwriting Oscar winners. This is a great way to increase the visibility of your screenplay and garner attention. And who knows, it could eventually make its way onto cinema screens.
Another way to increase your chances of success is by entering competitions. Do your research to eliminate those that aren’t worth the time or the entry fee. The BlueCat Screenplay Competition is one of the more high profile and well regarded contests out there, what’s more, included in the entry fee is a guaranteed analysis of your script by an industry professional. BlueCat Finalist Aaron Guzikowski’s wrote Prisoners, which went on to be made by Warner Bros. There are also emerging writers forums such as Rocliffe, which again provides a great platform to for your work to be read.
Even if nothing concrete comes of it, getting through a round or two could be a confidence boost and your name might start to appear in the right places.
9. The Social Network
Making connections, building an audience and gaining followers is one way to get your film up on its feet. It’s especially vital if you’re looking into crowdfunding as an option to finance your film. Networking is basically pitching with alcohol involved, and could join the dots between having a screenplay in your desk drawer to having it on a important executives desk. Through social media you can also find a community of writers in a similar position to you, who might have advice, success stories and resources invaluable to your screenplay.
Having an online presence is also vital in these digital times to put yourself on the map. Whether its an IdeasTap portfolio, a Twitter account with links to writing, or a profile that shows up on Google, if you can found online, it’ll increase your credibility when the bigwigs start researching you.
Regardless of whether these steps result in a film, the fact that you’ve written a screenplay at all deserves a sense of achievement. It’s all a learning curve, and unless you’re very special and very lucky, it’s unlikely the first script your write will get made. But the more you put yourself out there and hone your talent, the more likely you’ll be to hit the jackpot one day.