Selling Your Script to Hollywood

You’ve read the “How To” books on screenwriting. Twice. Watched seven movies a week that date back to the ’30’s. You bought the latest version of Final Draft. Come up with a brilliant idea for a story. Laid out the characters, the setting and the plot and fired up your MacBook Pro.

You spend the next three months writing, deleting, re-writing, shaping and polishing your baby. You hand copies to all your friends, and everyone loves the story – everyone except your best friend. (But then again, he thought THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW was Oscar worthy!)

A few minor edits, one last read through and it’s ready for primetime. Now what?

This is where things get interesting. How do you go from a 106 page blueprint to a Netflix-ready movie? Well, you could pull out your checkbook – following a robust IndieGoGO campaign – direct it yourself, hire the rest of the talent, shoot the flick and enter every film festival from Santa Barbara to Cannes.

Unfortunately, most can’t afford to quit their day job. So let’s explore the traditional routes.

Thousands enter screenplay competitions, hoping the acclaim of a strong finish will propel their story to a six-figure studio bidding war or at least land a Creative Artists’ agent. While others pursue the direct route; they contact actors and producers hoping to submit their screen worthy opus to Hollywood insiders.

In either case, you will have to contend with The Gatekeepers. These are people you’ve never heard of who are paid to boil your script down to a two or three page book report. They’re hired to find the gem and filter out the schlock. Separate the wheat from the chaff. They are the Yelpers of the film industry, and they have more influence than you would think.

Which means if you are fortunate enough to figure out how to submit a script to Robert De Niro’s production company, chances are slim he will ever see it. Because even if your script might actually be a project he may be interested in (if you could only get him to read it), the Gatekeepers are told in advance what Mr. De Niro is looking for. And if your script is a true original, he’s probably not looking for yours.

Established talent not only looks for strong scripts, but it has to be the right script. A close friend of mine used to read for James Cameron who often gravitates to projects that feature lots of water. Think TITANIC. THE ABYSS. Your stuff made be awe-inspiring, but a gritty Western may not be for James Cameron.

The dirty little secret is that the Gatekeepers are paid to say no. An A list star is literally flooded with projects; they couldn’t possibly evaluate every script that crosses their desk. Add to that the “must read” scripts their agent sends them (six of which came from their A list friends and publicist). It’s a blizzard of creative pursuits, and you as an outsider are on the bottom of the pile.

From the Gatekeeper’s perspective, there is little or no risk of panning even a brilliant script that was submitted over the transom. But recommending a screenplay from an unknown writer means that someone higher up the feeding chain will likely read it. And if he or she disagrees with your glowing report? You may not get a call back to review the next script. (Screenwriting competition Gatekeepers have their own biases, which I’ll explore later.)

So is there any other way a screenwriter from Des Moines can bring the right kind of attention to his script? Sadly right now, probably not. But there will be soon! Stay tuned…


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