Write a screenplay, then sell it. Sounds simple enough, but executing that plan can be a bit more complicated. These two elements, writing and selling, are very different sides of the same coin. Most writers tend to think of the script as the project, while the less enjoyable marketing and selling is something that comes later. If that’s the way you’ve been operating, you probably have a shelf with dusty black binders filled with pages of words that no one has read. Writing a screenplay and selling the screenplay are the same project. While you may work on these elements at separate times, you must combine them in your head as one project from the moment you type FADE IN.
The writing part of the project is the fun part; it’s what we love. We create new worlds, tear apart old ones, challenge belief systems and destroy tyranny all while making people laugh, cry and forget about their worries for just a brief moment. And you think, my God, it’s going to look great on the big screen.
That’s where most screenwriters leave the conversation and their project—unfinished. They haven’t combined their different elements into a cohesive whole, and it will most likely never sell. I know; I’ve been there. I didn’t think about what happens after I type FADE OUT. If I did, it was an afterthought. Oh, I’ve finished this script. I should do something with it. So you shotgun 60 query letters, hoping one will hit. It rarely does. And so you move on, abandoning your half finished project because you’re convinced the next one is the one that will sell. Eventually you will end up with a shelf full of dusty black binders full of words that no one has read. I know because I’ve got that shelf.
So what does combining your project into a cohesive whole mean? It means you should be looking at the market before you even begin to outline. Is the market open to your concept? Is the market already over saturated with similar concepts? Is it dated or perhaps too trendy? Nothing is worse than spending a lot of time chasing a trend only to have that trend collapse just when you are ready to send your screenplay out to agents.
Another thing to consider from the beginning is your logline. My logline, you ask? I haven’t even written the script yet. How can I have a logline? Ask yourself what your script will be about. Even if you haven’t figured out the story exactly, you should have an idea of what it’s about. And that’s the basis of your logline. It may be too long as yet, and it could (probably will) change as you write the script, but you’ve already got a jump on the most important tool you will need when it comes to marketing your script.
Let’s say you’ve been working on your script for several weeks. You’re feeling good about it, and you find yourself at a party or networking event and meet a director or producer. He asks what you’re working on, and you respond with your logline. Short, sweet and simple. Then you ask if he would like to see a copy of the script when it’s finished. He’ll probably say no, but he might not. If you haven’t thought about that logline from the beginning, you will say something like: It’s about a couple of dudes who, you know, get into some trouble. And there’s this girl. She plays a pretty big part. And. . .well, it’s not finished yet. I’m still working on it. You’ve just blown a chance to get your script in front of somebody. An opportunity is a terrible thing to waste.
It’s not just the logline you need to consider from the beginning, it’s the entire marketing process. Are you trying to submit for screenwriting competitions? Did you just miss the deadline for Sundance because you didn’t look it up until you finished your script? Do you have friends with a contact at a production company that specializes in your genre? You need to be looking for opportunities to start marketing before you finish writing. You’ll need the logline, the query letter, a long synopsis, a short synopsis, an elevator pitch and a one-sheet. Don’t wait until you’ve finished the script to start these things or you may never do it. That’s just the way writers are. At the very least you will cost yourself several weeks as you play catch up and maybe even miss out on a couple of opportunities to present your script because you weren’t ready.
But I just want to write a screenplay. I don’t want to get involved in all that business stuff. I’m an artist. That’s why I need an agent.
Fine. Write your screenplay and put it on the shelf. Because you don’t have an agent. And you won’t get one if you don’t put the work into it. When you’ve become successful and have money, you can pay someone to handle the business side for you. Until then, it’s up to you.
If all this sounds a little daunting to you, don’t worry. Like all good businesses, you need to formulate a plan. Determine what you goals are, and then set out a path to achieve those goals. For myself, I’ve set a broad one-year goal of writing and selling a screenplay. That doesn’t mean I have to spend a year writing just one screenplay; I can have several projects under way, but only have to sell one of them. Now I can’t plan out the entire year, as I have no way of knowing how future events will unfold, but I can plan out smaller chunks. I’ve decided to break the year down into one-month goals. This keeps me moving forward, but flexible enough to change if need be.
For September, I have outlined the following goals:
• Complete rewrites on Come Ups
• Complete the 2nd Act of Due Unto Others
• Write Episode 4 of Everyday Clowns
• Begin work on Logline/Pitch for Come Ups
• Business Cards
The three projects listed in September’s goals are located on the Projects page here on TheScreenwritersJourney.com. I have a bit of a head start on these goals as Come Ups has a completed first draft and I’ve already started rewrites. I’m hoping to have the rewrites done in two weeks or so. I’ve also got a bit of a cheat when it comes to the loglines, as all three projects already have a basis for their respective loglines. (See, I’m already thinking ahead) I will probably take a logline class later in the month to refine the logline for Come Ups, and apply those same lessons to Everyday Clowns and Due Unto Others.
I also know that I will be presenting at the IAWTV’s Writer’s Workshop later in the month, so I need a completed script forEveryday Clowns. Having event deadlines is sometimes better than self-imposed deadlines because you can’t cheat. I also need to spend some time looking at the second act of Due Unto Others. It will be the next screenplay up after Come Ups. And finally, I need some business cards. Nothing looks more unprofessional than meeting another industry professional and they hand you a card and ask for your and all you can do is shrug your shoulders. It automatically puts them at a level above you. Business cards also allow me to get the web address for The Screenwriter’s Journey out into the market. Sure, I can tell someone about the site, but if they take a business card, the web address goes home with them. The business card says I’m serious about the site, which I am.
I’ve also incorporated some broader, longer-range goals, including:
• 4 Completed Screenplays
• Complete Everyday Clowns Webseries
• Meet with 4 Agents
• Meet with 6 Managers
Completing four screenplays does not seem that hard. We’re only talking about a page a day over the next year. It’s simply making the commitment to write that one page. Next, Everyday Clowns is a webseries that I expected to take about 10 episodes to complete. I’ve already got three and a fourth one due later this month. Knowing that I need one new episode a month for the IAWTV readings, that seems completely doable. Lastly, I want to meet face-to-face with agents and managers. I have not really tried to do that in the past, so I’m not sure how hard that will be. I may be able to see more than my goals, or I may just end up knocking on a lot of closed doors. Only time will tell.
So those are my goals for the next month and a few for the year. Take a few moments to review those goals and see if you can create your own set of goals. Is there a long-term vision you wish to accomplish? Do you need something shorter, say between now and the New Year? Have you even considered what your goals might be? If not, it’s time to start. Let me know what your plans are and how you plan to implement them in the comment box below, or send me an email atWilliam@TheScreenwritersJourney.com. Remember, we’re in this journey together, and the clock is ticking.