SO YOU'VE FINISHED YOUR SCRIPT...NOW WHAT?
by Randy Becker (founder, NexTV Entertainment)
How many times have you spent months and months
pouring your heart onto the page, only to be stopped in your tracks the moment
you’ve finished it. You pass it around to some friends. You do endless
rewrites. You enter it into competitions. Maybe another rewrite. You post it on
a screenwriting site like Inktip or The Blacklist. You do all of the things
writers who are trying to break in do… and you're STILL not getting it to
the people who actually need to read it....the decision-makers. You're still
not seeing the kind of career progress you know that you need, in order to
reach your goals.
I transitioned from being an artist to being a guy
who represented artists. That meant I didn't make money unless I could figure
out how to SELL scripts and raise money...period. The system I had to learn
that allowed me to build strong relationships and help set up my clients'
projects all over town, is the same system YOU can use for your own career as a
writer or filmmaker.
This article will lay out a whole new approach for
screenwriters and filmmakers; a STEP-BY-STEP system for navigating the industry
effectively... one that you can practice and get better at each time you dive
in. One that will put you in the driver’s
seat of your career.
If you like it, share it with other artists. If you
hate it...let me know...and I'll probably try to convince you why you're wrong.
I tend to do that.
So take off your writer hat, for just a second, and
put on that Agent or Producer hat. It's not as uncomfortable as you might
think, and I promise you that thousands of scripts get sold with this hat on.
Millions upon millions of dollars are made when the Agent turns on his or her
system. And it IS a system…the same steps every stinkin’ time.
Are you ready to AGENT YOUR OWN CAREER?
STEP 1 - CLARIFY WHO YOU ARE?
Until you are absolutely clear with who you are in
this industry, it will be very difficult to make any progress. What impact are
you trying to make? What is your 'genius'? How can you benefit others?
Reaching out will always need to be about how you can benefit the people you
are reaching out to. Not just with the specific project you have to pitch, but
in an ongoing way. They must see you as a valuable part of their own
career-build....I therefore strongly recommend STEP 2.
STEP 2 - BUILD YOUR PRODUCTION COMPANY
The best way to codify who you are and what you bring
to the industry (and the world) is to put a "company" in place that
is a true representation of this. We'll call that your PRODUCTION COMPANY. You
may already have one, but spend time getting very clear with your mission,
goals and what you bring to the industry anyway, because this company will be
absolutely essential for helping you move forward (not just a place-holder or
vanity thing...it's a strategic must).
STEP 3 - LEARN HOW SCRIPTS ARE BOUGHT AND SOLD
You have to learn how this industry works. How
projects are financed. How companies and people are stacked up in order
to make a project viable. You'll need to learn who is financing TV, what
criteria film financiers use to determine 'value', etc....
This will be an ongoing process, but make it a
priority so you are not the only one in the room who is clueless about the
realities of our business.
STEP 4 - FIND YOUR TARGETS
When you know what you want to accomplish FOR YOUR
CAREER, in 5 years and have a company that is the embodiment of that, and you
have a basic sense of how it all works, now you have to identify the producers,
execs, companies, et al...that you will need to have in your network in order
to get this done. Who is doing the kind of work you will be doing when you are
in full swing? These, and only these, are the people you will be focusing on,
Note: don't think about your individual projects yet.
Think much more broadly. For you to succeed in this industry, you will need to
bring many, many projects out, so today's passion pieces are just your opening
STEP 5 - CHOOSE THE RIGHT MATERIAL TO LEAD WITH
Consider 3 things:
a) YOUR GENIUS - the
material that moves you most and you are best at delivering.
b) Your specific long-term
c) The RELATIONSHIPS you
will need in order to get there.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that you consider
the needs of the people you want to build relationships WHEN CREATING YOUR
WORK. That, of course, needs to be done in
an authentic, protected space so your creative self does not get
distracted. However, WHEN DECIDING ON
WHICH OF YOUR PROJECTS TO LEAD WITH you will have to consider the marketplace.
So...if you are working to build a career as a
feature film writer/director who does meaningful, Academy Award-winning dramas,
leading with, say, a low-budget horror, may not get you in touch with the
people who you'll need for that goal. YOU MUST SEE EVERY MOVE YOU MAKE AS
PART OF THE LONG PLAY TOWARDS YOUR GOALS. You are not going to sell most
of the things you write. Sorry...that's true for EVERYONE in this
business. But you CAN make progress with every move you make, if each
move gets you in touch with people you need in your network, in a powerful way.
So...is that script you've written the perfect one to
lead with? If so, why? Look a few
steps ahead in your calculations. Will
this serve the people you need in my network? If not, do you have other
material that makes more sense? Maybe you can find other material
that is better...remember, it's all about building strong relationships which
will pay out for your own career in a big way!
STEP 6 - GET YOUR FINANCIAL HOUSE IN ORDER
Artists can only build their careers, if they are
either independently wealthy (would be nice, eh?), or if they have a
sustainable revenue source that affords them enough time to take on the huge
tasks of navigating the entertainment industry. If you are jumping from
your money-making world to your creative career and there is no
cross-pollination, you may find that it is difficult to do ether as well as you
could. As we begin building a real production company, creating a viable
short-term and long-term revenue model will be important. In some cases
that may mean that you use the same resources and skills you use for your
creative career to make money. In other cases it may simply mean that
you'll need to begin aiming your revenue 'machine towards the people who you
need to build relationships with for your career. Ex: a client of mine is
a very talented writer and filmmaker. He also produces events. He now
does high-end events for the same entertainment companies that he needs for his
creative career. Guess who he is building strong personal relationships
with? Because he is clear with his MISSION and the overall impact he
wants to have in the world, it was not complicated to align the films he was
working on with the companies he supported with his events.
There are many other ways to approach this, but one
way or another, YOU MUST BE ABLE TO STAY IN THE GAME LONG ENOUGH TO BREAK
THROUGH. Eventually you'll earn all of your money (reliably) as a writer or
filmmaker, but that will take time.
NOW BACK TO YOUR CAREER...
STEP 7 - MAKE PHONE CALLS (aka MARKET RESEARCH)
You will need to MAKE CONTACT WITH EACH AND EVERY
COMPANY/EXEC/PRODUCER ON YOUR LIST
Before you can ever sell anything in this industry or
any industry, you need to build relationships and you need to clarify who needs
what...and how they need it to be presented. Anyone who has tried to make cold
calls to studios, networks or production companies has heard "no
unsolicited material" many times...SO DO NOT TRY TO SELL ANYTHING RIGHT
NOW. Don't even think about your project. Don't pretend you are calling for one
thing, but really you are looking for a chance to pitch your project. If your
project is in your mind at all...you will get shut down...as you should get
Would you like a stranger showing up at your place of
work, trying to sell you a vacuum cleaner when you have a ton of work to
do....and you don't even have carpets? NO, so don't call to sell anything.
You need to find out what these companies and execs
NEED. And know that content is only a small part of the equation. They
may only deal with partially funded projects, or films with directors attached,
or TV with NO attachments, or....you get the picture.
Put yourself in the shoes of the development exec you
are calling. Before you bring anything to your boss, what do you think needs to
be in place to feel like you have a chance at impressing him/her? What do
you imagine is a non-starter? If you don't know, these are great
questions to ask.
STEP 8 – DECIDE ON A FINANCING MODEL
How will your project actually get made? Whether it is film or TV, big, fat studio
projects or tiny indies, knowing how your project is most likely to see its way
onto the screen is an essential part of your strategic process.
That means you’ll need to learn a bit about Film and
TV Finance. Just a bit, so don’t get too
stressed about it.
This is important because it will tell you what needs
to be in place before someone will actually write the check to finance your
project. TV is generally financed by
studios (not networks). UCP, Lions Gate
TV, Sony TV, Fox TV Studios, etc… Knowing what the studios you’ll be
approaching need in place before they can consider your project will give you
some clear marching orders. Same thing goes for film. What makes your film “worth the money” that
you are asking an investor to fork over?
More on this later.
STEP 9 - GET YOUR PITCH IN SHAPE
As you get crystal clear about who you are as an
artist (and what your company does)...and as you get clearer with what your
network NEEDS...and you begin nailing down the material to lead with...your
next step is to create a compelling way to communicate both the content and the
value of the content. That can translate in to a powerful logline,
synopsis, one-sheet, sizzle reel, phone pitch, in-person pitch, depending on
your strategy for approaching the marketplace.
And if you really think like an Agent, you'll have to
craft a compelling "marketing narrative". What about this material
or this artist is perfectly in line with the elements that need to be in place
for a buyer or exec to be able to say yes?
When I was selling scripts, I'd always have
about that narrative. If it's a first-time director, how do I speak
the material in a way that mitigates that potential liability. If it's a
drama, how do I highlight the things, aside from the story, that a drama
must deliver in order for it to be viable; namely, brilliant
opportunities for marquee CAST to
dive in to.
This is where your knowledge of the industry is
key. It is also where you can apply the specific things you learned
during the "MAKING CALLS/MARKET RESEARCH" phase.
STEP 10- TEST THE MARKETPLACE WITH YOUR MATERIAL
The marketplace is fluid, it shifts and it can feel
unpredictable. Having said that, people who spend their lives and make
their livings on a day-to-day basis buying and selling scripts know what works
and doesn't for them.
Getting feedback from friends and even from people
who provide feedback for a living is not the same as getting feedback from
those currently in the marketplace.
Before bringing your material out in a robust way,
it's always useful to consider slipping your material to a few people to test
the marketplace. First of all, it gives them a first look at material
that they otherwise might have to fend off competitors for, so that is a kind
thing for you to do for them. More importantly, you may get some
consistent feedback, or no feedback, that is worth looking at.
STEP 11 - MAKE ADJUSTMENTS
A huge part of a professional writer’s job will be
filtering feedback properly, then making useful adjustments. After reaching out to a few key industry
folks, this is a time to tweak your approach or even the material itself.
Remember that most people in this industry are smart
and motivated to TELL GREAT STORIES just like you are. You may have a vision for your project that is
simply not being communicated or is not attractive to the people you are
bringing this to. Back when I was
repping artists, I would do one of two things.
Either suggest that we make adjustments to the material or to the
approach to selling it, OR…. suggest that we move on to other material so we
don’t present material that will not resonate with the companies we need to
build relationships with.
This is very, very difficult when you’ve poured your
heart and soul into a script. Tenacity
is essential, but objectivity is too.
Your scripts are not going anywhere.
Some are much more likely to sell next year or after you’ve built
stronger relationships. If you expose
the material before it is ready, you may be cutting off future opportunities
STEP 12 - PACKAGING
Assuming you are going forward with this, now it’s
time to DIVE IN TO THE MARKETPLACE. Strategy
Remember your “financing model” from STEP 7? Now is
the time to get some of those key elements on board.
I always say that there are 3 kinds of people: MONEY, TALENT and the people who CONNECT the
Before you (the talent) go to a buyer (the money), it’s
likely that you will need connectors on board that allow a buyer to take the
material seriously. We call that
PACKAGING! How you create a collection
of “ASSETS” to bring out will make all of the difference.
Work your way backwards from the person or entity that
will be writing the check to figure out who needs to be on board and in what
order. If you determine that you need,
say, a marquee actor on board before Lions Gate will write the check, your next
task will be to figure out what will allow a big actor to look at the material.
Usually you’ll require a director. Well,
what will allow you to connect with relevant directors? Probably a producer or production
company. Notice that AGENTS are not part
of this equation. While they are very
important, it’s unlikely you will find support among agents until you have
serious momentum behind the project, so don’t bother trying.
And FINALLY - LET IT RIP!
can spend days, months, years, getting ready to be ready. When it comes down to it, you may simply need
to get your material out…period….whether you have the right package in place or
is where all of those phone calls you made during the “MARKET RESEARCH” phase
will come back to support everything you do.
Not just because you have accurate information about what each company
needs and how they need to see it presented, but because “NO UNSOLICITED
MATERIAL” only applies to people the executive does not know. You will be going BACK to each of these execs. You will be bringing them exactly what THEY
said they need and… if you’ve done this right, you will have been nurturing each
of those relationships all along the way.
this quick? No.
this easy? Not always.
this work? It depends on how you define
success. If you do this right, you WILL
build relationships and move your career forward.
you sell your script the first time out?
I have no idea…probably not, actually (if you look at the numbers), but
you will be poised to sell your script and to take many, many more well-aimed
shots at it.
is something I can work with. Taking shots in the dark is not!
AND… I’ve done this many, many, many times. When an artist embraces these principles and
makes them his or her own…it’s amazing to see the progress.
THIS WEEK, my client, who has spent 18 months (admittedly) building his company
in this way…RAISED $1 MILLION FOR HIS FEATURE FILM. Others have sold their scripts to studios and
indie financiers. Some have been signed
by huge agents and managers. Some have been hired for writing or directing
assignments. All have moved their
folks, is my life, day after day after day…and I love it. We are all very fortunate to work in a
business like this. Get systematic about
it and you’ll be able to stay in the game for as long as it takes to reach your
WANT MORE INFO? Contact me directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be happy to discuss your career with you…if
you are truly serious about doing whatever it takes to get your voice heard.