Spend a Few Bucks, Make a Millionby Skip Press
The Internet Writing Journal, November 1997
It always strikes me as odd that beginning screenwriters want to make hundreds of thousands of dollars by selling a spec (speculatively written) screenplay, but aren't willing to spend any money to further the process. Sometimes, though, it's the only way to grab Hollywood's brass ring.
Something Anyone Can Afford
The least you can do, if you're serious about writing screenplays, is study the best. Must-read books are Aristotle's Poetics, Lajos Egri's The Art of Dramatic Writing, Lew Hunter's Screenwriting 434 and J. Michael Straczynski's The Complete Book of Scriptwriting. I also recommend The Elements of Screenwriting: A Guide for Film and Television Writing by Irwin R. Blacker and Screenwriting Tricks of the Trade by William Froug. Then, once you've learned some craft in those books, read Syd Field's Screenplay and Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces to learn the most influential structures in Hollywood today. You can probably find them all in your local library.
Once Your Script is Written
You might already know about my book The Writer's Guide to Hollywood Producers, Directors and Screenwriter's Agents due to an earlier interview with me on this site. It will give you lots of information about real Hollywood movers and shakers and how to reach them, including email and websites. You should also look at Syd Field's Selling a Screenplay and Linda Seger's Making A Good Script Great. When your script is perfected, then you need to get it to people who can buy it. Generally, that means finding an agent, but there are other ways.
Have you contacted the film commission in your state? Have you ever considered going to a film festival to meet independent filmmakers, the most likely candidates to buying your script? If not, you should. I recently chaired two panels at the First Annual Hollywood Film Festival, and was amazed at what happened. I should tell you, however, that this festival was different. At most festivals, buyers and sellers from Hollywood go to other locations. In this case, independent filmmakers came to Hollywood. You can read about it at: http://www.hollywoodfilmfestival.com.
What Goes On
At the festival, for only $10 a day you could see every film screened that day. Naturally, the filmmakers would be there, showing their films, and you would have the ability to schmooze with them afterward. In case no one ever told you, a person-to-person meeting with someone is the absolute best way to sell them something. For a few hundred dollars (about as much as you'd pay for a weekend of some screenwriting seminars), you would have had full access to all screenings, all panels, and some parties at the festival.
Who You Might Meet
Rick Nicita spoke on one panel. Who's he? One of the very top people at Creative Artists Agency (CAA), perhaps still the #1 agency. On another you could have met Bo Zenga, who sold 12 movie pitches last year, or Robert Kosberg, who has sold about 60 pitches in the last five years. An agent from William Morris who sold a pitch for $800,000 had some interesting things to say, as did Dan Petrie Jr., the president of the Writers Guild of America. You could have shook their hands and asked to call them. Chances are they might have said yes.
Where To Find Them Now
Luckily, some of the people who spoke at the festival, including myself, Bo Zenga, and some of the people with books mentioned earlier (like Linda Seger), are resident experts on the Hollywood Network site maintained by Carlos de Abreu, the founder of the Hollywood Film Festival. Take a look at: http://www.hollywoodnetwork.com. If you haven't figured out by now that people in Hollywood are more accessible than you think, even via email, then you still have some things to learn. Finding a great script is a very, very difficult task. I heard that over and over and over at the festival, which might explain why top names like I mentioned came out to speak. None of them were paid to do so.
Is This a Commercial?
If you're feeling resentful already, thinking I'm plugging my book, plugging the Hollywood Network (where I'm a resident expert), plugging the festival, you're right. Get over it. Everyone has to make a living. If you've been ripped off in the past by consultants who don't deliver, seminar-meisters who left you wanting, or professors who told you how hard it was, sorry, that wasn't me. And none of the people at the festival were wanna-be's, either. They were real, working professionals who told it like it was and hoped against hope that they would meet a truly talented person who could provide that next great hit script.
See You Next Year
OK, now you know about the festival but probably too late. It was a big success, and will be even better next year. Take a look at the site and start making plans now. Contact your state film commission and do a Web search to find out about other festivals coming up, like Sundance, Telluride, etc.
Paying Your Dues
What are Hollywood dues, anyway? The really successful writers (who may or may not be the most talented), move to Los Angeles. They take courses at UCLA (where I've taught) or USC. They attend seminars. They find out where "industry" people hang out, and go there. They continually work to perfect their craft. Not everyone can move to Los Angeles, so the next best thing is using the Internet and WorldWide Web. Have you tried the Writers Guild of America site ( http://www.wga.org)? Do you read the Hollywood Reporter online each morning ( http://www.hollywoodreporter.com)?
There's also a great new service available to screenwriters who can't make it to Hollywood. It's called The Script Scene. Set up by former agent and current filmmaker Paul Small, the service is simple. You send them a script and pay a $150 fee and they do an analysis of your script, provide a one-sentence logline and two-page synopsis, and put the script online for top Hollywood people to peruse. The Hollywood executives pay a LOT more for the service that you do, and can read your script online. Don't worry there's an electronic trail of everyone who reads it, so you can't be ripped off, and you'll get a report of the activity on your work. It's a great idea put together by the grandson of Dore Schary, who ran MGM in its glory days; this is no fly-by-night ripoff.
Spend It and Make It
If you can't afford some of the prices mentioned here, or aren't willing to scrimp and save to pay the fees mentioned, you might not have the steely determination required to make it as a screenwriter. Screenwriting is perhaps the toughest business for writers that exists, and if you can't pay for a ticket, it's pretty darn hard to get into the theater. Good luck, and wise spending.
**Skip Press is a screenwriter and author living in Los Angeles, California. A prolific writer, in the past few years he has sold two screenplays and had numerous screenplays optioned, has written for the childrens' TV show Zoobilee Zoo, and has produced a number of home videos including A Woman's Guide to Firearms hosted by Gerald McRaney, which won the Silver Medal at the New York International Film Festival. He is the author of numerous books, including his 8 volume series Star Families for Young Adults, Awesome Almanac: California, and How to Write What You Want and Sell What You Write. He is also a journalist and former Editor of the Los Angeles-based Entertainment Monthly magazine. His articles have appeared in numerous national and international magazines, including Boy's Life, Epicure, Pulp City, The Curious West, and Writer's Digest, who has dubbed him its "Cyberscribe". He is a former instructor at the UCLA Extension Program; his popular screenwriting classes are now taught online. His most recent book is Writer's Guide to Hollywood Producers, Directors, and Screenwriter's Agents. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.