Marketing Your Screenplay

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(This piece was previously posted to The Short Humour Site.)

After I retired from teaching college English, I wrote a screenplay and realized a dream. When I tried to market the screenplay, I realized a nightmare.

The script, “Angel Pays a Visit,” is a comedy. My attempts to market it have been a comedy, too. When I completed it almost two years ago, I envisioned that getting it made into a big-budget, popular, Oscar-winning film would require a lot of time printing and binding copies and mailing them out to interested buyers. So far the number of requests for a copy is zero.

In my experience, you have to pay people to read your screenplay. Even then, only contest judges and critique services will read it. Studio executives are prohibited by their lawyers from reading scripts unless you sign a 20-page release saying you will not sue the studio if they steal your work. Several studios returned my one-page query letters with notices that they were “unread.” One envelope came back with “Return to Sender” scribbled on it. It had been opened but not resealed.

Following the advice of one of my books, I went to see a former departmental colleague, who taught screenwriting, during his scheduled office hour. He said I was too old and that I’d wasted my time. “You’ve aged out,” he said. He made it clear he thought I was wasting his time as well. When I asked him if he’d give me some feedback on my query letter, he said, “No, that wouldn’t be a good use of my time.” He did, however, have time (10 minutes) to complain of his own script-marketing frustrations.

After the heartening talk with my generous colleague, I bought the latest Hollywood Screenwriting Directory and marked which companies preferred comedies and would also accept unsolicited query emails from nobodies like me. I sent out 80 emails and received 4 responses, all declining my offer of additional information. My favorite response, and the fastest, indicated I was going about marketing all wrong, but to my good fortune the responder had written a book that would teach me correct tactics and deliver “outsized results”available from Amazon for just $13.88.

What I did instead of buying still another book was to list my script for 6 months with a searchable screenplay database service. Finally, “Angel Pays a Visit” would be available to producers actively wanting to buy a script. The first company to take a look was not Disney, or 20th Century Fox, or Warner Brothers, or even MGM; it was Kranky. And “Kranky” is a pretty good description of how I felt. Other companies that glanced before passing included Inflammable Films, Lemon Fresh Bastards, and Gimme A Break. I agree: Gimme A Break.

I obviously need to do some significant revisionnot of my script, but of my life. I’ve decided to move to L.A., take an entry-level job with a film studio, and erase 35 years from my age.

Maybe my next screenplay will be about time travel.

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17 thoughts on “Marketing Your Screenplay”

  1. I didn’t realize that you have to be young to be a writer. I thought all you needed was a good computer and a real talent for putting words together.

    I think I’ll dig out some of my old glossy publicity pictures that I used to send to opera companies, and make one of them my official writer picture. Then I’ll just never meet anyone in person. That should work. 😉

    1. I’ve already tried this. “My” Gravatar photo is not even me. It’s a 34-year-old out-of-work male model named Rico.

  2. If I had the money, I would give it to Don Don’s to buy your screenplay. I can’t believe Lemon Fresh Bastards weren’t on the scent.

  3. I did the Matt Damon/Ben Affleck “Project Greenlight” contest the first year. Got past the first round but no further. Gratified to learn that the winner, which was made into a feature film, bombed. I just signed a contract to write a work-made-for-hire screenplay for a documentary, other than that no luck. I found paying for coverage helps if you get somebody good who can tell you things like a romantic comedy should be no longer than X pages, etc.

    1. What I decided out of my marketing frustration was to try writing short humor pieces instead of spec scripts, and that has been a blast!

    1. I know ALL writers have it tough because rejection is so hard to cope with. What’s different with screenwriting, as Kristen Brakeman indicates, is that the writing is rejected BEFORE it’s read.

  4. I feel your pain. I’ve worked in “the biz” for a couple decades and even with my many contacts I can’t get anyone to read my script(s). I’ve point blank hit up producer friends for referrals and still, zilch.

    Can you rewrite it as a book? Sometimes easier to sell, then “easier” to sell the screenplay if adapted from a traditionally published book. Good luck!

    1. I feel YOUR pain, Kristen. Thank you for the suggestion. I’ve written a short fairy-tale version appropriate for children—but what might work best these days is if I rewrote it as a Marvel comic book.

    1. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Donna. As far as I know, you are the world’s nicest and best promoter of humorists.

  5. You’ve “aged out”? Now that was the most chilling thing to read. Are you too old to become a plastic surgeon? Thanks for the (tearful) peek into the screenwriting process. It’s so hard!

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