Marketing Your Screenplay | HumorOutcasts

Marketing Your Screenplay

January 6, 2016


(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.

Bill Spencer

Bill Spencer's humor writing has been published by Funny Times, Narrative magazine, Reader's Digest, The Sun, The Inconsequential, Clever magazine, Defenestration, The Short Humour Site, Hobo Pancakes, and Nuthouse. He has also published scholarly articles on the novels of Cormac McCarthy and is co-author of an unproduced screenplay, "Angel Pays a Visit." He lives in a cabin in the mountains of North Carolina with his wife, artist-poet Carolyn Elkins.

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17 Responses to Marketing Your Screenplay

  1. Kathy Minicozzi
    January 7, 2016 at 11:32 pm

    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. 😉

    • Bill Spencer
      January 8, 2016 at 4:49 am

      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. Bill Y Ledden
    January 7, 2016 at 3:19 pm

    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.

    • Bill Spencer
      January 7, 2016 at 3:53 pm

      The name “Lemon Fresh Bastards” is only half accurate.

  3. January 6, 2016 at 2:42 pm

    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.

    • Bill Spencer
      January 6, 2016 at 3:38 pm

      Congratulations, Con, on actually being HIRED to write a screenplay. I am in awe.

  4. January 6, 2016 at 12:39 pm

    Kristen’s idea below is an interesting one (changing the format). I’d read through the manuscript (seriously).

    • Bill Spencer
      January 6, 2016 at 1:00 pm

      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!

  5. January 6, 2016 at 12:36 pm

    The co-worker at your department is a hoot. Teachers are always SO supportive and giving. And I thought the book stuff was hard!

    • Bill Spencer
      January 6, 2016 at 12:44 pm

      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.

  6. January 6, 2016 at 12:24 pm

    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!

    • Bill Spencer
      January 6, 2016 at 12:37 pm

      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.

    • January 7, 2016 at 7:15 am

      Actually, the doors are opening for non-traditionally published books too. So, who knows? I think it’s like the lottery!

  7. January 6, 2016 at 9:28 am

    If I could, I would buy your screenplay!

    • Bill Spencer
      January 6, 2016 at 9:36 am

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

  8. January 6, 2016 at 8:23 am

    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!

    • Bill Spencer
      January 6, 2016 at 8:51 am

      Hollywood figures age differently. In “Hollywood years” I’m “dead” years old.

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