3 Essential Online Tools for Screenwriters

By September 14, 2015Blog, Featured

The internet contains a belly of knowledge for any screenwriter looking to learn more about the art and craft of screenwriting. Most people will point to podcasts, online workshops, and the various blogs written and run by prominent screenwriters and filmmakers. These types of online resources are key for novice screenwriters to attain an insider look into the film and television industry, and to view a perspective from experienced individuals.

However, what are the resources that a screenwriter can truly utilize for their own work as they develop, write, and market their own scripts? What resources can better their own writing? At some point, a screenwriter has to rely less on others and more on their own journey.

Below we will cover three secret tools that screenwriters can and should utilize. While these online resources themselves aren’t exactly secret, it’s how they are utilized that matters most and will give an extra advantage to any and all screenwriters that use them as tools to success.

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Quora

The Silicon Valley question and answer site has been running strong since 2010 and has steadily gained an amazing reputation as one of the best online resources of knowledge and information. Some of the biggest names in the tech and business industries utilize the site, created by two former Facebook executives.

Consider it a more personalized and interactive version of Wikipedia, offering insider knowledge, information, and perspective from pretty much any profession, industry, career, topic, etc. A social side of the site is also a big draw, with discussions on politics, movies, television, career advice, life advice, inspiration, and edgier topics as well.

The users answering questions in whatever field are generally working in that field and have a profile that dictate their areas of expertise and knowledge. Quora has users that are current major company CEOs, former or current NFL players, Hollywood insiders, celebrities, doctors, lawyers, soldiers, police officers, engineers, astronauts, firefighters, scientists, psychologists, etc.

Furthermore, the quality of answers and the writing takes center stage. The best answers are upvoted on the site and there is a strict Be Nice policy. This creates a user experience like no other, compared to other question and answer sites found on Yahoo Answers, Reddit, and other places.

Getting Started

Quora is a free experience that only requires you to create a profile. Once you’ve signed on, you are free to both ask, answer, and explore any and all questions which can be found by searching through the thousands of topics available on the site.

If you work in a certain field or have a certain perspective to share based on the topics that interest you, you yourself can be an asset to those searching for such as well. On the flip side, you can take advantage of the knowledge and perspectives offered on the site and utilize it as a research tool.

Research

Let’s say you’re writing a screenplay about the military. Maybe you need to know a little more about military lingo, technology available to them, or you would just like to hear first hand from soldiers. Look no further than Quora to get first hand information. You simply type Military in the search bar for a broad topic and can even find the top users that actively answer questions on the topics by selecting the followers of each — there you will see which users answer the most questions in that topic. You’ll see veterans of the Marines, Army, Air Force, Navy, and even Special Forces.

Let’s say you’re writing a screenplay about a serial killer. Now, I’m hoping there are no active serial killers on the site, however, you can search for topics like crime, psychology, criminal lawyers, and forensics and find users that have first hand knowledge (or have studied the topic) and can answer such questions you may have while researching your script.

Let’s say you’re writing a screenplay about space travel. Quora has NASA employees and even former astronauts that answer a belly of space related questions.

If you have a particular question to ask, you can search for it and it’s likely there will already be a question active with many answers. If not, you simply create a question and assign topics to it so that the power users of that topic (insiders) can see them and answer. You can even “Ask to Answer” specific users, which sends them a message requesting an answer to the particular question.

Quora is an invaluable tool for screenwriters and their research. Where else can you go to get first hand accounts from people in the know? Where else can you go to speak to and learn directly from real astronauts, soldiers, CEOs, scientists, etc.?

Hollywood Insider Information

Quora is a second home to many film industry insiders from all branches. J.J. Abrams has answered questions on the site. Ashton Kutcher has as well. Working screenwriters, directors, producers, actors, special effects personnel, and many more can be found on the site.

The best topics to follow are Movies, Movie Business, and of course, Screenwriting. There is a belly of insider information, discussions, threads, and insider perspectives to learn from.

Entertainment and Honing Your Writing Skills

Quora offers an amazing platform to discuss movies and television as well. Users offer and share Top Ten lists, favorite lists, Best Of lists, etc. It’s a unique way to learn more about movies and television and just enjoy taking part in some amazing discussions by offering answers of your own.

You can also hone your own writing skills by writing amazing answers and seeing quick and immediate positive responses as they receive more and more upvotes.

The site has many outstanding movie “What If” questions that you as a screenwriter can answer, which helps develop your story telling skills with instant feedback, all while having fun in the process.

How Would You Make The Dark Knight Rises if Heath Ledger Was Alive to Play the Joker?  (Answered by yours truly)

Final Thoughts

Quora is an experience that is perfect for screenwriters. It is an amazing research tool, giving access to professionals or people-in-the-know in virtually any topic. It is also an excellent community where screenwriters can enjoy and thrive within.

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IMDbPro 

IMDbPro is the professional version of the great Internet Movie Database.

It’s a tool that not only novice screenwriters, but also film and television professionals as a whole, can utilize. Everyone within the film and television industry use IMDbPro on a daily basis to check credits, list their films for marketing purposes, to see who is working on what, to attain contact information, etc. A subscription to IMDbPro.com includes People Directory, Company Directory, In-Production Directory, Expanded Box Office Data, and much more.

Beyond those professional features, you’re able to utilize the database, looking up any and all movies and television programs, and to see who wrote, directed, produced, and starred in them, etc. The comprehensive database offers anyone the ability to check any credit in whatever field of whatever movie, and attain that person’s whole credited resume of projects from the past, present, and future. The same can be said for studios, production companies, agencies, management companies, etc.

Getting Started 

Membership costs $149.99 per year or $19.99 per month. They usually offer a free trial period as well. Once you’ve signed on, you can explore the database and click on any and all credited individuals, companies, etc.

Research

IMDbPro has always been at the forefront of a screenwriter’s knowledge, however, there is a way to utilize it as a tool beyond just searching for movies and such.

Let’s say you’re ready to market a screenplay. Hopefully you’ve read ScreenCraft’s Top 5 Misconceptions Novice Screenwriters Have About Hollywood and learned that your first script should not be the one you market. Once you have a stacked deck of a few solid scripts, you are ready to unleash at least one of them onto the many prospects in Hollywood. This is where IMDbPro comes into play.

You want to be smart about where you send your queries. You don’t want to send your quirky character driven comedy to Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes production shingle. You must choose, but choose wisely, as far as where you send your queries.

First, look up films that are similar to the script that you’re marketing. Find out who is making them, as far as directors, producers, production companies, distributing companies, and studios. Those are the ones that you want to pursue because they’re making the types of films that you’re writing. Generally speaking, you don’t want to contact a director first hand at their offices, primarily because they are often hired hands that don’t have the freedom to green light anything that they haven’t themselves been attached to. And to those that can — Nolan, Spielberg, etc. — they already have projects lined up and wouldn’t consider projects from a novice screenwriter anyways.

However, if they have a production shingle, then there are opportunities to connect to them via their own development executives that seek out projects for them.

In those cases, and when you find producers, production companies, distributing companies, and studios that are making projects like yours, utilize IMDbPro to find their contact information. Email addresses are key. If you can find individuals within the system that have their email addresses posted, it’s a much easier way to connect to them. Snail mail just doesn’t work anymore. Fax numbers are a fall back and shot in the dark. Cold calling is a tricky business and you’re often better off not calling at all. If you do, just quickly tell that intern or assistant answering the call, “Yes, I’ve got a high concept script about a shark that terrorizes an island community and I’m wondering if there’s an email address I can submit it or a short synopsis to.”

Easier said than done because whether or not it’s an email, fax, or cold call, you’re going to get rejected 99% of the time. So be prepared for that while never being afraid to take those shots in the dark. Either way, email is the best option.

You can also utilize IMDbPro to find movie trivia, quotes, and box office numbers.

Trying to Find Representation

The same process can be used to find representation. Find films that are similar to yours. Find out who is writing them. Find out who is representing those screenwriters as far as agents or managers and then query them as described above. Know that the majority of major agencies (CAA, etc.) will not accept unsolicited material, which is material that they specifically haven’t requested. When you send queries to them, it is their policy to not accept it so you will likely receive a notice telling you that they have not read the query or material within.

However, it doesn’t hurt to try if you’d found a direct email address to an agent. I speak from experience, having — albeit over a decade ago — a major CAA agent respond to my query and eventually request the script. Just be prepared for constant rejection.

Where you can see success is through contacting management companies and individual managers. They are often more open to accepting queries.

Final Thoughts

IMDbPro is necessary for all screenwriters. It will prove to be the best $149.99 you spend on your screenwriting aspirations.

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The Hollywood Trades

We feature Deadline Hollywood here, but we’re really talking about the Hollywood Trades as a whole, which also includes Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and even sites like The Tracking Board. Deadline is one of the more accessible, as it doesn’t require a membership, however they are all very useful.

Getting Started

With Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Tracking Board, you can see some of the information, but unless you are subscribed, you can’t have full access. All of them are worthy of paying for, but a good option is Deadline, where you can simply visit the site and click on their various pages within.

Research

As a screenwriter, you need to know who is who within the film and television industry, and what projects are being developed, produced, and distributed. If you don’t know what’s happening in the industry that you are trying to break into, you won’t have too much success in breaking through.

Read the trades every single day. You’ll learn what screenwriters are getting jobs, how they were discovered, what they’ve worked on, and more important, who is representing them. You’ll learn the trends that are hitting the film industry, therefore you can learn what future genres to consider writing, and more important, what ones not to write (the box office numbers will give you some insight in that respect). Sure, the old adage is write what you know and the new adage is write what you love, however, you have to create a hybrid of what you want to write and what the powers that be are searching for and willing to buy.

The trades will help you to know where to go when you log onto the aforementioned IMDbPro. You’ll begin to learn what management companies are out there, as well as what production companies are actively developing. You’ll learn the names of the powers that be as well.

Final Thoughts

There are a lot of legit companies, producers, managers, and agents out there. Screenwriters often make the mistake of seeking out just the major ones that they see are attached to projects from the likes of big studio tentpoles or major Hollywood power players. Once you start reading the trades, you’ll see that there are many, many more powers that be out there. And all too often, they may be more approachable in the long run, compared to the top couple of names out there. In short, the trades will give you key information that will open so many more possible doors for you in your search of that opportunity screenwriters so covet — getting the powers that be to read their script.


As was mentioned before, these sites themselves aren’t secrets — it’s how screenwriters can use them. They truly are essential tools that most don’t use as much as they should. Knowledge is power. These tools can be used as tools to attain such knowledge. That’s the true secret to success in the art, craft, and business of screenwriting.


Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.

He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies

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