You’ve found a great story. You’ve studied it, outlined it, created memorable characters and knocked your screenplay out of the park. Now what?
Well, before you can pitch your project you need to learn how to pitch yourself.
In the business world, when evaluating a new venture a primary consideration is the barriers to entry. Said simply, a barrier to entry is a cost or problem that must be overcome by a new entrant. Say you want to open a brewery. You’ll need to raise money to purchase brewing equipment and obtain licenses before you can produce beer.
So, why do I bring this up? Well, one of the wonderful things about the entertainment industry is that there are no barriers to having an idea. Most people have had an experience, read a story, or had a dream that causes them to think, “This could be a movie!” For most it’s a passing thought, for screenwriters it’s the beginning of the long and arduous process of writing a script.
David Kaufmann goes even deeper in his book, The Producer's Brain. Get it on Amazon now.
Guess what? You don’t need anyone’s permission to write a screenplay. There are no barriers to entry.
This is empowering. It allows anyone with the willpower and persistence to stick with their idea the ability to create something original and unique. All becoming a screenwriter costs you is time. So where does that leave the market for selling screenplays?
When I first came to Los Angeles, I remember a friend joking with me that they were handing out scripts at the airport. I chuckled, but I don’t think I fully realized how true this really is. There’s an old saying that you can’t sell ice to Eskimos, and in most cases, this is exactly what it’s like trying to bring a screenplay to market. Since there are no barriers to creating a screenplay, there are literally millions of them floating around. So how do we deal with this as a business?
People create barriers to entry. They make you earn the right to have your idea be taken seriously.
If you look at the landing page for most successful production companies, you’ll normally see in very large text:
WE DO NOT ACCEPT UNSOLICITED MATERIALS
Why is this? It’s because no one wants to be sued. Since ideas are ubiquitous and many are similar, the easiest way to avoid problems is to limit your intake of ideas to people who you know, trust, and actively want to collaborate with.
In my blog on the process, I wrote about how the devil is in the details when it comes to making an idea a reality. As much as the idea matters, it’s the painstaking execution that allows it to reach the screen. This doesn’t stop lots of frivolous lawsuits from popping up every time a film is released (I had the idea for a film where Dwayne Johnson saves the world! You stole it!). The best way to avoid these headaches is to only engage on ideas with people you have great relationships with, have a strong professional reputation, or are referred by representation.
That being said, producers are always on the hunt for new material and original voices. They really do want to read up and coming writers’ work! They just need to watch their backs and be strategic about who they choose to meet with.
So, as a new writer or producer, how do you get around these barriers to entry and the gatekeepers holding you back?
It’s all about relationships and relationships don’t build themselves!
You’ve got to get to know people and build trust before you can ask them to read or evaluate your work. If you email someone you’ve never met and immediately ask them to read your script, it comes off as a red flag. They don’t know anything about you or your level of talent. The whole situation screams of risk and most producers will choose to avoid it, especially when they already have so many active projects. A warm introduction from a friend always helps, as does a submission from a third party, like a manager or producing partner.
If you choose to reach out to someone cold, you need to find a way to quickly establish your credentials and communicate your value. Think about your web presence and the content of your email. What makes you a unique and important person to spend time with? How can the recipient do a quick search to establish your credentials? Perhaps you’ve made a short or have a content reel or web page. Include it (or create one!) It will allow people to quickly gain insight into your work and style and will likely increase your response rate. If you’ve won a contest on ScreenCraft or elsewhere, be sure people are aware of that too. Most importantly, don’t ask someone to read your work in an initial communication. They’ve got to get to know you first. Your hope for an early outreach should simply be to start a conversation.
When I first came to LA, I had a lot of luck landing meetings because of my background as an executive for Major League Baseball. I could provide insights on an interesting world and had an established credential that allowed me to command people’s time. Those early meetings have since turned into long-term relationships and the basis for most of my network as an independent producer. Think about what that IN might be for you and figure out a strategic way to use it.
At the end of the day, people need to buy into YOU before they can buy into your work. The better your personal pitch is, the greater the chances that you’ll build the relationships that will allow you to get past the gatekeepers and get serious looks at your material.
For more on relationship building, please check out my blog on How to Find and Keep a Mentor in Hollywood.
Cheers until next time and happy writing!
David Kaufmann is an independent film and television producer living in Los Angeles. He began his career as an NBC Page at Saturday Night Live. He spent over nine years handling film and television licensing and development at Major League Baseball where he helped create critically acclaimed films like Moneyball and 42. He has an undergraduate degree in Journalism from the University of Richmond and holds an MBA from NYU Stern with a focus on the media business and creative producing. He is an active member of the Producers Guild of America. For more on David, please visit his IMDB or LinkedIn.