What does it really take to get your screenplays represented by agents and managers, sold to production companies and studios, and produced by producers and directors?
It's the million-dollar question — and for some, that's a literal statement when the stars align for lucky screenwriters.
But notice that we emphasize the word really in that opening question.
Much is written about what goes into writing a successful screenplay, and rightfully so. It takes a lot of work to get yourself to the point where your writing is ready for industry insiders.
You need to hone those screenwriting skills. It takes time. That first screenplay is going to be your worst in the big picture of your screenwriting career. If the first one happens to be outstanding (it's usually not beyond your own subjective eyes), you're in for an amazing career because when you put the necessary work in, you're only going to get better.
For most, it takes upwards of three screenplays to really get into your writing groove where you've found your voice, developed your strengths, eradicated most of your weaknesses, and get to a point where you can be objective of your own work. That's the pinnacle element of honing your writing — being able to be objective with your screenplays and see the faults in glaring fashion before others do.
After those first few scripts, you find your process and what works best for you. That's when the fun begins because now you're starting to write cinematic screenplays that are good reads for others, not just for yourself.
But great writing isn't enough. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of amazing screenwriters and screenplays out there that will never be discovered. Why? Because they either slipped through the cracks or didn't get the due notice they deserved. And nine times out of ten, it's because the marketing wasn't where it needed to be.
Creating a marketing and submission strategy is no easy task for screenwriters. It's often considered to be the most mundane aspect of a screenwriter's career — trying to get screenplays in the hands of the Hollywood decision-makers.
It's frustrating. It's heartbreaking. It's sometimes hopeless.
But when you create an excellent marketing plan and stick to it with each and every screenplay you write, while adapting to the needs of each script's concept, genre, scope, and intended market, you can open so many doors of opportunity.
Read ScreenCraft's 7 Marketing Strategy Hacks for Screenwriters
Marketing is a necessary evil.
You need to submit to those major screenwriting contests.
Read ScreenCraft's 10 Mistakes to Avoid When Entering Screenwriting Contests
You need to query those well-researched industry insiders.
Read ScreenCraft's Writing the Perfect Query Letter for Your Scripts
And then you need to rinse and repeat over and over.
With screenplay submissions to contest, competitions, and fellowships, you need to parlay what you learn from them — success or rejection — and use that to your advantage as you move forward with your marketing.
If a screenplay is constantly placing and you're getting good optional feedback, ride those waves.
If a screenplay is constantly not making the quarterfinals and beyond, you need to ask yourself why as you self-examine the script based on the lack of placing and the optional feedback that may be pointing out what works and what doesn't work.
The same can be said for your queries. Are you doing the front-end research on IMDBPro and getting your query emails to the right people for your type of writing and your types of screenplays? Are you structuring emails in a simple and quick-to-read fashion (see above)? Are your loglines properly selling your concepts?
Read ScreenCraft's The Simple Guide to Writing a Logline!
It's easy to see why marketing is another key element to success — beyond the writing. It gets your script into the hands of those that can get your scripts represented, sold, and produced.
But even an outstanding and dedicated marketing plan can only take you so far. There's a third element that is even more vital to the success of your screenplays.
And it stems from that old Hollywood adage, "It's who you know..."
Networking goes hand in hand with marketing, yes. But the network you build is what connects you personally to those decision-makers that are a vital component to screenwriting success.
Personal relationships and connections are a hot commodity in Hollywood. And sometimes that scares most screenwriters because most don't have those personal relationships. But it's a falsehood to say that it's all about who you know. Yes, it helps, but a majority of people that come to work in Hollywood don't have roots from within.
Nepotism does exist, but most screenwriters come from outside of Los Angeles. Even most successful one-percenters — those signing the prime studio contracts with seven-figure payouts — didn't start in Hollywood. They came from the East Coast, Midwest, Southern States, or from abroad.
Networking is less about utilizing those you have a direct personal connection with and more about finding creative ways to create those types of relationships.
Mapping out personal and professional connections within your life is the best way to create those key networking lists that you can reach out to as you market your script.
You start by mapping yourself and your personal contacts, no matter what degree of separation.
Then you map out your geographical connections.
And finally, you map out any industry connections you may have.
Read ScreenCraft's Maps Screenwriters Can Use to Build Their Industry Network!
Building that actionable list of industry contacts is another key to making your own luck as a screenwriter by building relationships that can get you — and your screenplays — the necessary attention to break through those Hollywood walls.
Post-Pandemic, the best way to accomplish this is by attending the networking events that attract industry power players — agents, managers, development executives, producers, and talent. Film festivals and writing conferences are often less about the films and the discussion of craft, and more about the industry mingling that goes on in between.
The real benefit of attending these events is the freedom to talk to those that can make a difference in your screenwriting career.
So if you can't build that networking list through personal or geographical connections, industry events are the next best thing.
After that, there's the element of starting at the bottom of the industry to work your way into those personal and professional relationships.
You sometimes have to find a way into those hallowed walls of movie studios and production companies to even be part of the conversation as far as what scripts are represented, sold, and produced. Entry-level jobs create different levels of opportunity for networking and experience.
While the Post-Pandemic ripples will dictate which jobs are still relevant, there are seven positions that are likely going to still be your best options down the road.
So if the writing, marketing, and networking you do aren't the key elements to getting your scripts represented, sold, and produced, what other way could be possibly more important?
Getting Someone to Fall in Love
No, we're not talking about writing romantic comedies. We're talking about finding those industry insiders that fall in love with your screenplay.
That is what it really takes to go the distance and get that representation, the acquisition contract, and that produced feature or television credit.
You can do everything else right. You can write an amazing script, market it brilliantly with major contest wins and successful query campaigns, and you can build an impressive industry network — and still not get that script represented, sold, or produced.
What it really takes is finding that agent, manager, producer, development executive, and/or director that simply falls in love with your story and characters.
Do you have control over that?
Yes and no.
You do by nailing the first three elements above — the writing, the marketing, and the networking. Those are what will introduce you, your writing, and your screenplays to the best industry insiders possible.
After that, it's up to them.
Just like any love connection, the stars have to align. You have to be at the right place at the right with the right person — with the right script in hand.
It's not enough to write the great script, win the major contest, and connect with Hollywood power players that see the potential.
You need that one connected industry person to fall in love with your script enough to move mountains to get it represented, sold, and produced.
You'll know it when you see it. You'll see their endless efforts. You'll hear and read their enthusiasm during calls and through email correspondence.
And you know what? Others within the industry will see their love for it too. That is where dreams come true and deals are made. That is the single key to getting your screenplay represented, sold, and produced.
If your representation and the contacts you've made aren't showing enthusiasm for your script, it's just not going to happen. You need to recognize that in those relationships and never feel imprisoned by contacts you've made and representation you've garnered.
If they don't love it, what's the point in sticking with them or having them push that screenplay? It takes passion to get something represented, sold, and produced.
So go through the first three elements and realize that they are the structure of your screenwriting journey. Every screenwriting journey begins with those three steps. And then keep your eyes peeled for that power player that reads your script and falls in love with it.
It's no guarantee. Every script that is sold and produced is a little miracle bred of years of work. But when you feel the buzz between a Hollywood insider and your screenplay, know that you're on the right path to getting that screenplay represented, sold, and produced.
It's all about love, baby.
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, and the feature thriller Hunter's Creed starring Duane "Dog the Bounty Hunter" Chapman, Wesley Truman Daniel, Mickey O'Sullivan, John Victor Allen, and James Errico. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies