Marketing a Screenplay

If you don’t have an agent, and have no contacts in the business, you can still market your script on your own. Before you try, however, take one preparatory step: Register your script with the Writer’s Guild of America. Registration provides a dated record of the writer’s claim to authorship and can be used as evidence in legal disputes about authorship.

If you want to break into television, it’s generally not a good idea to write scripts for a series of your invention. Full-time, experienced, professional writers earn monumental salaries doing just that; why compete with them? Instead, tape several shows of an existing series. Watch them repeatedly. Learn who the characters are, how they would behave ion a situation. One writer even advised typing up the script as you watch an episode to help you understand the flow of the dialogue.

Also watch the credits of a show you enjoy, noting the names of the producers. You can write to them, asking them to read your script. While the number of scripts bought from freelancers in television is small, it does happen.

“I’ve never met a producer who wouldn’t kill to get a great script out of the blue sky one morning,” J. Michael Straczynski wrote in his Complete Book of Scriptwriting. After targeting a show, Straczynski recommends writing polite query letters to producers or story editors (usually people who rewrite scripts and deal with freelancers), explaining your fondness for and familiarity with the show and your desire to send a spec script.

At any given time, certain shows are hot markets for spec scripts. If you have a friend who knows anyone working in television, you can try to find out which shows “everybody” is writing spec scripts for. Many suggest that it’s better to pick a show that you enjoy, that is climbing in the ratings, but that isn’t a hit. After all, there are only so many Everybody Loves Raymond scripts any one person can stand to read.

Once you write a script, remember another Hollywood paradox: Rarely is a spec script for a show ever bought and produced by that particular show. In fact, many writers advise against even trying to show it to anyone with the show. Why? Because the writers of that show know their characters better than anyone else ever could, and rarely can an outsider create a script better than they. One writer suggested that it’s rarer still for producer to admit someone outside his show even could. So, if you want to write for CSI, you need to write a script for NYPD Blue or another police/investigation drama and submit that as your spec script to the producers of CSI.

Then, even if your script is rejected, it may be a good enough calling card to get you invited to pitch other ideas to the producers.


This excerpt is from The Writer’s Market Companion Book on Selling Your Script. Buy it today and learn:

  • The industry standard script format
  • Tips on finding an agent
  • How to make contacts within the film industry

Buy The Writer’s Market Companion Book now!

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