Advice on Selling Screenplays

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Most of the scripts that Hollywood buys are commissioned—meaning executives and producers contact proven screenwriters (who already have agents) and pay them for requested scripts, drafts and revisions. Screenplays that are written by aspiring screenwriters and not commissioned by Hollywood are called "spec scripts," because they're written "on speculation." If you've written a screenplay or want to write on, it's "on spec."

Selling a spec screenplay is extremely difficult. Hollywood pays boatloads of money each year for writers to work on projects in development. Spending even more money to buy brand new scripts from unknown screenwriters is usually not their priority. With that in mind, it's important that your spec script be fantastic so it rises above the others and gets the attention of producers and executives.

Absolute Write, a great Web site for writers, recently interviewed Sheila Hanahan Taylor, a Hollywood insider who works at Practical Pictures. As Sheila is someone who reviews spec scripts often and has worked with plenty of writers, her advice for wannabe screenwriters is invaluable. Check out this snippet of her interview with Absolute Write and click on the links below to see the two full parts of her lengthy and great interview.

"...These are my top six rookie errors: 

1. Thinking your script is ready to show people, when it isn't. Remember, most Hollywood
execs, agents, and producers read a person's script exactly once. 

2. Not reading enough professional screenplays. Ideally, an aspiring writer 
reads an early draft and a later draft, or compares it to the finished film. There's a ton to be learned from the rewriting process, and usually rookies underestimate what constitutes a rewrite. 

3. Treating screenwriting like a hobby instead of a career
. The art of screenwriting is a craft that takes years to master. 

4. Writing the script as if you were going to direct the material. If a script can't convey the mood on the page without naming specific music
cues or describing camera angles to enhance the story, then the writing isn't strong enough to begin with. 

5. Rookies often think they're special, or their script idea is special... when they aren't. If you weigh the volume of material we receive against the number of half-decent scripts out there, we've seen it all. 

6. Not knowing enough about how Hollywood really works. Get to know who matters and who doesn't. Learn how contracts and guilds work. Understand who makes decisions and who can make your life easier."

Sheila Hanahan Taylor Screenwriting Interview Part 1
Sheila Hanahan Taylor Screenwriting Interview Part 2

Want more on this subject?

  • See a profile of script agent Garrett Hicks of Will Entertainment.
  • See an interview with script manager Ken Sherman of Ken Sherman Associates.

  • Is there a difference between literary agents and script managers?
  • Want a great database of script agents/managers, script contests, conferences and theaters? Buy the 2011 Guide to Literary Agents today!
  • Check out an interview with script manager Marc Manus.
  • Confused about formatting? Check out Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript.
  • Read about What Agents Hate: Chapter 1 Pet Peeves.

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