Wednesday 16 October 2013

Ask Ellen! Another Screenwriting Question Answered...

I'm back again, to answer another of your screenwriting questions! 

Speaking of which, do feel free to either post your questions in the comments here on my blog, or tweet them at me (@AudreyDeuxPink) - I'll do my best to answer them as thoroughly as I can. I'll keep doing this as long as the questions keep coming in, so ask away!

By the way, I also tweet all my short-form screenwriting tips through the Blake Friedmann Literary Agency Twitter account (@BFLAgency) - so that's worth a follow if you want snippets of advice from myself and my esteemed colleagues.

Today's question:

What's the best way to get a script sold/made? Agents or going straight to producers/companies?

Well, of course I'm going to say that going through an agent is the best way. Natch. But that's not just because I work for an agency - it's based on my experiences in production companies too.

Most production companies have a strict policy; that they don't accept unsolicited submissions. This means that they will only consider writers or projects that are pitched to them by trusted agents, with whom they will have frequent meetings to discuss their clients. If an individual writer ignores this policy and sends their scripts in, they won't be considered, or even looked at.

This isn't because production companies are staffed by mean-spirited river-dwelling trolls who despise and fear the bright light of new talent - it's because it saves them a LOT of time and protects them (and the writers) from a legal standpoint.

Consider it this way - if a writer has managed to get themselves a respected agent, this is a stamp of that agent's approval. Already, this writer has proven themselves a decent writer in the opinion of at least one seasoned industry professional. Even production companies that clearly state on their websites that they do not accept unsolicited submissions receive literally hundreds of unsolicited submissions every month. This is simply too many scripts for them to reasonably give proper attention and consideration to. By requiring the writer to have an agent first, it helps the production companies to sort out the talented businesslike writers from the hobbyists. Sounds simplistic, but needs must when the alternative is trying to find a way to fit in reading thousands of scripts a year.

Another point is that a writer is far better served in potentially entering into a working relationship with a production company if they have an agent, who is experienced in handling and drafting contracts. If you want to be sure any agreement in which you are participating is in your best interests, it's best if someone has your back who has read and negotiated literally hundreds of these agreements before. Don't be fooled into signing away rights that you don't need to give away in order to get a project off the ground. If a production company has faith in your work, they'll want to deal fairly. An agent helps to weed out those who are less than scrupulous, and ensuring that everyone is properly represented in a contractual agreement prevents complications and legal snafus further down the line - it benefits both sides.


Okay, here goes:

If you want, you can approach things in a more hands-on manner. There are options you can consider BEFORE getting an agent to get your work out there and in front of an audience, and maybe even some producers. You can even perhaps build a fan base for your work, which is the absolute top-of-the-tree golden fleece of fabulousness that all agents and production companies will be delighted by.

So, here's my favourite one.

Put on a play. Go on, I dare you. 

It's not as hard as it looks - if you live in London, there's the Camden Fringe Festival, which is set up specifically to nurture and welcome new writing and performing talent, giving them a platform to showcase their work relatively cheaply and easily. 

It's also cheap and easy (oo-er, sounds a bit rude) to get flyers and posters printed - this is my personal favourite low-price, fast turnaround printing company - and there are ALWAYS actors who are keen to get involved in London theatre. Advertise using a site such as CastingCallPro - though you MUST be upfront and honest if you can't afford to pay your actors, of course - some are happy to work for a share of any profits the show might take. Your main costs will be venue fees and the cost of hiring a decent tech person (this guy's good!) 

I've been producing plays for the Camden Fringe for the last few years (these ones, if you're interested), and it's been a lot of fun. If you don't live in London, find out if your local area has a similar thing (Brighton also has a Fringe Festival, and of course there's the Big One at Edinburgh). If not, are there any local drama groups you can approach to see if they're looking for material? If not, can you form one? Put up posters, advertise on, whatever you gotta do.

Sticking your neck out and making something happen for your work is more impressive than just writing it. It shows commitment, organization, drive - and has the hugely beneficial side-effect of allowing you to see if an audience actually enjoys and connects with your work. In comedy, you can test out gags to see which get big laughs and which fall flat. You never really know how a room full of people is going to react to your material until you've tried this out; crowds can be gloriously unpredictable. Seeing your work performed in front of a live audience can give you far more valuable lessons in writing craft than any academic course. Put simply, it shows you bluntly what works and what doesn't.

I've been to a few play performances here in London, and a few 'rehearsed readings' of scripts when an unsolicited submitter has contacted me to invite me. Of course, I can't feasibly go to all of them - but a performance does give you an 'event' to which you can try inviting agents. If your play manages to create enough of a 'buzz', you might even find production companies start to take an interest in you...

...BUT then they'll most likely insist that you get an agent before they'll be able to deal with you. Because you need an advocate who can skilfully negotiate the contract to avoid misunderstandings and complications further down the line.

So it does all tend to come back to the fact that it is best (for most people) to have an agent first. That way, the agent can worry about the nitty-gritty legal stuff, and you can save your time and energy for being brilliantly creative. And, because they're taking meetings and 'bigging you up' to the producers with the power to get you paid, you won't have your material automatically rejected for being 'unsolicited'. WIN.

PS - Getting a script sold and getting a script made are completely different matters.

A huge number of projects that are optioned and developed don't make it to the screen. In TV, it can be for reasons such as the broadcasters' commissioners not finding it quite to their taste, or the fact that they've already got a similar project on their slate. In film, it can be because the funding or co-production falls through, for example. 

There are many reasons why your script might make you some money and yet never get made - don't dwell on it. If you're getting paid to write, you're winning. Often, you can even get the rights to the project back later on, so can try it again in the future. Writing is the fun part - getting to see your work onscreen is kind of a huge, lovely bonus when it happens. So enjoy it when it does, but don't consider it the marker of success.

Right! One more done! The next one I'll answer, in a few days, will be:

Are writing competitions worthwhile? 

Looks like a short question, but I can already feel another long answer coming on... ;-)

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