Want to find readers for your screenplay? Here’s how. – Pt. 1
The hottest question on scriptwriters’ lips has eternally been: “Now that my screenplay’s done, how on Earth am I going to find readers?” Fear not, dear scribe – today’s craft feature is dedicated to that very question. But be aware: this ain’t gonna be easy. Let’s jump right into the steps to getting your script before some clever eyeballs.
Step One: Write a superb script
This step might surprise you if you saw Yoga Hosers, Dirty Grandpa or Nine Lives last year: begin by writing a great screenplay.
Produce really, really, really good work. You need to be coming from a place to create the best work of your life. You need proper structure, zero plot holes, loads of suspense, and plenty of juicy characterization. Your pen is your sword, and you need to sharpen that thing and prepare for battle. Your script should read like the bastard child of Chinatown, Annie Hall and Taxi Driver, shimmering with excellence strewn across every page.
Now we have that down, you might ask why? It should be obvious, but if you really need it spelled out:
- The better your work is, the more chance you have of finding readers.
- Once you acquire your first few readers, if your work is really great, it will get shared – not thrown into the circular file accompanied by murmured expletives.
- Your script might take on a life of its own if it’s good, with fans, ambassadors, followers, and friends all lining up to help you.
We all know that garbage gets made in this crazy world called showbizness. Aim to transcend the rot; make it your mission to civilize a decaying system that doesn’t know a good idea from, say, a Ben Hur remake. While writing, your main focus should be on creating something absolutely great. Worry about the other parts later.
Step Two: Hustle
You have the most fantastic script that man ever created – it positively sparkles every time you take it out of your binder. Now your question has changed – you desperately want to know how the devil do I get people to read it? Relax, the rest of this feature has you covered.
First things first: you don’t shove your script in a drawer and wait for people to come to you, all the time bemoaning how hard it is for an artist to get a break these days. Ya gotta put feet to pavement and get your hustle on.
Any The Sopranos fans out there? One of the most meta elements of the much-admired HBO show was Christopher Moltisanti’s long-held desire to get his ideas made into movies. We saw him go from a green-around-the-ears associate getting ripped off by Jon Favreau to a guy who took matters into his own hands by coercing his scriptwriter friend into writing his “story” and raising finance for the movie using his mob connections. While we don’t suggest resorting to violence, we do encourage you to channel some of that Soprano hustle. You have a script to sell and you ain’t gonna stop until your singular vision has been fulfilled.
Next, and most importantly of all, is to set your intention. This has nothing to do with any woo-woo spiritual practice (although if you are into that sort of thing, meditating on your script probably isn’t going to hurt), but it has everything to do with the headspace you are in when you start this journey. Finding readers for your screenplay is no cakewalk, and selling your script is even harder. You have to be prepared to put just as much work as writing, if not more, into this process.
Once you accept the amount of work you have to do, then you’re ready to move forward to the next step.
Step Three: Plan
On a daily basis, my editor drills home the importance of proper planning for every project, and he’s completely justified. Without proper planning, everything falls apart. We know you’re excited to get this thing out there, but slow down for a second; you have a lot to consider. Here are some questions you should be asking yourself:
What is my end goal?
- Do I want to find readers to give me feedback on this project?
- Do I want to make relationships with managers or agents so I can get into a writers’ room for future projects?
- Do I want to connect with producers and try to sell the script for production?
The answers to these questions inform which roadmap you take for all the next stages. If you only want to find readers for feedback on your work to help improve your craft, then focus all your efforts on building your community and making fantastic relationships.
If you’re looking for professional representation, then work on making your pitch perfect and build your ideal hitlist of professionals you think may be interested in your work.
If your end goal is to get the script produced, then consider making relationships with indie filmmakers and production companies with whom to partner on the project.
Know your end goal and keep it in mind at every step of the way. This means you don’t get distracted, never straying far from your plan.
What financial budget do I have to help me reach my end goal?
One great thing about writing is that the financial barriers to entry are so low. All you need is a pen and paper to get started – you don’t even need to own your own computer. Finding readers absolutely can be done on a budget; however, you may want to allocate some of your personal funds towards this process. Here are some of the most costly elements to consider:
- Entering film festivals or screenwriting competitions is a great way to gain exposure, but they can be costly, commonly ranging from $10-$100 per entry. Travelling to the events can be even more costly. Consider if you want this to be part of your plan, and budget accordingly.
- Attending conferences and industry meetups can be costly. Map out which events you want to attend several months in advance and take advantage of early bird fees for travel and accommodation. Set a strict budget for eating, drinking and entertaining at these events so you are never surprised when the bill comes due.
- Social media is a great way to connect with people, and building a “brand” for your scriptwriting craft is a surefire way to get people to notice you. Prospective employers check social media numbers (followers, etc.) in the creative industries, and the movie biz is no different. If you have a strong online community, execs see that as a potential audience. A strong social media following indicates that you are serious about your craft and you have worked very hard to make yourself appealing to studios. While it’s free to use social sites, if you have a day job, you simply may not have the time to grow your following. More and more, social media execs are pushing their platforms towards advertising. Consider investing in social media advertising and perhaps even employ a freelance social media specialist. (You can find great people through freelance sites like Upwork).
- Purchasing script-reading services can be pricey, starting at around $120 for each service. It’s probably worth it, and we’ll talk about in Part 2.
How much free time to I have to put into this to reach my end goal?
When starting on this journey, it’s pivotal that you understand how much time you can dedicate to reaching your end goal. If you don’t allocate real time to your project, just grabbing bits of time here and there, you can become frustrated that things are not moving as fast as you want. Frustration can lead to giving up. By skillfully planning your project, you are reducing your chances of abandonment.
Think realistically about the time you have free, then plan accordingly. Setting time aside each week or day to work on your goal will make sitting down to do the work that much easier. Reward yourself with your favorite (legal) leisure activity or (healthy) culinary treat each time you actually get the work done. Set yourself realistic, manageable goals and make yourself accountable.
How am I going to approach the project as a whole?
So you wrote your logline and perfectly executed your beat sheet. Now you have to apply that mentality to planning out your “finding readers” project. Not only are you a skilled and soon to be in-demand writer, you’re both project manager and CEO of your company.
There are a ton of amazing project management tools out there to help you keep track of your plan. We use Trello and swear by it, but our project manager prefers Wrike for more sophisticated coordination and tracking. If you are interested in learning more about the planning process, Making Things Happen: Mastering Project Management (Theory in Practice) is a great read.
Use each of the steps I list in this article as your guide and plan around them, creating daily, weekly or monthly tasks, targets and goals.
In Part 2, we’ll explore some of the softer, more interactive aspects to procuring readership for your script.