August 1, 2013

So How Exactly Do Aspiring Screenwriters Get Their Screenplays Read?

How to Get Your Screenplay ReadThis is the eternal question for aspiring screenwriters: how do I get my screenplay read? The reality is there is no one way to get your screenplay read. How a friend, a colleague, or a filmmaker that you admire got his or her screenplay read, in all honesty, probably won't be the way you get your screenplay read. Yet, somehow new talent is discovered and new screenwriting careers begin. So how does it happen? Thanks to ScreenCraft, we can watch and learn how producer and former William Morris Independent head Cassian Elwes, along with screenwriter Adam Simon, producer Sean Covel, and others, believe screenplays get read in the industry.

Back in March, ScreenCraft presented its panel discussion, "Trailbrazers in Independent Film: Screenwriting and Producing Outside the Studio System," featuring Cassian Elwes (Lee Daniels' The Butler, Ain't Them Bodies Saints, former head of William Morris Independent for 15 years), screenwriter Adam Simon (The Haunting in Connecticut, The American Nightmare) and producer Sean Covel (Napolean Dynamite). Inevitably, an audience member asked the age-old question about how to get a referral in the industry, i.e. how to get your screenplay read. Check out the video for their responses:

I think what is most important to take away from this clip is in order to get your screenplay read, you must write a really, really good screenplay. As Elwes believes, a great screenplay will find its way to the top. So, first and foremost, aspiring screenwriters need to write great screenplays to get someone to read them.

In addition to the hard work of writing a great screenplay comes the hard work of building relationships. As Elwes points out early in the clip, aspiring screenwriters have to "get out there" and "hustle around" to find people who have connections with industry executives, and convince those people to read their scripts. If the script is good enough, it will get passed around and eventually lead to a break.

Aspiring screenwriters should also make connections with like-minded people, as Covel notes when he talks about meeting filmmakers in line for screenings at Sundance. I would argue that your filmmaking peers are your biggest allies in moving your career forward, working together on each other's projects, learning along the way, and getting better at your craft until someone with connections takes notice.

Building on this idea of working with your filmmaking peers to get your career off the ground, Simon finishes the clip with a simple truth: stop thinking of your work as "independent film" and start thinking about it as "interdependent film" because as he says, you can't do it alone.

To recap, how exactly do aspiring screenwriters get their screenplays read?

  • Put in the hard work and write a really great screenplay
  • Get out there, find people who have connections with industry executives, and convince them to read your great screenplay
  • Work with your filmmaking peers to improve your crafts together and put your work out into the world to get noticed

In other words, there is no one way to get your screenplay read. So make your own way.

How have you made connections to get your screenplays read? What has worked for you to get producers, agents, managers and other filmmakers to notice your screenwriting? Share your experiences with us in the Comments.

Link: How to Get Your Script Read -- ScreenCraft on YouTube

Your Comment

13 Comments

I once attended a producers day course and the guy mentioned the script for Sliding Doors was passed from pillar to post for some years and the writer was ready to throw in the towel..... when it got green lighted.

August 1, 2013 at 12:11PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Saied

Loved Sliding Doors with Gwyneth Paltrow and am shocked it didn't do better when there is so much garbage out there. The concept of the film was amazing.

August 9, 2013 at 4:47PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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It's a pity and a tad telling how little discussion there is in the comments over something as paramount as screenwriting. Ah, well. For what it's worth, here's how I got my scripts read:

1. I made a movie.

Odd, yeah? I'll try to be as brief as possible in what I mean, bulletpoint style.
- I wrote 2 scripts in 2 years after film school. (Not very prolific)
- another year passed along with another script when my day job got to my head and forced me to grab one of my scripts (the most easily shootable of the three) and I shot it with less than 7k.
- lots of work, a few minor festivals and somehow an old PA buddy of mine (who was now working for a small production company) asked to see it. 'I like it. Can I show my bosses?' What the hell, go ahead.
- months passed with no sale on the horizon until a fluke acceptance into a massive film festival thrust me into a position to leverage the film.
- thing went well, the film found a home and now I have a follow up film in the works with said producers as well as attention from industry folk (one if whom has had a slew of very, very successful low budget Indies for the last 3 yrs that fellow NFS peeps have seen) asking to read my next script (which my producers pitched to him)

Now ill be the first to say I'm hardly a great screenwriter. I'd be lucky to get away with 'acceptable screenwriter', especially with the script I ended up shooting. But there's no better way to get a credit than making something yourself.

Smartest way to get your script read? Nah, probably not. Easiest way? Not unless making films is easy for you. But did it work? Apparently. Needless to say I have pro quality writing friends still trying to peddle their script to every Tom Dick and harry hoping for that big break. My advice would br give yourself a break (ha! So cheese) and make your film . It may not pay so well but it may lead to getting your script read by the big boys.

August 1, 2013 at 5:04PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Actually, a lot of agents will say, "Got a film idea? Make that film then". (because they'd rather not read anything). The social networking works better if you're in LA or NYC or know somebody in the biz or went to school (not necessarily film school ... Harvard Law may work even better) with someone in the biz.
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For everyone else, the Black List type of service is an interesting idea. Since the agencies de facto refuse to accept new material, a pay-for-play system that is supposed to separate wheat from chaff emerged and, at $25/mo/script for archiving and $50/read, the sheer volume of submitted scripts can generate significant revenues for its proprietors. And, once there's a profit motive, additional competition should be in the offing.
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When you think about it, an ex-agent or even an ex/current entertainment executive/lawyer with a thick Rolodex is qualified to start a "Black List" type of service. The individual script reviews can be outsourced and the database archiving is relatively inexpensive. Got a couple of thousand scripts in the database and you're taking in $50K/mo and all in exchange for your Rolodex/email list. It's practically a gold mine.

August 1, 2013 at 7:58PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

I'm not sure if you're pitching a way to get your script read or a way to profit off of reading scripts, haha.

Correct me if I'm wrong (and I very well could be), but when you say The Blacklist are you referring to the 'list of best unproduced scripts in Hollywood voted on by production companies/studios alike?' If so I'm unaware of said business model of PAYING people to read your scripts. No self-respecting writer would pay someone to read their scripts unless it was a coaching/scriptshark/coverage sort of deal. Even then (and I speak from experience on paying a script consultant) it's often a waste of cash.

I can only speak from personal experience but after making my own film and attracting a production company/producers to my work they were more than happy to read my scripts (2x in-house professional readers AND two of the main producers AND a story development exec) for free. It was great. For my latest script one of the readers HATED IT and another reader LOVED IT. So I knew the script sat somewhere in 'it's okay'ish' land. One of the producers discussed where I saw the project going and - after much time explaining my no-budget approach, target audience, and overall modus operandi - she nodded and assigned me a story development exec to work with me. For 3+ months we had Skype chats, in person chats, etc, etc and I rewrote 2 more drafts and it helped immensely. Now I'm waiting on - what I hope will be - my final notes before we shoot in September.

That's another thing I should mention... After making my first film on my own I knew that I could do it again, so setting a firm date and letting my producers know 'I'm shooting in the late summer of 2013. If you're in, awesome. If you're not, that's okay too.' they were much more apt to take action and - as I'd find out later - my 'get it done by any means' attitude renewed their confidence in me after the intial lukewarm response of the script.

So sure, if you wanna' hit up a goldmine reading scripts all the power to you. If you want to pay people to read your scripts, all the power to you. I'm not saying either is a bad idea but, as luck would have it, making my own first film afforded me a plethora of assistance, exposure and momentum in making my next film.

August 2, 2013 at 10:39AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Brock

Brock, the Black List recently expanded to become a script hosting/networking site (that's what the gentlemen is referring to in the video). For $25 a month, you can have your script listed on there, but for $50 you can have a professional reader do a coverage report on it and give it a rating-and the ratings are how they are ranked.

Its actually not a bad thing-especially at $50. So many times-especially if you're writing in a vacuum-getting a 'this worked, this didn't work' nudge from a professional reader can be pretty helpful.

August 2, 2013 at 11:10AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Dave Mueller

Ahh, okay, now I'm in the loop. Honestly I didn't watch the video, just went to sharing my experience.

And fair point on getting 'first response' from industry folks. I still have a sour taste in my mouth from my past script consultation but 50 bucks is quite the bargain for feedback. Great to have options out there.

August 2, 2013 at 11:18AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Brock says - "I’m not sure if you’re pitching a way to get your script read or a way to profit off of reading scripts, haha." ...

... sadly, I have neither the required funds nor the Rolodex that a proprietor of a similar site would need. I do think, however, it can be a serious money making opportunity because an unproduced writer not living in LA or NYC will have a very difficult time getting his script read without connections. So, this is a potential - and quite reasonably priced - way in. I still would prefer some sort of competition for this type of endeavor so multiple eye sets can decide on a project or a writer. As I see from your account of your personal experiences, one of the readers hated your latest script while another loved it. Just playing with the odds, chances of a single reader loving a script would go up with more readers representing more styles and tastes.

BTW, some of you you'ts may not know this but the top Westside LA rock clubs of the 80's glam era de facto charged bands to play (they had the mandatory ticket buy) in their venues in what became known as a "pay for play" scheme. (look up the Wikipedia entry on Gazzari). Many didn't like it but it made bands earn their reputation in smaller clubs in LA and the Valley before they were allowed to taste the glory of the Sunset Strip.

August 2, 2013 at 4:16PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

That's basically the approach I'm taking. Good to hear it's not completely crazy.

August 1, 2013 at 8:13PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Thanks for sharing your story, Brock. That's great to hear how your hustle paid off. And it's especially encouraging for the NFS crowd as it's an approach many of us are currently taking or plan to take with our screenplays - shoot the movie, then get noticed.

Looking forward to hearing about your next project.

August 2, 2013 at 7:39AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Christopher Boone
Writer
Writer/Director

My pleasure, Christopher. I enjoy your articles on NFS a lot. I'm more than willing to share my experiences and help out my fellow NFS colleagues on making their first films. I don't know the rules on sharing my own material on the site (I'd be more than happy to pass on information regarding my films to any who'd like to follow/check them out) so I try not to spam or plug my own work as I'm sure there are many on here with great work that could/would.

And yes, shoot the movie and get the attention after! I'm no different than anyone else here and - I'm sure many have also done this - my prior research before taking the big leap led me to one conclusion: 9/10 of all of my heroes in film started with making their feature on their own first. Aranofsky, Nolan, Linklater, Lynch, Scorsese, Caruth, Rodriguez and even Kubrick - all no budget films made on their own dime (or friends/relatives) without anyone's permission.

August 2, 2013 at 10:58AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Brock

Chris, considering how much work you have done on this topic, the Black List folks ought to just take on one of your scripts as promotional expense. IMO, it'd be an interesting first hand account of how scripts get to and fro in their system.

August 2, 2013 at 9:31AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

Down the road, I plan to have a post along those lines, but it will take some leg work first.

August 2, 2013 at 9:11PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Christopher Boone
Writer
Writer/Director