Tag Archives: screenplay

4 Things Screenwriters Should Know About Selling Their Screenplays

I recently sold a screenplay. I’d previously done paid writing assignments, been hired to write scripts based off other people’s ideas … but this was the first time I sold one of my absolutely original, written-for-myself, feature-length scripts.

So I want to impart some words of wisdom to other screenwriters about making a deal.

price
Choose wisely…
  1. PRICE ACCORDINGLY. Most people believe if you sell a screenplay, you’re getting a huge cash pay-out all at once. Not true. (Even worse are the people who convince you that you SHOULD be getting a ton of money even if you’re a beginner, and talk you into turning down a deal that could help your career move forward.) There are a whole lot of ways to sell a screenplay – and selling to a major studio (the least likely) is the only way that pays a huge amount of upfront cash.

Don’t be discouraged! At the start of your career, focus on making sales happen and racking up credits on IMDB. There are tons of small indie production companies far more willing to read spec scripts than studios, and more likely to stick with your original vision. But – being small and indie – their budgets aren’t studio budgets, and the 2-5% that goes to the writer won’t add up to a six figure deal.

They may also need to pay you according to a broken-out schedule. Or pay you via equity in the film.

Whatever their constraints, don’t give up if you’re not met with the pay day you’d envisioned. Work out a reasonable payment plan keeping in mind that the main goal is to get them to MAKE THIS MOVIE and make it well… which won’t happen if you bleed them dry.

Proceed with caution...
Proceed with caution…
  1. THERE WILL BE CHANGES. My former screenwriting professor told me a terrible story. He wrote a script based on his father’s real-life experience in a poker tournament on a ship returning home after World War II. The pot was over $1 million (imagine that in 1945!) There was backstabbing, cheating, and violence. Every man was desperate to win and live out the American dream.

Sounds like a great movie, right?

A major studio thought so and bought the rights. But then… they wondered… would it resonate with a modern audience? Before my professor knew what happened, instead of a ship, they wanted a space ship, and instead of poker, they wanted the Ultimate X-Games.

You get the idea. Once you sell your script, the new owners have the right to ask for whatever changes they want – and there will ALWAYS be changes. Even when they say they love it as it is, just wait… after getting feedback from other sources (especially investors), they will want you to make changes.

And you will. With a smile. Because that’s your job. And if you can take whatever notes you’re given and turn over a new draft – writing will stay in your future.

And to be fair, sometimes their changes will be for the better. But other times… your World War II drama will get sent to outer space. Be ready for blast off.

What's going on?
What’s going on?
  1. THERE WILL BE CHANGES YOU HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH. The changes you’ll be asked to make are one thing. What’s harder is when changes get made without anyone telling you, which will also happen. Again, you have to stay positive. This is a collaborative art form, after all, and in film, unlike theatre and TV, the writer’s say is much less important than that of directors, producers, etc. If you want control, become a director – not a screenwriter.

One related piece of advice: when possible, be on the set. At least that way, the first time you see these changes won’t be at the premiere.

Be their number one cheerleader!
Be their number one cheerleader!
  1. SHOW YOUR SUPPORT. No matter how it turns out, or what got changed, or what you pictured differently – always, always show support for the film. This was put together by people doing their best to make something great and who put their faith and money into something you brought them in the first place. Help promote it on social media, attend events when you can, give glowing interviews to the press if that’s an issue… Be proud of what was made.

Then do it all over again with the next one.

By Digital Film Academy Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain

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4 Rules for Writing Your Screenplay

Writing seems both mysterious and easy. That’s because, to anyone other than the writer, the work is pretty much invisible.

In reality, the easier a script was to write, the worse it probably is.

This dog finished her screenplay in one hour, but it was terrible.
This dog finished her screenplay in one hour, but it was terrible.

Here are four simple rules to make your screenplay the best it can be.

1. Test your concept

The hidden work of screenwriting is actually pre-writing. That doesn’t start with the outline, or the character descriptions – it starts with your concept.

Most people get an idea and are swept off their feet by how great it is. Spoiler alert: it’s usually not that great. Playing with the concept before writing elevates it to a higher level. Ask questions like:

A. Can I change the characters in a way that makes this more interesting? (By changing their careers, gender, etc.?)

B. Where can the story be set that makes it more interesting? What do different settings bring to the idea?

C. Think about potential marketing hooks. What angle could make this more appealing to more people? What would the poster art look like?

D. Come up with a list of concepts and run them by a few people. Gauge their reactions. Don’t waste your time on an idea everyone wrinkles their nose at – writing a script can take years. Find an idea that seems interesting to most people and use your time and energy on that.

2. Outline/Structure

If you want to save time and energy, outline your screenplay.

Screenplays are not wild expressions of creativity. Yes, you have to be creative to bring those characters to life – but screenplays themselves follow a remarkably strict set of rules and have to build tension in just the right way. If you don’t outline first (What’s your first plot point? Your second plot point? Your turning point? Your character crisis?) then what you’ll usually wind up with is a rambling mess that needs to be completely rewritten.

This will be you.
This will be you.

3. Technique

So you outlined, your story hits all the plot points, and you’re ready to write 90-120 pages. Wonderful. Now, what’s going to set it apart from the billion or so other scripts out in circulation?

You need to apply strong writing techniques. Do you know how to alternate between fear and relief during even the most mundane of conversations? Do you use misleads and reveals? Are your characters well-defined enough that, if you picked any line at random, you would know who said it? What are the dramatic choices you’ll make in EACH AND EVERY SCENE to make it both necessary and entertaining?

If you can’t answer the above questions, learn more about writing technique. There are tons of writing exercises and articles you can find online to help you.

4. Revising

I’ve never heard of a successful script that didn’t need at least one rewrite.

The best piece of advice I ever got about revising is “revise your outline first.” Start there (after receiving feedback from script consultants, teachers, and friends), because it’ll be easier to move around major pieces of your story when it’s in outline form. Does it seem like you’re missing a key scene? Find out where to put it by looking through your outline. Does your climax seem to happen too late or too early? Figure out how to re-position it in the outline.

Otherwise, the script itself might seem so daunting that you never look at it again.

love-writing

Writing a screenplay is definitely a challenge – but it’s a rewarding one. If you dream of seeing your words on the big screen, just keep working on your writing skills! Like anything else, they’ll get there with practice.

By Digital Film Academy Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain

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