Selling a Screenplay: The Screenwriter's Guide to Hollywood

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9780440502449: Selling a Screenplay: The Screenwriter's Guide to Hollywood

- Breaks Down the Business of Screenwriting
- Explains What the Buyer Looks For
- Shows You What to Do to Get in the Door
- Tackles the Pitching Process
- Provides Personal Insights from Famous Screenwriters

Everybody has a story to tell. Everybody wants to write the great American screenplay. But what do you do after it’s written? How do you sell it? Studio honchos. Development Executives. Independent Producers. What do they want? Do you need an agent or manager to get it into production? Selling a screenplay can mean earning $250,000 or more, so competition is fierce.

Syd Field gives you an insider’s look at the movie and TV industry, packed with essential tips from the pros. Selling a Screenplay is a must-have guide for every screenwriter, filled with frank real-life advice from Hollywood’s most powerful deal makers and most celebrated screenwriters.

They all started somewhere.

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About the Author:

Syd Field is the internationally acclaimed screenwriter, producer, teacher, lecturer, and author of the bestselling books Screenplay, Selling a Screenplay, The Screenwriter’s Workbook, Four Screenplays, and The Screenwriter’s Problem Solver. Published in 1982, Screenplay has been translated into seventeen languages and is used in more than 350 colleges and universities across the country. At present he is creative consultant to the governments of Mexico, Argentina, Austria, and Brazil, and has been a script consultant for Roland Jaffe’s film production company, 20th Century Fox, the Disney Studios, and Tri-Star Pictures. He lives in Beverly Hills, California.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

THE MARKET

The market potential for the screenwriter is enormous. But what is the market? How do you describe it, define it, articulate it?

That was a question I kept asking myself over and over again. In my screenwriting experience, I had never explored the market, had never taken the time to find out what the parameters were and how they effected the writer.

I had some notions about the market, yes, but nothing else. The only thing I had, really, was the question, What is the market for the screenwriter today?

The market is a vague and nebulous term. You can talk to ten different people and get ten different answers. A producer views a script differently than an agent; an agent views it differently than a studio executive; a studio executive views it differently than a reader; the reader views it differently than an independent producer; an independent producer views it differently than a marketing executive; a marketing executive views it differently than a person in development. And so on.

So I went to a friend of mine, Stan Corwin, an independent producer and publisher, who with his partner found a novel titled ". . . And Ladies of the Club" and through sheer marketing strategy catapulted it onto the New York Times best-seller list as the number-one best seller for over a year. If anyone knows what the market is, I thought to myself, it would be Stan, now president of Tudor Communications, a national paperback and film development company.

So, we sat down and talked, and during the course of the conversation I slipped in The Question: What is the market?

"For what?" he replied.

I looked at him, taken aback. "An original screenplay," I replied.

He looked at me for a moment. Then, "What kind of screenplay?" he asked guardedly.

I took a deep breath and shifted into my most confident, optimistic attitude. I didn't know what to say. What kind of screenplay would I like to write, I wondered, and immediately thought of The Last Emperor. "A period action-adventure," I said.

"That's a tough one."

"Why?"

He explained that in today's movie market a big-budget, period screenplay is a very difficult sale. What about a contemporary script, a comedy, or action-adventure? I asked. The first thing you have to do, he said, is see if there are any buyers interested in the material.

"Who are the buyers?"

He then gave me a thumbnail sketch of the marketplace for film and television. Most feature films, he told me, are produced or distributed by the eight major studios: Twentieth Century Fox, Disney, Paramount, Universal, MGM, UA, and Columbia (which has since merged with Tri-Star). Then there are the many independent production companies that supply the studio with product: Amblin, David Geffen, Weintraub Entertainment, Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer Productions, Carolco, Cannon, Hemdale, Kings Road, Lorimar, Guber-Peters, and many, many more. These are some of the buyers and the producers of films.

In television, the buyers are the three networks, ABC, CBS, NBC, now joined by Fox Broadcasting, and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). At the present time the market is proliferating, and cable TV is emerging as a major market; video companies like Vestron, HBO, Showtime, Lorimar, and Prism are becoming the suppliers of product, and they are starting to initiate their own projects rather than buying or renting them from the studios.

Today, to intelligently discuss the marketplace, you've got to understand that there are many different combinations that can get a movie made. You can create your own, just like creating your own omelet in a restaurant. For example, a producer could buy or option a screenplay, and then generate a combination of financing from Paramount, a studio, Hemdale, an independent production company, and Vestron, a cable TV company; then he could presell the project in Europe so that by the first day of principal photography the production costs of the film are covered. That's the way they did Platoon.

In other words the market is a living, breathing entity that reflects the time and economic conditions of the industry and, of course, the country. It changes constantly. The market is not just one thing, it's many things, and if you're looking to expand your awareness of what the market is, you can't be limited by what you don't know.

At the present time the marketplace is more sophisticated than it ever was. You can walk into an agent's office, whether it be the William Morris Agency, ICM, CAA, or Triad, and the tables and shelves are lined from floor to ceiling with screenplays, galleys, and books from New York publishers.

That's what you're competing against if you're trying to sell the screenplay you hold in your hand. Last year, remember, more than 40,000 screenplays were registered at the Writers Guild of America and less than 120 movies were made.

How do you deal with that? How do you go about trying to get your screenplay read, either by an agent for representation, or by a stuio or a producer, to get it made? Everybody in Hollywood, I began to see, was a buyer and a seller.

I thought about that for a while. Then I remembered something I'd read in a Kurt Vonnegut novel: when you're trying to find the answer to a question, the answer is in the question.

Is that true? If the answer is found in the question, how does it relate to the market and the selling of the screenplay? And then one day, while riding my bike, it dawned on me that when you write a script you create the marketplace. Who you present your material to, and how you present it, is almost as important as the screenplay itself.

That would certainly explain why so many terrible movies get made.

When you have a script you want to put into the marketplace you've got to have some kind of a plan, a strategy; your primary goal is to get somebody to respond to your material. Don't just write a letter and start sending your script all over town and hope that somebody's going to be interested. It doesn't work that way.

To get somebody to read your script with any degree of interest or enthusiasm, you've got to find out who might be interested in what you've written. Here's an exercise that may possibly define a market for your screenplay. Take a sheet of paper and make four columns. The first column is for agents you want to represent your work. That's assuming, of course, that you don't have an agent. The second column is for casting the major roles. Who's the best actor or actress for the part? Write it down. Who else? Write it down. Do as many as you can. The third column is a list of possible directors or filmmakers you think would do this kind of material. The fourth column is a list of people you know in the industry.

Everybody knows somebody. When you start thinking about who you know in the industry start jotting down names, and before you know it, you'll find somebody--a friend, relative, lover--who knows somebody who knows somebody. You'll end up with twenty or thirty names of people who might be interested in your screenplay.

If you want to get an agent to represent your work, make a list of the agents. You can get a complete list from the Writers Guild of America West, Inc., 8955 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90048, (213) 501-2000. They'll send you a list of authorized agents, some of whom, as indicated, are willing to read unsolicited screenplays. Make a list of ten agents, then call or write, telling them you've written a screenplay and asking if they would be interested in reading it. If you write, you might include a one- or two-sentence story line, but no more. I would recommend calling and talking to the secretary. A secretary can be your best friend. If the agent is not interested in reading your material, ask if they can recommend anybody. This is how you start compiling your list of agents.

Most of them will say no. Keep trying.

When you find an agent who is willing to read your script, submit it and then wait four to six weeks. If you do not get a reply by then, call and ask if they received the screenplay. If they have, ask if there's a good time for you to call, say in a couple of weeks. Call in a couple of weeks. Agents, like other people, respond to passion and persistence, but not to annoyance.

You can send the screenplay to as many agents as you like. You should be so lucky that they all like your material.

People sometimes talk about the mystique of the agent. There is no mystique. An agent should serve you the same way your stockbroker, real estate agent, or insurance agent serves you.

One of my students, after writing a screenplay in my screenwriting workshop, spent five months trying to find an agent to represent it. Seventeen agents said no before she found one to say yes. That agent sold the script within six weeks--for $250,000.

Sometimes it's easier to get a response from a producer or production company than it is from an agent. Most companies require you to sign a release, stating you are submitting this material and that you release the company from all liability if a movie similar in story and theme ever gets made. Some companies, like Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment, will not read any unsolicited material with or without a release.

Determine the parameters of your market and make your screenplay submission an event. I remember a conversation I had with Tony Bill, coproducer of The Sting (David Ward) and Taxi Driver (Paul Schrader), director of My Bodyguard (Alan Ormsby) and Five Corners (John Patrick Shanley), and a well-known actor. He told me about a man who sent him a screenplay. Tony was in his office one day when he was called to the front lobby. When he arrived he found an elegantly attired chauffeur waiting for him holding a large gift-wrapped box. He gave it to Tony, then left. When he opened the box, he found another box inside. He opened that one, and inside was a note on a silver tray: "It arrives on Thursday."

This was on a Monday.

On Tuesday the chauffeur arrived with another gift-wrapped box, and the note inside read "Thursday's the day."

On Wednesday the same thing happened.

Thursday arrived. By this time everybody in the office was curious. Around noon an armored car pulled up and the chauffeur stepped out, picked up a package, and walked inside. When he arrived, he placed on an embroidered maroon pillow a ten-by-thirteen envelope and presented it to Tony, who took it and opened it.

Guess what was inside? A script, of course. A covering letter proclaimed that this screenplay was exactly what the movie industry was looking for, a story that would appeal to a massive audience, and that Tony was absolutly the perfect filmmaker for it. Tony Bill couldn't say no. He had to read the screenplay. You can't ask for more than that.

The script either stands or falls on its own. In this case the script wasn't very good; the script was a C, the delivery an A+. But what imagination and ingenuity the writer had in presenting his material! That's class.
To get a broader perspective, I decided to interview a number of industry professionals whose job it is to know the market. I talked to a studio executive, an independent producer, an executive for an independent production company, a screenwriter who used to be an agent, a director of marketing, and a reader.

I really didn't know what I was looking for, or what I was going to find out; all I knew is that I wanted to ask a basic question: what is the market for the screenwriter today?

"Anything an audience wants to see," says Sidney Ganis, now president of production at Paramount Pictures, and formerly head of worldwide marketing for George Lucas. In other words, there's a market for everything. Ganis, responsible for the marketing of Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and more, is in my opinion the sharpest marketing expert in the business. Since he's been at Paramount, he's worked on the marketing campaigns of such movies as Beverly Hills Cop II (Larry Fergason and Warren Skaaren), Top Gun (Jim Cash and Jack Epps, Jr.), and Fatal Attraction.

Everybody's looking for product. You'll find old TV shows, live comedy, sporting events, anything that's ever been filmed to be a potential subject. It's almost like the book business was fifty years ago.

Everybody I interviewed agreed on one thing: before the writer even attempts to write a screenplay, he or she must research the market to find out if anybody is doing anything similar, or if anybody has any scripts in development along the same lines. Many of my students spend more than six months writing a screenplay only to learn that a movie with a similar idea is just about to be released. Doing some simple research before you sit down to write makes all the sense in the world. Why spend six months to a year writing a screenplay that has no chance of being sold because something just like it is in the works?

Take responsibility for defining the market. You've got to know who's doing what for which studio. You can find out very simply, by reading the trade papers, Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. Every Tuesday a production chart lists all films currently before the cameras. If you need to know what the story line is, try calling the production office at the studio. Talk to anyone who will talk to you; as mentioned, secretaries are wonderful. They won't necessarily tell you the story line or answer all your questions, but you could tell them you're thinking of writing a story about such and such and ask if it is close to what they're doing.

Before you begin, you must determine the market for yourself.

A student of mine--an actress who came to me to write a mystery thriller--completed a first words-on-paper draft and rewrite during the course of three workshop sessions. She's a good writer; the story was well constructed and rich in character. When it was complete, I sent the material to a production executive I thought might be interested. She liked it but had to pass, as the star she worked for had just finished a detective story.

My student then asked if I could help her get an agent. So I called a few, who read it and agreed it was good, well-written material that showed a lot of potential. But they passed. That's show biz.

Now my student calls and wants me to tell her what to do. I don't have the time anymore. I did what I could. Rather than determine the market for herself, she wants me to guide her.

She's got to read the trades, call the agents, call the production companies, call the agents of the actors she thinks are right for the parts, call the people she knows in the industry; in other words, she's got to determine if there's a market for her script.

It only takes one person to like it. Just one.

Right now is a wonderful time for the writer of the original screenplay. Everybody's dying for good material. Independent producers and major production companies are springing up every day, and they're willing to pay a lot of money for a screenplay they like and think is commercial.

Dennis Shryack is a marvelous example of a screenwriter in Hollywood. Working with a partner, Shryack wrote such films as Pale Rider, Gauntlet, Flashpoint, The Good Guys and Bad Guys, and The Car. He started out in the shipping department at Universal Studios, worked on the old General Electric Theater, then became a literary agent. He worked first at the Sindell Agency, where I first met him, then moved to Eisenback-Greene-Duchow. He st...

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Descripción DELTA, United States, 1989. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. - Breaks Down the Business of Screenwriting - Explains What the Buyer Looks For - Shows You What to Do to Get in the Door - Tackles the Pitching Process - Provides Personal Insights from Famous Screenwriters Everybody has a story to tell. Everybody wants to write the great American screenplay. But what do you do after it s written? How do you sell it? Studio honchos. Development Executives. Independent Producers. What do they want? Do you need an agent or manager to get it into production? Selling a screenplay can mean earning $250,000 or more, so competition is fierce. Syd Field gives you an insider s look at the movie and TV industry, packed with essential tips from the pros. Selling a Screenplay is a must-have guide for every screenwriter, filled with frank real-life advice from Hollywood s most powerful deal makers and most celebrated screenwriters. They all started somewhere. Nº de ref. de la librería AAS9780440502449

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Descripción DELTA, United States, 1989. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. - Breaks Down the Business of Screenwriting - Explains What the Buyer Looks For - Shows You What to Do to Get in the Door - Tackles the Pitching Process - Provides Personal Insights from Famous Screenwriters Everybody has a story to tell. Everybody wants to write the great American screenplay. But what do you do after it s written? How do you sell it? Studio honchos. Development Executives. Independent Producers. What do they want? Do you need an agent or manager to get it into production? Selling a screenplay can mean earning $250,000 or more, so competition is fierce. Syd Field gives you an insider s look at the movie and TV industry, packed with essential tips from the pros. Selling a Screenplay is a must-have guide for every screenwriter, filled with frank real-life advice from Hollywood s most powerful deal makers and most celebrated screenwriters. They all started somewhere. Nº de ref. de la librería AAS9780440502449

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