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My First Attempt at Selling to Hollywood

One day I got Syd Field’s Screenplay. In that book, Field talks about compensation. It gives the Writers Guild of America minimum rates for 1984. A market price of $11200 for low-budget, and $20800 for high budget screenplay. This translates to around $27130 and $50300 in 2017 dollars.

When I read that, I decided to become a screenplay writer. I guessed that a writing that commanded those figures must be high-standard.

By then I’ve been writing more than four hours per day, every day. I was doing it for the previous three years. To dream with that kind of money, for one’s writing, felt great.

I started writing scripts in late 2004. My scripts were monstrosities difficult to describe. I’ll just say that my scripts suffered from all the possible kinds of problems screenplays can suffer of.

A single book, specially Screenplay, can’t teach you all there is to know about writing scripts. That showed in the mess that those first scripts of mine were.

I grudged with my hopelessly failed screenplays, trying to fix them, for years on end. I never cared to know about the marketing side. Not cool. Because the process of selling is ten percent development and ninety percent marketing.

I took two years off from screenplay writing from late 2010 to late 2012. I didn’t know where to begin again, as I had decided, and felt very aimless in general.

 

It’s a School of Hard Knocks

Around 2011, I realized that if I needed to learn to sell my screenplays. The best thing to do was to do it with scripts that reflected my studies on the subject for the last seven years. I needed to get acquainted with the business side of the industry.

I knew that a great screenplay and a great marketing approach to match it could possibly work. Yet, I didn’t know what story I could write. In late 2012 I began writing again. In a very small-time way.

Many writers, generally the new and aspiring ones, are infected with an old 1990s meme. Me too. It’s the idea of breaking into the film industry by means of selling a screenplay. A script written on the speculation that a Hollywood studio or production company will buy it.

Write a script. Send it to the studio or production company. They buy it, and you become rich overnight. Selling it for what in the industry is called lower sixes. A hundred thousand or more dollars. Yeah, right.

Good luck with that, it ain’t going to happen. Or maybe it will, but it won’t be an easy ride.

If you are an outsider, you have to be really good at your vocation and deliver in a way that is way, way above average. I mean, you have to eat, breath, drink and sleep on scripts more than movies. You must research your audiences. You also have to write all kind of screenplays and not get pigeonholed into any single genre. Also, be prepared to write for all kinds of budgets.

As a first timer, not bringing to the table awesomeness, and the capacity to crank it out in large amounts is not going to cut it. You mustn’t forget that tinsel town is the hardest industry on the world to break in.

 

What Did Exactly Happen?

From early 2014 to late 2016 I wrote three spec screenplays. The time I dedicated to it was something in the order of two to three hours per day, five days a week. In 2016, after countless rewrites I felt that I had three scripts for three movies. Three films that production houses would like to make, actors and actresses would like to act, and audiences would like to watch.

I’ve sent query letters to hundreds of production companies, producers, and studios. To the ones that accept unsolicited material. These letters had the pitch for my specs, a brief synopsis of the stories and my asking for permission to send them the scripts.

Maybe because the quantity of query letters I’ve sent, I must have witnessed at least half a dozen of different kinds of rejection, these are some:

  • Not hearing from them. After sending the query letter not receiving anything in reply
  • Rejection due to being flooded with other scripts. Or that they didn’t have the manpower to deal with all the submissions
  • The automated response of the email server of the company. Full mailbox
  • Someone who asks to be sent the script. Then never hearing from them again

I didn’t get a second email from anyone. Only a producer in a new company asked for the screenplay.

 

Don’t make my mistakes!

Not networking

I would have stood a greater chance of making something out of my scripts if I would’ve networked from day one. Not just a spam-mail campaign. Also, someone would’ve found the grammar errors in the screenplays and point them out to me.

 

Not using industry-grade tools to check my screenplay

Grammatical errors, yeah those will happen. Even if they didn’t register in your mental corrections. What’s worse, if you’re stuck with an old grammar correction software, you are in for a lot of disappointment. The grammar tools of the last three years are stupid. They can’t spot blatant English grammar errors. Errors that will discredit the writer if a studio o production house reader founds them.

 

Not basing development on method

To write a screenplay that has a chance to sell. Instead, writing the ideas I’d like to see made as movies. Because they were based on real events of my life and I love to flatter myself.

Now, go write your spec screenplays. May you become a ten-year overnight success.

© 2018 Wensley Evolo
Photo Credit: Photo YourSpace

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