Ask the Screenplay Doctor: Breaking into the Biz
Written by Susan Kouguell | Posted by: NewEnglandFilm.com
You are about to don your cap and gown and receive your hard-earned diploma. A bright and exciting future awaits you. It’s time to step outside of the college/university bubble in which you have been protected and venture out into the business world, otherwise known as the film industry. Are you ready?
A Checklist to Get You Prepared
Write a great script
What does this really mean? This means that you have received objective and professional feedback from your professors, fellow students, and/or script consultants and you have implemented their critiques and have worked on your screenplay until it is the absolute best it can be. Your script must be ready (and I cannot stress the word “ready” enough times) to be submitted to script competitions, and potential agents and managers. Submitting a revised script once it’s been rejected, even if it is now indeed brilliant, is nearly impossible to do once a company has rejected it. Your screenplay is your calling card, your audition piece — it is the reflection of your talent — so don’t blow it by submitting a script because you have not made the commitment to make it great!
Write an attention-grabbing query letter
Your one-page query letter will include a logline, a one-paragraph summary of your script, and a few lines about your background.
Write a solid one-page synopsis describing your screenplay
Often a company will request a synopsis before requesting the screenplay so have this prepared. Your synopsis should summarize the major story beats and follow your protagonist’s journey.
Prepare a pitch
It’s best to prepare two pitches to start — one long and one short. The short pitch should consist of just a few lines that briefly describe your story, which means following your protagonists journey. The longer pitch should last one to two minutes, during which time you follow your protagonist’s journey, detail what he or she hopes to gain, and explain who the antagonist is and why he or she is trying to prevent the protagonist from succeeding. Stick to the main story only; no subplots.
(My previous columns give more detail on how to write queries, synopses and pitches, so please refer to these, as well as my book The Savvy Screenwriter for more details.)
Be Open to Volunteering and Accepting Internships
It’s important to be open to volunteering or interning at film companies. You may have to find work unrelated to the film industry as your day job to pay the bills, but many of us have done this juggling act. Yes, it is understandably humiliating (when you have a hot-off-the-presses college degree in your pocket) to do grunt work and run errands for someone. But, this is where you can make good impressions and lifelong contacts. By demonstrating your hard work, reliability, smarts, and commitment to learning more about the business, you will show film industry folks that you have what it takes.
Arguably, there are a handful of people who get that lucky break and something amazing will happen and doors will fly open. For the rest of the population, I strongly suggest that you create your own opportunities because there are rarely shortcuts. Make a good impression. And do not ever burn bridges.
Create Your Own Opportunities
Your objective: Get your proverbial foot in the door and network, network, network! Intern, volunteer, or temp at a studio, a production company, an agency, a writers’ or film organization, a film festival, a pitch festival, and/or a script conference. Even working in some capacity on a student film may open future doors. Contact your local film commissions, read the trades, and immerse and educate yourself in what’s happening in the industry.
Film festivals are a very valuable way to meet and develop relationships with rising new directing and producing talent. Screenwriting conferences are a good way to learn more about the screenwriting craft and to network with agents, executives, and other screenwriters to share information about their experiences. Working or volunteering as a production assistant (P.A.) on a student film for example, is a chance to learn more about filmmaking and the film industry, and to network with others. Interning or getting work as a story analyst (a reader) at a company is a great way to learn more about the screenwriting craft and network with the possibility to get hired for future employment.
Setting up an informal or formal reading of your screenplay is a great chance for both you and others to hear your work. It’s also an opportunity for you to invite agents and film executives (or people who might know them) as a way to get you and your work noticed.
There are thousands of potential candidates in line behind you who are probably as talented as you are. You are expendable. This sounds harsh but this is the truth. You must demonstrate that you are professional, that you take pride in your work, and that you will do your utmost to work hard, learn, and excel in the field of screenwriting and film.
Yes, manners are important; a please and a thank-you will serve you well. This applies to email and snail mail queries, phone calls, and in-person meetings. And never be late for a meeting!
Final Words to all Graduates
Register your work with the Writers Guild of America before submitting your screenplays to anyone. Formatting, typos and grammar mistakes will be viewed as amateurish and will greatly increase the chances of your work getting rejected. Trust your gut instincts, as you meet potential employers and new colleagues. Always stay true to who you are and to your writing.
Susan Kouguell’s new book SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! A comprehensive guide to crafting winning characters with film analyses and screenwriting exercises is available at a discount price of $1.00 off by clicking on www.createspace.com/3558862 and using DISCOUNT CODE: G22GAZPD. To read an excerpt from the book, go to: https://www.createspace.com/Preview/1089452. Susan is also the author of The Savvy Screenwriter: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself) Without Selling Out! (St. Martin’s Griffin) and is an award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker. Susan teaches screenwriting and film at Tufts University, and is chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a motion picture consulting company founded in 1990 where she works with over 1,000 writers, filmmakers, and film executives worldwide. ( www.su-city-pictures.com; su-city-pictures.blogspot.com).
Susan Kouguell’s new book SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! A comprehensive guide to crafting winning characters with film analyses and screenwriting exercises is available at a discount price of $1.00 off by clicking on www.createspace.com/3558862 and using DISCOUNT CODE: G22GAZPD. To read an excerpt from the book, go to: https://www.createspace.com/Preview/1089452. Susan is also the author of The Savvy Screenwriter: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself) Without Selling Out! (St. Martin’s Griffin) and is an award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker. Susan teaches screenwriting and film at Tufts University, and is chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a motion picture consulting company founded in 1990 where she works with over 1,000 writers, filmmakers, and film executives worldwide. ( www.su-city-pictures.com; su-city-pictures.blogspot.com). Follow Susan at Su-City Pictures, LLC Facebook fan page and SKouguell Twitter page to receive more Savvy Tips.