I was at a loss for what to write about today, and then it was suggested that I talk about marketing a script. (Thanks again to Fejumas for the idea.)
This struck me as a great topic, and what most of you are probably tired of hearing me say by now is selling your script is just that, selling. (Or sales if you prefer.)
Most people hate selling. I didn’t like it starting out. I was selling door to door, and if I didn’t have a guaranteed salary each month, I would have gone hungry.
A wife and three kids later and I now have my own business. Not selling my product means my kids don’t eat or have a roof over their heads.
Essentially, there’s more on the table pushing me to succeed now.
But I didn’t go from zero to hero (I’d actually argue I’ve still got a long way to go to “hero”) overnight. I learned a lot on the way.
Why am I going on about this?
Since sales is sales, some of what I learned can hopefully help you, our beloved readers, skip some of the mistakes I made. On top of that, hopefully you’ll even get a few reads out of it.
I’ll try to avoid some of the more common gimmicky (although still true) lines like:
1.) Sales is just a numbers game.
2. ) Every “no” is just one step closer to a “yes.”
3.) Think outside the box.
4.) Don’t wait for customers to come to you.
And so forth.
(*DISCLAIMER* – I think it’s very important to point out that although I have used these suggestions to get reads, I have not actually sold a script. Therefore what I’m saying is more of guidelines than written rules.)
Picking a Marketable Idea
People often tell you to write what you want.
I agree with that to a point, but here’s where I think it breaks down into two categories:
A) You’re someone who’s happy writing a story and completing it. Your self satisfaction with finishing it is enough, and you go on with your life.
B) You’re someone who enjoys writing, but you want to entertain the masses and make money with what you’re doing.
If you’re in the A camp, that’s great. Write whatever you want, however you want, and kudos to you for being able to do what you do.
If you’re in the B camp, you can still write about whatever you want, so long as other people will want it too.
Hollywood is a business, and businesses need to make money. If a product (your script) does register with enough customers then it’s worth their time.
Why do people buy things? (And I’m not looking for the long winded philosophical answer.)
We buy things to solve problems, or for most of the US to fill a desire.
If no one else, beyond family and friends, likes your movie, I’m sorry to say you’re going to have a very hard time selling it.
Before anyone sits down to read your actual script, they’re going to have to buy into the idea behind it.
What’s this mean? It means that you can be the greatest writer on the planet with a flawless script, but if your idea lacks excitement it won’t matter. No one will even open it up.
As sad as I am to say it, we have to find things that are popular with agents and producers.
“But Hank, how can we predict the future,” you’re asking.
You can’t, but you can maximize your potential. Check out Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds: The Guaranteed Way to Get Your Screenplay or Novel Read for an in depth look at this topic.
Zombies, vampire, etc. Horror always does well and is particularly hot right now. How much longer? I’m not sure, but I’d argue if you finish a script in the next six months you’re safe.
Contained thrillers. You’ve heard us say it countless time, but if you can write a decent story that’s CHEAP to make, you’ve just reduced your cost. Low initial investment is always good when making a business plan.
Find challenging roles that many rising stars are looking for. Looper comes to mind. Cool film, and JGL did a good job with it, but would other actors fit that role? Can your idea be something they’re looking for to advance their career?
Feel free to explore other options, too. Essentially when thinking about your script ask yourself, “Will this idea apply to more than one actor, agent, studio, audience, etc.?”
Is there concrete proof of that, whether successful movies already made or articles about future projects being purchased?
The hard part of writing behind you, hopefully your idea is just as strong on this other end.
We’ll assume that it is.
Who’s going to buy it?
Now comes the boring part which I can almost hear you groaning about.
Certainly, you could do blanket query letters to hundreds of email addresses, and make an impersonal impression. I did starting out, and out of a 100+ query emails I received four responses asking for more information. One even resulted in a read.
Unfortunately that was a week of work for what I’d say was wasted effort.
Instead, take a few hours and find an actor looking for the specific role you’re offering, a production company looking for something low budget, etc.
The IMDB makes this easy to do, since your script will fit into a genre and you can look up past credits for both.
Another option is to check old articles in places like Variety. Are there certain studios that missed out on a project and might be regretting that decision? (Think of Disney’s The Wild versus Dreamworks Madagascar.) Does your script offer them a second chance, but with something unique? Can you state specific reasons it would be better?
Make a short list. I pilfered this from Michael Jennings’ article two weeks ago. Feel free to read more about it as he does a good job explaining how he got a read.
Find a select few that should be interested in your project and then TAILOR the letter/pitch to them.
Think about your own habits with your mail. If someone took the time to address a letter to you, and personalize it TO YOU, won’t you read that versus reading what is obviously a canned letter? I would and do.
Sure sales is a numbers game, but it takes lower numbers to get to success if those numbers are all potentially interested buyers.
The letter or pitch shouldn’t be long either. Page or less for the letter, and keep your pitch under one minute. People are busy everywhere, and that’s no different in Hollywood. However, most human beings will agree to a minute or less of their time, especially if you show you did your homework and have something of interest to them.
Alright, here comes the tough love.
There I said it. Blow steam and yell at me if you want. I’ll wait.
First, they cost money, and if you’re entering multiple scripts in multiple contests, that can quickly add up.
Second, you’re getting the luck of the draw with a reader. Everyone’s tastes are different, and think about it, you’ve got a one in a million shot that the reader (maybe two at most) is going to be a good fit for your script.
Now, I understand that some of the contests are worthwhile, like the Nicholl, and people like Roy do well with them, but it can also be argued that the scripts they pick are of a certain type. By that I mean they’re not always commercially viable. In fact the most recent script Roy did well with was written specifically as a “Nicholl type” script. See, even he did his homework.
Taking all the above, wouldn’t it make more sense to do a focused search and find potential buyers instead of trusting your fate to Lady Luck?
This goes back to one of the phrases I mentioned above, and I’ll restate it here since it’s very important:
Don’t wait for customers to come to you.
If you wait around for someone to come to you to buy something, you’ll be waiting a long time. Most people don’t know you’re selling OR, in the case of infomercials, know they have the problem your product solves.
Same with Hollywood. They don’t know what Hank Marlowe’s working on right this second. And in reality they don’t care.
Sure you can sit around and hope that contest production intern recommends your script OR you could get up off your ass and FIND the people that would be interested.
It’s your future.
Now, hopefully you’re motivated, but how to query?
You can go one of two ways.
Personally, phone ALWAYS works better, but it takes more guts AND can sometimes be very uncomfortable.
I’ll cover letters first.
Tailor it to their needs and all that. Then address it to SOMEONE in particular. Find an agent that represents the actor or a person that worked specifically on a movie for a production company. This way it has a better chance of getting into the hands of someone who can do something with it.
Keep it short. Page or less. Usually title, genre, catchy logline, and brief synopsis (like two paragraphs).
If it’s a letter, sign it. If it’s an email, well type it. (I’ve heard arguments for either or. I’ve always emailed though since it’s free.)
Now the phone.
This took some time, and let me tell you I had to work up to it. Lucky for me, my business requires that I call people everyday.
The benefit of the phone is you have them right then and there. There’s less of a chance to ignore a phone call, plus you have instant feedback on how successful it was.
The trick is you have to sound authoritative.
If you give someone the option to say “no” they will.
Same as the letter, find the person you need to talk to. When you call, you’ll most likely get a gatekeeper (secretary, receptionist, assistant, etc.) who is in charge of weeding people like you out.
What you do, and I apologize as it does sound very sneaky but BOY does it work, is the following when they answer:
“This is Hank Marlowe. Is Roy in?”
No “hi” or anything. No pleasantries. Get right to business.
The fact that you did makes you drastically different than most other calls. In most cases, this makes you sound like you’re pissed and everyone’s more than happy to pass on a call like that.
Once you’re past the gatekeeper, here’s where the selling starts. You have to be SURE of yourself that this person will want to at least take a look at your script if not buy it. This is why you’ve done your homework.
If you believe it’s for them, you’ll make them believe it.
Once they’re on the phone, confidently have a two sentence opening for your project, why it’s a good fit for them, and if you could have a minute to explain it to them.
If they say “no” thank them and move on. Trying to push it on them isn’t going to win you anything.
If they say “yes” have something like the following ready:
“Hi Roy, I have a script where a nerdy scientist enters a dance competition to have a shot at romancing a model. Could be something Walker is looking for. Can I have a minute to explain it to you?”
If they say “no interested” thank them and move on. If they give you the minute, go into your pitch, but RESPECT THEIR TIME.
Respect is always the greatest way to show someone you value what they’re doing for you.
Whether email, mail or phone ALWAYS thank them for their time. It’s important to everyone, so treat it accordingly.
Again, these are suggestions that have worked for me in the past while navigating through the business world.
Many people will disagree and say, “You can’t do that.” But ask yourself, are the people giving you advice currently working in Hollywood? Have they sold anything in general, even none writing related?
If the answer is “yes” by all means emulate what they’ve done, BUT if the answer is “no” and they’re still waiting by the phone that will ring any second from that agent or producer, won’t you be more productive with your time?
PS – Don’t forget to check out our notes service if you’re looking for help on your script.