You’ve Finished Your Screenplay. Now what?
April 21, 2023
You spent all this time writing and rewriting your feature screenplay or television pilot, so naturally you want your script to have every opportunity to succeed in the marketplace. The first questions you might ask are “Do you need to have industry contacts or live in LA?” Contacts couldn’t hurt but they’re not essential, and you don’t need to live LA (which I wrote about in my article, “Do you have to live in LA to be a Screenwriter?”). When I sold my first spec script and broke into professional screenwriting, I didn’t have any contacts and I was living in Pennsylvania. However, I did have the internet and it was the primary means of getting my script into the right hands.
And the internet can likewise work for you: connecting you to the people you need connecting to.
This leads us to the first thing you should do after you’ve finished your screenplay…
Work the Internet
How do you know who to send your script to if you don’t have any industry contacts? Once again, the internet is your friend. Search for recent sales of other scripts in your genre. News stories should appear in industry trades (e.g., Variety, Hollywood Reporter), all of which have online editions. There are also entertainment-related websites like the Internet Movie Database (iMDB), which likewise have stories about script sales and films in development or production. You can also subscribe for a fee to iMDBPro, which provides you with industry information not available on the free version of the site (including the names of the managers and agents that represent working screenwriters).
In addition to the above websites, there are numerous other databases and message boards that are sources for industry information. Make note of what reps have recently sold the kind of material you’ve written. There are also many screenwriting contests you can enter your script into. Some like Final Draft’s Big Break Screenwriting Contest (which is currently open for submissions!) offer meetings with top management companies as a prize. If you’d like to get feedback from professional screenplay readers and consultants before submitting to management companies and screenwriting contests, there are online companies like Coverfly, that can provide you with detailed script coverage and notes.
Do your research and afterwards, plan the strategy that best suits you and your script.
Go Wide with Your Screenplay
You’ve done some or all of the above and now you want to solicit agencies and management companies. You might think professional courtesy requires you to solicit one individual or company at a time, but you’re not a professional yet, so you shouldn’t be concerned about that. The screenplay marketplace is highly competitive and moves fast. What is a fresh concept today, might not be one year later. As such, it’s best to “go wide” with your script (i.e., submit it to as many people and places as possible).
This doesn’t mean sending an unsolicited script to an agent or manager. You should first compose a query email introducing yourself and pitch your script to them. The most effective query emails include a log-line, which is your script summed up in a sentence. If you can’t describe your script in a sentence, it might be difficult to sell. For the most part, agents aren’t receptive to unsolicited submissions, but many management companies will read your script if they liked your query letter and/or log-line. Most management company websites have contact information for submissions.
And as mentioned above, there are screenwriting contests that you can submit your script to in the hope of getting managers and other industry professionals to read your script. This process can take many months or even a year, but don’t get discouraged; if your script is marketable, it’ll eventually connect with the right person.
You finally got a bite from a management company! Maybe more than one. If you’re in this fortunate position, it’s time to choose the right manager for you. Generally, writers have managers before agents. The manager’s job is to help develop a writer’s craft and make sure their script is in the best shape possible.
Most likely, a manager will have notes and suggestions on ways to improve your script. Depending on your creative temperament, you might have a “knee-jerk response” to their constructive criticism. This is something you’ll need to rein in if you want to have a future as a working screenwriter. A large part of the job is rewriting scripts. In addition to managers, agents will have notes; as will producers, studio execs, directors and actors. A screenplay is never considered finished until the film cut is “locked” (the last stage of a film production in which no more changes will occur). As such, a screenwriter should view their script as “a fluid document.”
Ideally your manager has helpful notes and increases the marketability of your script. They’ll then do their version of going wide and send it to various agents or producers they have a relationship with. This process can also take many months and it’s best to be patient. The wheels are turning. Reps are talking to other reps. Your script is making the necessary rounds.
Start Thinking About Your Next Script
You can get quite anxious playing “the waiting game,” but it’s best not to obsess over your script as it hits the marketplace. Rather you should take the opportunity to be productive during this period: start thinking about your next script.
Even if the script your manager is going out with doesn’t lead to agency representation or a sale, it doesn’t mean you won’t get another chance. Like any skillset, the more you do something, the better you get. The best thing to do is keep developing material and keep writing. Not only will you become a better screenwriter, you’ll be giving yourself more opportunities to succeed in the future.
Have you learned from any mistakes? Is there a new trend you’re seeing emerge in the features and television series you watch? Be mindful and keep applying the things you learn to your craft. If you hang in there and take your writing seriously, eventually the right script might lead to a sale or even a screenwriting career!
Written by: Edwin CannistraciEdwin Cannistraci is a professional screenwriter. His comedy specs PIERRE PIERRE and O’GUNN both sold with more than one A-list actor and director attached. In addition, he’s successfully pitched feature scripts, TV pilots and has landed various assignment jobs for Universal, Warner Bros, Paramount and Disney.