Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Where can I send my screenplay?

The following post was made in 2009, which was quite some time ago. I'd rather not delete it, but I would encourage you to read the updated version of this advice before commenting here.

Anyway, here's the old post:

I get a lot of traffic here through the phrase "Where can I send my script."

So this one's for the new folks.

If you've just written your first screenplay, don't send it anywhere. Or if you really want to, send it to the Nicholl so you can see how you place. They have about 6,000 entries every year and it's the holy grail of screenwriting contests.

Then, start writing your next one.

Don't send your script anywhere else. Don't send queries to agents. This is not a game for people who have one idea and just want to see if they can make some money. This is a game for people who are dying to be screenwriters. It takes YEARS. Nobody wants it to take years, but it does. We all think we're the exception, but we're not. Any story you hear about a guy making a sale off his first script - the reason you hear about those stories is because of how rarely it happens, as in, next to never.

It sucks, I know. You worked hard on that thing. You took time - maybe a year - to put your best work into it. It was practice.

Maybe one day when you've written maybe 2, 5, 10 more and you really know what you're doing you'll be able to go back to your first idea and rewrite it, but for now, you used that story to learn.

So once you know what you're doing, go with the queries. Throw that sucker at the good contests. Give it to anyone and everyone you know. By then you'll know how.

In the meantime, read the message boards at Done Deal, read all the columns at Wordplay, read the trades, get educated.

And for the people who just have an idea and want someone else to write it:

Let's say I'm a writer you want to work with because I've written good stuff. You don't want to be my writing partner, you want to tell me your idea, have me write it, and split the profits. I see this kind of thing all the time on Craigslist.

Okay so I'm this hypothetical writer. I have a tons of ideas. I have yellow index cards all over my bulletin board with ideas on them. Every single time I watch a History Channel show I come up with a new story idea. I do not need your idea. If it's a truly incredible idea, I'm just going to steal it and make it my own, so you should write the screenplay yourself or pay me to write it. But chances are, unless you're planning on paying someone or cowriting it, finding someone who wants your idea will end badly for you. Actually, chances are good it will end badly for you either way. So just write your screenplay. And if you can't write a screenplay, go back to your day job. Because people keep saying Hollywood is out of ideas, but we're definitely not out of ideas. The studios are just not comfortable experimenting with our ideas. Either way, if you have an idea, write a screenplay. Then write another one.

And Here is a follow up to this discussion.

And Here is a follow up to the follow up to this discussion.


  1. The most annoying thing in the world is when people tell me they have an idea I can write, and in exchange we can split the profit 50/50.

    I just tell people I'm booked for the next six months or so, but if nothing opens up after that then I'll be happy to listen.

    But I have enough ideas that I'm ALWAYS booked for the next six months...

    Unless a paying gig comes up.

  2. This is the kind of negative talk aspiring writers don't need to hear. I've written exactly ONE screenplay in my ENTIRE LIFE, and, an Academy Award winning screenwriter/director has read it, loved it, and even made several suggestions for (about my 15th) re-write, which I did accomplish. I have not sold the script, but the Oscar winning screenwriter told me he LOVED the story, LOVED the character development, LOVED the nostalgic nature of the script, and thought the music was GREAT. He also told me that he thought I had a lot of talent, and that he was really impressed.

  3. He thought the music was great? That's how I know there's a lot of bullshit in your story. Only an amateur would submit a screenplay with music and any Academy Award winning anything would have told you so.

    But let's assume your story - which, by the way, is the exact same story half the amateur screenwriters in LA are selling to anyone they think they can sucker - let's assume it's true.

    That's great for you!

    That's a very rare thing, and very positive because it means you have potential. Now you know how to approach the rest of your work. And imagine how much further you would have gotten with that director if he had read a perfected screenplay instead of your first effort. Has he agreed to look at your next screenplay? Because getting your script into someone's hands is easy. Getting them to pay you money to write is not.

    I don't consider this a negative post. I consider it an educated post. I think the majority of new writers get so excited by their first writing experience that they run out and send the script to every manager/agent/producer they can find, and often those people will blow smoke up their ass or ignore them entirely or think of them as a total amateur. I think it's a much better idea for a new writer to spend the time perfecting the craft before they try to make contacts. Often you only get one chance to use those contacts and if you give them sub-par work you may not get to give them anything else.

    Telling an amateur writer to perfect the craft before trying to sell their work is in no way negative. It's practical.

  4. Anonymous1:00 PM

    The temper and attitude of your reply is a loud and clear message of you and your standing in this business. I come from a family who are deeply involved in the film and TV industry, and thus the lucky nature of my position. You really should work on your tone, your approach and your professionalism. Don't be so angry. Spread the dream, don't knock down people's dreams. And by the way, my script is NOT full of bullshit. I'm now working with a studio. Good luck to you and your attitude.

  5. I never said your script was full of bullshit. I said you are. Your posting under an anonymous name isn't really helping my disbelief. If you live in LA you know that people sell stories like yours all the time. The tone of your post is the same as just about every excited new writer I've ever met, especially that bit about the music.

    My advice isn't to throw out your script or give up writing. My advice is to put aside your first effort and write a second script or a third or fourth before you try to sell anything because chances are your first will not be nearly as good since it is, in fact, your first.

    Your defensive attitude about that advice reeks of amateur, which you've admitted to being since you've only written one script. Good luck with your career.

  6. Anonymous9:30 PM

    Before I start, I would just like to give some backstory on myself. I live in Manhattan, 23 y/o, college DROP OUT lol (good reason) and most important, I had a big dream with no money. Thats when I decided to take up writing. As time went on I realized how hard it is to write a good script. This just pushed me ten times harder. On my second script, rewrite 2 is where it all clicked for me. Since then, I sold three scripts with the third one selling for six figures.

    Emily im sorry but your partially in the wrong. It seems as though you don't want inspiring writers to continue with their dreams so there will be more opportunities for YOU to sell your scripts.(maybe thats the reason, im not a mind reader but I know women like the back of my hand.) However, you are correct when you say just don't send in your scripts to random agencies.

    Mr. Anonymous, this tip is for you: Make sure your first three pages of your script are like a fishing line. You want to hook the reader and wheel them in. Many writers say that the first ten pages should hook the reader, which is also true, but you have to think of reality. If the first three pages suck then the reader wont even turn the page and continue reading to page ten. Think of it as a person watching t.v. Viewers are flipping through the channels and stop on a interesting movie title. If they put that movie on and the first scene or two suck then they will just turn the channel just like a agent with turn to the next script.

    Stay focused stay positive and most of all never give up.

    P.s follow your dreams, they might end up on paper one day and then on the big screen!!!

  7. Wow you're way off base, and it's obvious this is the only post of mine that you've read or you'd know better. Congrats on selling your scripts. You say you didn't sell your first screenplay, so I'm not sure why you're disagreeing with me. The most common act for a new screenwriter is to plaster the town with their first script, and I think that's a terrible idea. Why do I know this? Because I did it too and I blew several possible contacts on the process. I'm advising new writers to write more than one or even two scripts before they send anything out - which is what you did, yes?

    If I wanted to keep all the assignments to myself, which is just silly, I'd be advising them to send all the crap they could everywhere they could.

    I don't understand why so many people are resistant to the idea of perfecting your craft before you try to become a professional screenwriter. You seem to have followed the same path I'm suggesting, so I especially don't get the resistance.

  8. so are you a stoner? an old wino on a amtrack train told me that all english teachers are stoners when i was very young, then a couple years later one of my old english teachers got arrested for having marijuana in his car, anyways ive been trying to put together my masterpiece first and probly only screenplay, dont really intend to try to sell it or even show it to anyone really just felt like makin one but i think it should be noted to any aspiring screenplay writers out there that screenplays should be written in proper format ive seen to many "screenplays" that my friends wrote that turned out to be a bunch of funny jokes and crap scribbled in a comp notebook, not that it wasnt funny but you cant hand that to anyone and expect to be taken seriously, but there is the bowfinger approach u know bum rush the big actors house in a fancy suit and somehow trick him into unknowingly starring in your movie. btw just gettin it off my chest twilight sucks, the writing its like reading bricks the only reason its good is because the story was all right, which sometimes makes up for horrible writing.

  9. Anonymous4:02 AM

    you seem to know what you're talking about and I think it's good to know what you're getting into before posting things off.
    But can you tell me: if I can figure a way to get a short (readable in 5 minutes!) synopsis DIRECTLY to an actor, should I give it a go? This may sound crazy but I don't care if my script never gets made/picked up or anything else. I wrote this purely for one actor in mind and just want him to see the synopsis. Is this feasible?
    Your advise would be much appreciated.

  10. It's possible, just not very likely. Others know more about this than I do, but I think your best bet is to find out who represents the actor - agent or manager - and contact them. That information is usually available on IMDB pro. If they love your idea they'll pass it on to their client. But it's a long shot. Good luck!

  11. Anonymous8:08 AM

    thanks Emily, I appreciate your feedback and honesty.
    I will try the route you suggested.
    Unlikely but not impossible, they are odds I can work with!

  12. Very interesting information here Emily. I'm currently in the middle of my first script, but glad to have found this out sooner rather than later! Thanks.

  13. Anonymous4:24 AM

    As a high school teacher you should be less inclined to steal ideas and more to help. Just sayin.

  14. Steal ideas? What the fuck are you talking about?

  15. Tony Uttley10:11 AM

    Hi Emily so where and who do i send my script to? Please help me is there agents who will read it and take it on?

  16. The Hollywood Creative Directory has that information.

  17. Kevvy7:05 AM

    Wow. An English teacher that says she would steal a screenplay then has no idea where someone would get that idea from when it's in her actual bloggpost. What kind of a teacher writes 'Fuck' on the internet. Aren't teachers supposed to maintain a certain level of professionalism? No wonder US is in the state it's in.

  18. Oh! Haha. I see what you think you're saying. I've never stolen an idea for my screenplays, honey. That was a hypothetical about what could happen if you don't write your own material. The point is, if you have an idea, write it yourself.

    But thanks for pointing out that it needs a rewrite for clarity!

    And 2) This blog is not my classroom. You have no idea what I'm like as a teacher.

  19. Anonymous12:43 AM

    To k.ramoz:

    Kids are all over the net trying to be someone they are not. Loved, Loved, Loved, even the music?

    Truth is we dont have a problem with you kids, but we really worry if you ever going to wake up.

    There will be nothing worst in this world than today's kids trying to pretend something they are not. In 50 years time we will have a planet full of people like k.ramoz who will only pretend to be someone and after so many years will even believe it. Result? These dreamers will be out of scope for humanity, they will rest in their dream world and provide nothing to this world but some funny caricatures of people who just "Sleep".

    I dont even dare to think what the generation to follow this fakes what will be.

    k.ramoz, I feel sorry for you, I know you can not accept what i write, I know you really believe your lies are your reality, but before you ruin your life, make an appointment with a professional.

  20. Anonymous (Please leave names!), I think that's a bit harsh. Dreams are good things to have, and lord knows every aspiring screenwriter is dreaming up a storm, but they need to be reasonable about expectations.

    K. Ramoz first posted that a very long time ago. I'm curious as to how it's gone since then.

  21. This is just bad advice from someone who has not made it. Sorry you have been beaten down but don't throw that negativity on the rest of us...or are you trying to cut down the competition. The whole thing is just sad.

  22. John, this post was written in 2009 and it is now 2013. If I were to write this now I'd probably write it differently, but I'd say the same thing. I don't think sending out your first script is going to ruin your chances, but I do think that in the vast majority of cases, it's a waste of time. It is extremely rare that anyone's very first script is worthy. Fortunately, now there is the Black List, which didn't exist when I wrote this post. The Black List site is an excellent way to allow new writers to gauge their material without sending out queries.

    As for cutting down on the competition - why would I be afraid of a writer's first screenplay? I haven't been beaten down at all. You should read my other posts, particularly the more recent ones.

    Anyway, if you decide to send out your first script, good luck to you. Just don't be surprised when it doesn't work. Keep your expectations low, then go write something better. That is my updated advice.

  23. Emily, I wish you could hear yourself. The negativity just doesn't help anyone. Yes, I agree we all need to be realistic but I just can't help feeling possibly you have been tainted by your own bad experience and on some level it makes you feel better to simply believe "it happens to everyone." Then in turn, by posting this kind of pessimistic "advice" it makes it all true on some level and you feel less alone in your bad experience. At any rate, I only came across your blog accidentally but it just made me feel sad, not only or you but for the people who read your "advice." But I guess you are free to have your opinion. I will not be visiting again.

  24. You shouldn't feel sad about a 4 year old post advising people to practice their craft before they go pro. But knock yourself out if it makes you feel good. Good luck to you. Don't worry about me. I'll be fine.

  25. Everyone saying that this article is too negative is just being a whiner. I read an article recently about how forcing a positive attitude and treating everyone like winners has turned our generation into whiney narcissists who can't handle failure, and it shows in these comments. There's nothing negative about this article. It's being realistic. It does in fact take years for your screenplays to become movies. This was true even for screenwriters that are now famous. Truth is that Hollywood doesn't want to make your films. They want to make their films. They already have people making films for them. People they know that will make films that will sell. Emily's advice is right on the money. The best thing you can do is keep writing for yourself and improving.


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