Saturday, October 12, 2013

Where can I send my screenplay? Part three: The Revenge

I wrote this post in 2009 as a response to the many people who kept finding me through this search topic: "Where can I send my screenplay?"

A bit full of myself, yes, but also not wrong. And every so often someone still finds that post and makes a new comment about how I'm an asshole just trying to stop my competition from putting out their brilliant first screenplays.

In 2010, because of all the people who reacted angrily to my advice, I posted a follow-up here. Very few people seem to have read it. I'm now posting my follow-up to the follow-up, and if things go according to pattern, I will be the only person who ever reads this, and for years to come people will still be finding my old post and telling me what an idiot I am.

Here's the thing. If you just wrote your very first screenplay, do whatever the fuck you want. Want to query every agent in town? Knock yourself out. Want to take out an ad in Daily Variety or post your shit on Ebay for a minimum bid of a million dollars? Rock on, man. You do you.

That's my new, updated advice. Do whatever the hell you want. Results may vary and be incredibly demoralizing.

It's quite possible that your very first script you ever wrote is every bit as good as the scripts of people who have been studying the craft for years. Maybe you're a genius. Maybe your idea is something nobody on Earth has ever thought of, and as soon as agents read your script they will drop everything and call you up and fly you out to Hollywood and hold parties in your honor. Could happen.

It probably won't, but it could.

So here's what you waste when you query everyone about your brand new script: Time, mostly yours. In my original post I lamented the fact that I wasted a perfectly good read from an interested agent by sending her a script that wasn't ready, but in hindsight, it didn't really matter that much. When I had a script that WAS ready, there were agents who would read it. I don't even remember that original agent's name, and I very much doubt she remembers mine. So despite my frustration then, in the long term, the only thing sending out my first screenplay cost me was time.

It is an awesome feeling to finish your first screenplay. It's a big decision to go through with one, and a great achievement to have completed it, but no matter how hard you worked, odds are that it is not ready. Odds are that it will never be ready. It's not impossible, but if you want to become a great writer sooner rather than later, one of the skills you need to develop is the ability to assess your own talent level. That only comes with time and exposure to lots and lots of screenplays, plus a certain level of maturity.

I think back on all the time I spent querying my screenplay and googling how to send it out and looking up email addresses of agents and agonizing over why I didn't hear anything back - and I'm annoyed that I didn't spend that time working on my next script. Think how much faster I could have learned to write a great script if I'd spent more time practicing and less time auditioning before I was ready.

Things are already different from the way they were when I wrote my first screenplay. If I were a new writer today, I'd put my script up on the Black List site and use it to gauge where I am as a writer. If the script truly is an outlier, the Black List will tell you.

But I wouldn't query my first script. I probably wouldn't query my second script.

Speaking of my second script, I blew a chance with that one, too. I met an assistant at a successful management boutique, and he asked me to send him my script. This was a terrible script. I still cringe when I think of some of the mistakes I made. The first mistake was in shoving action sequences into the story where I thought I should have an action sequence instead of letting the story dictate the action. But anyway, I sent my script to this guy thinking it was really great, because in the beginning it's tough to gauge your abilities, and of course it got me nowhere. The guy was nice enough to send it to three different readers and forward me the feedback, which was unbelievably helpful, since back then it was very difficult to find anyone to give you genuinely useful feedback.

So that experience wasn't a total waste for me; it taught me a lot about what I was doing wrong. Still, if I had waited and sent that assistant a truly great script...

But in the end, my opportunity came.

Before you send your first screenplay out into the world, sit down and seriously analyze where you are as a writer.Think about your favorite screenplay. (If you have not read any screenplays, I can pretty much guarantee that your script sucks.) But think about that one great script. Try to imagine you are a film executive who doesn't know this new writer and has to judge him or her only by what is on the page. Is your script as good as that one?

When I saw the film In Bruges, I nearly cried from rage. That movie was so goddamn good that what had seemed like a good screenplay about zombies mere hours before I saw In Bruges now seemed like a stack of crap. I knew I was not as good as Martin McDonagh. I went home and sat down and refused to get off the computer until I was.

I've been sitting here quite a long time now. I may have become one with the chair.

Anyway, I guess my advice for new writers is to really think before sending their work into the world. Are you okay with wasting a little time? If someone does request your screenplay, do you feel like you're really ready to become a professional screenwriter? Do you think you're as good as your hero?

Actually that's a stupid fucking question. You're never going to think you're as good as your hero even if you are.

If you want to send your screenplay out, be prepared for disappointment. Know that the odds of success are extremely low. They're low anyway for any script. They're even lower for a first-timer. They're so low they're like the size of amoebas on fleas on rats.* So if you can accept those odds and want to send your script out anyway...

Post it to the Black List website.
Join IMDB Pro to find emails of agents and producers.
Join an online community like Done Deal Pro and make friends with people who can give you information about agents and managers.
Enter your script in the top tier contests like The Nicholl, TrackingB, or Austin.

And as always, NEVER EVER EVER pay anyone to represent you. Any manager or agent who charges you a fee or a deposit or any kind of up front cost is scamming you.

No matter what you choose to do with your first script, once you've made that decision, go get to work on your second. Then your third. Then keep going until one day, one of them is good enough to get to the right person at the right time.

Good luck. Please don't yell at me.

*I stole this line from the classic film Grease.


  1. I would like to shake your hand and buy you a pastry.

  2. Anonymous3:51 PM

    Good advice. I remember Felicia Day said she wrote a teleplay and walked over to a studio and handed it to the writer on the show and got a callback and an "in" to a new project. She didn't know any better. She just moved to LA and did it.
    Another guy I read about went to WGA and got a list of agents and just went door to door dropping off scripts. Then he got an agent. I guess as long as there are stories like this, we will all keep throwing ourself off the first time script cliff like lemings. I know I will.

  3. Christian, is this a chocolate pastry?

    JC, I know, the stories. They give us all such insane expectations. Just remember, they're interesting because they're rare, so keep your expectations reasonable. If you recognize that it probably won't happen this way, and that it's far more likely to take a long time and lots of work, you'll be less likely to give up when it doesn't work out the way you dreamed.

  4. Most important: get feedback from writers who are more experienced than you. They are not emotionally invested, and they will tell you if your script is good enough/ready.

  5. I think you rock, Emily. You're dedicated and motivated and your posts continue to inspire me. Thanks for putting it out there and for keeping it real sister!

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  7. Emily:

    Thanks for this post and thanks for the links to parts one and two. I wish I had read these a year ago. I'm new to this and enter in knowing absolutely nothing. My biggest fear is wasting someone's time and looking like a joke. Unfortunately, due to the encouragement of a few people and not knowing any better, I fear that I did that on a small scale.


    I have questions, though. The first script I wrote is the reason why I started writing. It's been through a couple of rewrites (reconstructions would be a more accurate term). It's now done well in a contest (it placed 3rd in a competition that's a step below Nicholl but above a regional-fest...HUGE thrill to have that happen by the way. I've never felt anything like that.). I'm going to keep tweaking it and step up the level of competitions I'll be entering.

    And I'm writing other material and working to get better, but it brings me back to that first script and an attempt to best serve THAT material.

    That first script is a TV pilot, by the way...and I know that REALLY complicates things.

    But I love the story I wrote and the potential it has for television. I want to see that story come to life much more than I want a career as a writer.

    So what do I do with that? Can you relate to any of these thoughts?

  8. The crazy people who commented on your 2009 blogpost are awesome. How did I miss them the first time?

    I applaud your good-hearted effort to set them straight on the biz, but for pure entertainment value, nasty is way better than nice.

    I love reading Lee Goldberg's blog because he's such a complete dick to the wannabe's who try use him as a shortcut to the inside.

    And who could forget Josh Olson's rant for the ages? Made that boy the most famous screenwriter in the world for half-a-minute.

    Now, when it comes to downers, Kullervo's got you beat by a mile.

    I don't mind raining on anyone's parade. I'm not your teacher. I'm not your mother. I'm not a consultant or script doctor. I don't have a book to sell. I'm not making money telling you this. I'm not even making money at screenwriting, other than the twenty grand I've won in screenwriting contests. Feel free to leave this site for the myriad of feel-good screenwriting websites out there in the ether.



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