Organising your troops

Been a while since my last post, so here is something I hope is truly useful.


Hollywood is a long way from Britain. A very long way. Yet, thanks to the Internet and telephone, it isn’t!

Over the years I’ve devised a number of plans to get my scripts into the hands of people in LA. I’m not saying this is THE way to sell a script. If I was, I would be so rich and successful I wouldn’t NEED a blog. But these are steps that have worked for me in the past .

So in no particular order, here are my steps for selling to Hollywood.

Just don’t forget to thank me when you write that blockbuster.

1. Write a really, really great script.

Possibly the hardest step.

2. Feedback

They say insanity and genius are separated by a hair’s breadth. But how to tell if you’re one or the other?

Ask people.

BEWARE. There are many “gurus” who will take even more money to give you generic, unhelpful, even destructive “feedback”. Even well-meaning folks can send you on a wild goose chase. More on this in another post. But at some stage you will need to navigate this potentially expensive minefield to find out if you have chicken breast or chicken shit  (as my dad says).

3. Go to Oxbridge or Eton, come from a long line of film or theatrical producers, be born into the aristocracy, or join RADA at the age of six.

Sound discouraging? Good.

Because these are the TOP ways that people in the UK become Hollywood screenwriters. There, I said it. Your suspicions were justified. Nepotism is rife. Pod people really are everywhere. Don’t believe me? Go check out their bios.

Yes, it’s disheartening to know that the odds are stacked aginst you. In fact, this is the number one reason everyone I know who quits screenwriting uses to justify their decision. As William Goldman says in his excellent “Adventures in the Screen Trade”, in Britain, if your father is a blacksmith, you better like shoeing horses.

Of course, if you’re still reading this, then you have the burning ambition and drive to succeed against the odds. You are Han Solo piloting your rusty, war-torn script through the asteroid field of Hollywood gatekeepers, pursued by the Imperial Star Destroyers of poverty and family pressure.

Good for you. Now read on…

4. Get familiar with Word and Excel

For us mere ordinary folks, we need more than just a pedigree worthy of Shergar.

You need to keep a record of everyone you’ve sent your script to. This will avoid the embarassing mistake of sending it out twice to  the same agent/manager/producer.

5. List your own industry contacts

I always try these first. Be selective. Don’t bug them too often. Treat them like the customer who comes into your literary restaurant and always spends well.

6. List companies and individuals who accept unsolicited submissions

This is the equivalent of Will Smith going head to head with all those alien fighters in Independence Day but sometimes, just sometimes, it can pay off. Think of it as a numbers game. After all, you resulted from the same process…

7. Get help from other companies

This requires some discretion on your part. There are many companies who will gladly take your money (lots of it) and promise nothing in return. It’s up to you which companies you choose. But experience has taught me that producers do not respond with rapt enthusiasm to yet another unsolicited, mass-produced email landing in their private inbox. Logically, you are more likely to have success with targeted submissions, or submissions to people actually looking for new material.

Listing sites offer the best value for money. Some of them are even free. Producers scouring the net for scripts sign up for these sites and can then search under specific criteria. So you are less  likely to get a producer who specializes in family-friendly pet movies soliciting your R-rated slasher script (Now there’s an idea).

8. Use online tools

Again, there are many of these. I haven’t used it yet myself, but IMDB pro looks like a very useful tool to find out who is making your kind of movies. Whether they will accept your submissions, however, is another story.

9. The dreaded query letter

Remember when people used to write letters, using real paper?

Some gurus say the query letter is dead. But remember, this is an industry where nobody knows anything.

Just don’t do anything CRAZY… like sending your script out in a radioactive container with a guy in a HAZMAT suit (been done, honest). That is not the way to win friends and influence people.

Also, don’t do what someone else did recently and take our a full page ad in Varierty telling Harrison ford you’ve got the perfect script for him. Something tells me Harrison won’t be calling any time soon.

10. The even more dreaded actual telephone call

Amazingly, you can actually speak to an agent in LA by picking up the phone. Turns out these people have offices. Sure, you might get the bum’s rush by the receptionist who can’t understand your thick Geordie accent, or the gatekeeper who gives you a stern “no unsolicited submissions” then hangs up. But so what? Just don’t lie to get through to the agent. Yes, I did that once.  Well, it wasn’t technically lying… and actually they agreed to read my script, which sucked (See step 1).

11. One step beyond

Don’t, repeat… DO NOT…. pitch in social situations. Not unless you’re asked. Do not follow execs into toilets and pitch them at the urinal (yup, been done… not by me, I hasten to add). Do not give your business card to your studio tour guide while on vacation.

A tip if you ever go to LA (and you should)… EVERYBODY wants to be in the movies. From your barrista to your taxi driver.

Separate yourself from the herd by being professional. For the sake of sanity.

I’m about to embark on some major selling sprees, so I’ll keep you updated as to the progress of these steps.

Meanwhile, keep writing!



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