Getting Read In Hollywood

hollywood sign Cropped3 Essential Keys For Writers, To Guarantee Your Script Gets Read

Getting your script read as an unknown writer in Hollywood can be a tricky game. Even when a script is received at an agency or production company, whether it has been solicited or not, it will often end up in their “circular file”.

There are many steps an aspiring screenwriter must undertake to ensure their script is received and read by agents, managers, and producers, but how do you know your script is going to be given serious and thoughtful consideration? Many of these steps are vital in the process, but many others are the result of overthinking trivial issues. Whether you have the WGA registration number on the cover page is not going to make or break your script people! I have seen forums dedicated to the issue.

To be quite honest, such issues will never really matter much as to whether you get signed, your project gets made, or if the script even gets read. There are however three keys, that if adhered too, will always ensure your script receives a warm welcome and will always be read with fervor.

PROOFREAD

Always proofread your material. I know, I know, you’ve heard it and read it all before, ad nauseum. But there is a reason you hear it so often. Because it is obvious, and it is so often overlooked. And I don’t just mean your proofread your script; I mean everything, from your cover letter, to all your email correspondence.

Attention to detail is a great trait never to be underestimated. It’s your first impression, and while smart professional presentation will never seal the deal on its own, it is safe to say that bad presentation can and most certainly will ruin your chances in an instant. No one will ever say, “hey your spelling is superb”, or point out to you that your grammar is spotless. But without doubt, bad spelling and incorrect grammar will always be noticed and will always disrupt your reader’s experience. In a business based upon first impressions and a spotless image, you script will be a reflection of you and your professionalism.

Compare it to a young actor auditioning for a casting director. Those eyes and coif have carried you this far, but now you’ve got to smile and show those teeth! That talent agent is probably not going to mention you’ve got great teeth at your first audition, but you can be sure that if you’ve got mangled teeth, there will be no hiding it. It will be among the first things noticed, and it will likely lead to a very quick audition indeed. You could be the second coming of Brando, but you’ll never get the part until those teeth are fixed.

So always proofread your material, double check your syntax, run a spell-check, have your English language mentor read through your script for you, and once all is said and done and you have your final draft ready to submit to the industry at large, have the script professionally proofread once more. It’s a small task that guarantees you are putting your best foot forward, but a potentially costly, timely and embarrassing one if you don’t.

FRONTLOAD

Frontload your script. It too seems obvious, but frontloading is a fine art that the best writers have turned in to a science. You’ve all heard about hooking your audience in the first ten pages, but how do you actually do this?

Let me ask you a question, and I want you to give it some thought. What’s the most action-packed, most well-written scene of your script? Is it that car chase on page 60 that have people referencing Steve McQueen in Bullit? Is it the shoot-out at the end inspired by Michael Mann’s Heat? Now, once you’ve answered this question, let me ask, is there a way to move it up to page 1, start your script with it, and begin the story with a bang? Maybe it’s an opening set piece before the opening credits roll that sets up the major conflict, or perhaps it requires a major restructure that sees that script completely rethought. Whatever the case, I highly encourage you to give it thought and get creative if you must.

If there is absolutely no way to move things around, it is imperative that you make your first scene a stand out scene in some way. It must be your best writing in that first fifteen pages. Consider it the prime real estate and only the best can be built on this lot. You don’t have the time or luxury for the slow build when submitting to agents and managers. You must impress in the first ten to fifteen pages, or your script will be a quick pass. I cannot stress this enough.

Remember that if you script gets optioned, it’s going to be further developed, and it’s going to change. No one will ever buy your script and say, “it’s perfect, lets shoot it as it is.” People are always going to put forth their notes and ideas and an optioned script will certainly be reworked. Don’t worry as much about keeping everything perfectly structured, as much as keeping everyone perfectly engaged. Your job right now, is to get someone to take you and your script seriously. Be sure that you put your best foot forward and start the script with your best writing. Once you’ve shown a reader your greatness, they are going to stick around to catch another glimpse. But if you take too long to display greatness, you may never get the chance at all.

RESEARCH

Finally, don’t submit your script or email or pick up the phone blindly.   Do your research and come prepared. Show you know who you are talking to and what you are talking about. Don’t get creepy about it, but do the background search; past projects, past companies and positions held. Know who they work with, have worked with, and know the projects that tie them all together. Any tidbits you can pick up along the way such as favorite drinks, hobbies or pets, will be highly useful intel as you build your network.

The obvious are all good places to start; a general web search and their profile on LinkedIN, IMDBpro and other professional databases. Of course, the daily trades (Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Deadline Hollywood) are also a wonderful source of timely information such as deals in the works, newly announced projects, and even the travails of current projects. Remember – Knowledge Is Power.  Investing in a subscription to one or two of these portals and websites is a small down payment, but one that will surely pay handsome dividends in your research.

Another source of information in the industry are the executive assistants and department coordinators. You know those stressed ones that answer the phone and talk super-fast? They are the gatekeepers and they are people that you would do well to make very happy. Be nice, be friendly, be respectful. Lift them up when they sound down with a quick joke, and offer to call back when they’re less busy. Be nice and make yourself memorable in a fun way.

Track the assistants in the same way you would the executives, not only because these people know and have access to an incredible amount of valuable information and can help you along your way, but because 85% of assistants and coordinators in this business go on to become executives and agents in a short amount of time. And while it may take 6 months to a year of submitting and chasing a high-level agent to read your material and get back to you, his assistant may well be promoted to junior agent well within that time!

When you do finally have someone on the phone, it is important to impress and not waste anyone’s time. And I don't mean spewing all the information you've learned about them, or telling them how well their project is doing according to the trades! I mean get to the point, give them your 30 second pitch and listen. Now is the time to bring your research together, and be armed with smart questions. Have a strategy, know the result you want to achieve, and follow through. Be prepared.

Point is, never underestimate the power of information and building relationships with everyone in this business, for you never know when that research will come in handy or who you may one day be speaking with. Being prepared for when opportunity presents itself will always make the difference in your career.  

Follow these three keys before submitting your script to the industry at large and you can be sure to be three steps ahead of the competition.