Rhonda has just typed “FADE OUT”. Over the moon about her first feature screenplay, soon she will change her Facebook status to “THE END!!”, open a bottle of her favorite sparkling and go on Skype to celebrate with her writing buddies all over the web.
by Karel Segers
So far so good.
What Rhonda doesn’t know, is that in exactly eighteen months and twenty-three days, she will grab her firstborn screenplay in ultimate frustration and throw it up the wall, down the stairs and finally in the bin.
By then she will have heard oral feedback from a handful of friends, rewritten the second act, received encouragement from a friendly TV writer, extensive notes from a professional reader (for a fee), rewritten the full script, sent it to a dozen producers, received rejection slips from half, rewritten it again and after a couple of failed re-submissions and more paid coverage from Hollywood readers, the penny will drop.
Her script will not sell.
after a couple of failed re-submissions and more paid coverage
from Hollywood readers, the penny will drop.
Rhonda can save herself the frustration because there is nothing unusual about this process. Breaking in doesn’t happen without pain and rejection. However, you can minimize the suffering by being prepared. Now, what are the realistic options for a first-time script by a first-time scribe?
There are roughly three happy places your script may go. One of these you can control yourself.
what are the realistic options for
a first-time script by a first-time scribe?
Let’s start with the other two for the fun of it.
1. The Writing Sample
Most decent first-time scripts fall in this category. Your idea is not the most original and definitely not high concept. Any producer will have a hard time finding finance and distribution, even though your script is a page turner and you demonstrate a unique, freshly original voice.
People will want to read more by your hand and producers ask “What else do you have?” You place well or win in a respectable screenwriting contest and perhaps land yourself an agent (but don’t hold your breath for this one).
Any producer will have a hard time finding finance and distribution
Carson at ScriptShadow gives you a “[xx] worth the read” and if you don’t close a sale for now, you are on the radar. If you play your cards right from here, you are at the start of your career.
2. The Spec Sale
If your story idea is commercially potent, you will sell. The script shows the mark of the inexperienced screenwriter but the brave who can see through your clunky style, will find an exciting story. If you manage to enthral the seasoned reader, you will first generate interest and ultimately money.
The Screenplay Purchase contract may contain a clause that you will do a First Rewrite (or two) under the guidance of the production company’s consultant or development executive. And even if the producers don’t believe in your writing magic, they may still proceed to buy your script. They want to own the rights so you cannot sue them when they hire another writer to re-write the story. Either way, you have reason to celebrate.
You are now a SOLD screenwriter.
3. The DIY Job
Your concept is low budget, kinda quirky and your writing doesn’t really betray the new Sorkin.
But in your heart you know this story must be told and you will not rest until it hits the screens.
Warning: this is going to be a hard slog. Ironically, it may also be your best chance to make it happen. Why? Because you are in control, baby! You will face the challenge of creating ‘leverage’, i.e. get someone interested who can help progress the script on its path to production.
in your heart you know this story must be told
Then, that person needs to bring the next important credit and slowly you build a group of people, services and money that together can make things happen. These could be actors, a well-connected cinematographer, an investor friend who wants to see you succeed, etc.
If your belief in your script is strong enough and you have enough savings in the bank, you may decide it is worth to bet the house.
It’s scary, it is the last thing I would recommend – but it is an option.
If your belief in your script is strong enough
and you have enough savings in the bank, you may decide
it is worth to bet the house.
Now you know what the three possible destinations for your debut feature screenplay are, perhaps
your writing will become more focused. Gone is the fear of not selling your script.
You have alternative options… and all the time in the world to explore them.
But first of all: write your way to …
(originally written for Script Frenzy)
– Karel Segers
Karel Segers is a producer and script consultant who started in movies as a rights buyer for Europe’s largest pay TV group Canal+.
Back then it was handy to speak 5 languages. Less so today in Australia. Karel teaches, consults and lectures on screenwriting and the principles of storytelling to his 7-year old son Baxter and anyone else who listens.
He is also the boss of this blog.