Screenwriting How-To: David H. Steinberg is the screenwriter of the Porky’s remake that never got made (as well as “Slackers” and “Puss in Boots,” and other films). He’s writing a series of articles for Yahoo! on the craft and business of screenwriting. He is still accepting applications to follow him on Twitter @DavidHSteinberg. — The Editor
In my wildly successful article “How to Break Into Screenwriting,” I talked about the methods that will maximize your chances of getting your screenplay into the hands of someone who can actually help you sell it. But let’s face it, not everyone can move to L.A. and get a job in the WME mailroom. And my backup plan of finding someone to make a referral just isn’t going to be possible for a lot of people who are more than seven degrees apart from Kevin Bacon. So here is my guide to advanced self-promotion: What to do if nothing else works.
Screenwriters figure things out
First of all, let me just say that reading this advice means you’ve already failed on a certain level. Sorry to be a downer but it’s true, and here’s why. Screenwriters figure things out. We start with nothing and come up with something. That’s called “writing.” Then, we rearrange that something, running through the infinite permutations to make it better. That’s called “rewriting.” If and when you make it as a professional screenwriter, a large percentage of your paid assignments will be either rewriting other people’s scripts or adapting existing material. And here a producer is basically telling you, “We can’t figure out how to make this work, can you?” And you say, “Yes, yes, I can.” So screenwriters must constantly be able to figure out solutions to story, character, or just life problems that other people don’t see. Because you’ve been blessed with a superior imagination, people will rely on you to come up with original ideas. So if you can’t even figure out how to get an agent you’ve never met before to read your script, what good are you?
Pick up the phone
But I digress. Here’s how it’s done. Forget emails and (God forbid) snail mail. A busy agent might get a thousand emails a day and will have an assistant filter out the least important ones anyway. And if you send a letter in the mail, the agent’s assistant may look at it like it’s a scroll of papyrus. Agents (and managers) are in the phone business. They are on the phone all day long. Speak in their medium. Call.
But don’t call them. They’d never take that call in a million years. Call their assistant. That’s who’s going to be dealing with you anyway, so don’t waste everyone’s time asking for the agent. Be honest and direct and figure out how to pitch your script in 10 seconds. “Hi, I’m a writer looking for an agent and I’ve got a script that’s ‘The Hangover’ times 10. But with space chimps. Can I send it to you?” If he or she says, “Sorry, we not taking any new clients right now,” that’s probably true. But it’s also kind of false because no agent is too busy to take on a new client with a hot spec. Never lie, but maybe it’s OK to mention who else is looking at it: “Oh, OK, I was just sending it out to CAA and Gersh and I thought you’d want to see it, too.”
Deploy your ‘associates’
And one more thing. If possible, don’t make these calls yourself. Imagine the above scenario with your significant other making the call instead of you. “Hi, I’m an independent producer and I’ve optioned a script. We’re looking to set the writer up with an agent before we go out to the town with it. It’s like ‘The Hangover’ times 10. But with space chimps. Interested?” I actually did this in 1997 and my girlfriend at the time (now wife of 11 years) got 95 percent of the people she called to request the script.
Like I said, screenwriters figure things out.
More Screenwriting How-Tos from David H. Steinberg:
- How to Get Your Screenplay Done, Complete, Fade Out, The End
- How to Break Into Screenwriting
- How to Create a Killer Outline for Your Screenplay
- How to Fail in Screenwriting While Really Trying