Writers in the 21st century know the importance of researching competition. If you haven’t learned that lesson then listen up! Novelists need to understand style and story trends, not to defy OR go along with them, but to understand readership and publishing’s expectations. Yes, you can take initiative and be innovative but you have to do that with deliberate, thoughtful intent to avoid frustration.
Script writers absolutely have to understand what films have been done and what is in development in order to create that “new and fresh” script that will appeal to the collaborators working in the industry specialties. Film-making requires a lot of money from investors who expect to at least earn-out their monies. Therefore, producers and studios must be highly selective of time and talent they pay to work on a project that will take about a year to get from purchase through development into production and, finally, into movie theater distribution (or on the TV screen).
Those producers and studios are NOT going to take You-the-Writer by the hand and explain what you need to learn about the kinds of scripts wanted and who would want them. That is part of your responsibility as a serious writer, part of the business of writing. Educate yourself then market yourself. No one will care as much about you as YOU!
WHERE TO BEGIN
The internet provides a valuable resource, especially one site, the Internet Movie Database or IMDb.com
. You can search the site for titles that have been used in the past. Note: Titles cannot be copyrighted but they can be trade-marked (George Lucas did that with STAR WARS). You can also look at the kinds of movies earning top box office to get a feel for current popularity. Word of Caution: Remember that “One Year Rule” because by the time you write your vampire or young sorcerer screenplay, the tastes of the theater-going public will change. So, why bother researching? So you DON’T write something that has already been done or you can create an argument for how YOUR project is significantly different. Always remember that the people you want to interest in your story KNOW their industry a lot better than you do.
Another tried and true couple of resources require subscription, but if you are serious, you will invest the money. These are the industry publications (in print and on-line) of VARIETY
and THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER
. They are dailies that document what is going on in the entertainment industry including both film and television. Just as editors shift positions and even publishing houses in the print publishing industry, Hollywood is even more volatile. Industry people switch representation and preferences at the drop of hat. You can find the names of newly hired assistants who are the people you contact FIRST whether it is at an agency, production company or actor. Assistants are the “gatekeepers” for their employers. Convince them or win them over and your script can get a read. Annoy them and you will most likely have to go elsewhere.
Recently, I discovered the Scroggins Report
, an on-line resource complied by Jason Scroggins of The Wrap News, Inc. Interestingly, he pulls information from both VARIETY and THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, so can be a "one-stop" opportunity. He has a free monthly report of sales but also has a subscription service, The Grid
, that you can trial free for two weeks at www.itsonthegrid.com
. Scroggins provides names of producers, agents, directors, etc. who have bought scripts or have scripts in development or in whatever stage of production. You can even search The Grid by genre to identify who is making films similar to your project. Remember, if people have to spend a year slaving away to take a story from script to screen, they will work on something they LIKE, so it behooves you to identify names of people you want to pitch. Personally, I identified the name of the people in one production company then got their contact information from the IMDb and sent those to my agent to market one particular script. You don’t have to have an agent to do this . . . but you can also discover the agents involved in a particular project to get their contact information from the Writers Guild of America ( www.wga.org
). Again, you identify people interested in material similar to yours.
Film festivals are popping up all over the United States. Originally the “bigees” were just Sundance and Austin. You can easily find an accessible one regionally if not in your state or even your city and find them somewhere any month of the year. Of course, most of the professional people attending are independent producers and directors who are there to promote their lower-budget, “indie” film. Sometimes the festivals will conduct a conferences where the professionals speak and doing Q & A’s with attendees. Again, this is another opportunity for you to learn about the industry and to get 1:1 information and advice. The majority of the professionals go to festivals not to boost their own egos, but to make themselves accessible. They love what they do and want to share that enthusiasm with others.
You can subscribe to a FREE film festival notification service at www.withoutabox.com
Some festivals (but not all) sponsor screenplay competitions. They charge entry fees and have deadlines. Their prizes range from only advertising winners on their website to prize money and readings by major producers or agents. My only warning is to research WHO is judging the entries and what you can expect from those judges. (Note: the majority do NOT provide any feedback or critiques on submissions because of the intense time and effort that requires.) Many film festival organizers simply pull the judges from their own pool of volunteers, people who have enthusiasm but no expertise or knowledge to seriously judge technique or story value. Others have recruited a tier of judges with the finalists being read by true industry professionals. Naturally, the prestige of a “win” is commensurate with the qualifications of the judges and the reputation of the film festival. Compare winning the screenplay competition at Sundance or Austin to winning in some obscure town in the midwest. Thats like being a finalist in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Science’s Nicholl to winning a short story contest at your local library. BUT, a win in a smaller festival can also be an encouragement to enter that same script in others. Each win is another validation on your writing resume.
LOCAL FILM PRODUCTIONS
Many a film professional got their start in film schools. The students HAVE to take a project from script to screen by practicing all the skills they have learned in the classroom. Many film enthusiasts have founded small indie production companies with a group of friends and learn by trial and error but it takes to create a cinematic story. In either case, these people needs lots of warm bodies for everything from a coffee run to holding a light to sewing a rip in a costume. Yes, this takes time out of your life, but you accomplish two things by volunteering with these projects: the hands-on awareness of what it takes to make a film and working with intense people who may one day do a bigger production or who may have the MONEY to pay you for a script.
Investigate local drama and writing programs to identify like-minded people you can get to know for the same reason. Human beings have a tendency to remember talented friends if they need help.
ON-LINE SOCIAL NETWORKING
Do not wait for people to come to you; go out and find mentors and associates. Facebook. Twitter
are three areas where you can interact with film professionals and other writers. Go on the hunt. You don’t have to be a multi-published, multi-produced writer to read and post to other writers. You just have to make the effort. Will everything be golden and open doors? Of course, not, but you will be wiser and richer just for the bits and pieces of knowledge you discover and the people you interact with.
Trust yourself enough to INVEST your time and effort in potential opportunities. Get out there and network.