So, how do I sell a cool movie script?

I don’t really have a movie script, but I was curious. A friend of mine said that writers and screenwriters make very little money, and I got curious aboutt the whole thing, then, I thought, even if I was a genius and the movie was great, how would I know how to sell it at the right price? If I got lucky, and it was what the public wanted, how would I get it to the right person?

That kind of junk. In short, I am a genius, with a fantastic script, and I want maximum money. What to do? Oh, btw, I don’t have any track record, so I would be going in cold.


You’d have to get an agent, and the agent would sell it for you. It would still be an uphill battle. I don’t think very many spec scripts get bought and made, as is.

This is all true. It’s always been tough to break in and sell a screenplay, but things are very, very bad right now. Studios and production companies are buying very few specs these days, because of the economy. I made a living for a handful of years as a screenwriter, sold several specs and got some assignments, but with first the Writer’s Strike, followed by the economy crashing, the market has just dropped out. Now would be a lousy time to try to break in. I’d recommend putting your screenplay in a closet, and wait until things get better.

I’m not sure what your friend meant by “very little money”, but a WGA writer can make pretty decent money per screenplay.

But, to answer your question, call up the Writer’s Guild. They’ll send you a list of agents who will accept unsolicited submissions. Pick a handful of them, but don’t bother sending them your screenplay. Send them a cover letter, introduce yourself, and give a short synopsis of your screenplay. If they’re interested, they’ll let you know, and then you can send them the actual screenplay.

Oh, if you’re paranoid about someone stealing your screenplay, you can have your script registered at the WGA, even as a non-member.

Movies are perhaps the industry in which who you know is most important. If you don’t know anyone, then your odds are zillions to 1. You either devote your life to getting a break or you become superfamous by doing something else first. You have a great script? So do 10,000 others who are actually trying.

Screenwriters make very good money by most normal standards, and even by most normal writing standards. They make very little compared to the top stars and directors or compared to writers like Stephen King or J. R. Rowling. But the vast majority of actors make very little compared to the biggest stars and the vast majority of writers make very little compared to bestsellers. The comparison is meaningless unless you define your terms. Are you talking a screenwriter of the biggest summer blockbuster or a small indie film? The former can make millions, the latter thousands. Just like every other industry.

Multiple filmmaking teachers at my college said to register scripts with the WGA before showing it to anyone, including your own mother.

Did they tell you how many authenticated cases there have ever been of some unknown’s script being ripped off by an agent?

I believe the number is somewhere under one.

And the WGA charges non-members $20 per registration. What a wonderful scam! And it’s entirely legal!

garygnu is correct. The rest are giving you old truisms that might not apply in 2010.

I am currently in the process of starting a new virtual studio, using innovative finance techniques and modern (and rapidly changing I expect) production techniques.

I have one film in production, one script in pre-production, and one script I am working on from scratch.

The point you are missing is that you think “screenwriting” is a business anyone can enter. For the most part, that is not true. Supply meet demand, and take note of low barrier to entry.

If you think of yourself as a cog in an entertainment production cycle, pretty akin to raw material that is plentiful, with most of it being awful quality, then you are closer to the truth. In that situation, where you are but one aspect of raw material needed, and the end product is highly refined, what do you think your value added truly is? Especially if you will not be participating in the rest of the production?

Statistically, it is pretty close to zero.

But if you are realistic about your role in making a production, and present some real value added, and work hard to find the right director or producer not with an agent, screw that, I want to meet the scriptwriter myself, then you have a chance.

But if you think that you have completed even 10% of your work by completing the script, you might as well hang it up IMHO. Scripts are a dime a dozen if that, and they all use the same format. You will need to target the right production possibilities with qualities they desire. It is up to you to find that out, and if it sounds like sales, it is. You want to make money, then treat if like a business, not a lottery. Make a business plan. The web and even your local big box store are full of (good and bad) books about scriptwriting as a business. But most of it is dreck IMHO.

If you don’t value your own intellectual property enough to spend 20 dollars to protect it legally, then what kind of production do you think is going to get made from it?

Not only that, but even if you somehow made it for 1000 dollars and it was the darling of Sundance, the production company would probably not be able to sell or otherwise market the films and its distribution rights, because it would not be able to provide the appropriate clearances. IANAL, but stuff like that matters.

Any director/producer that would produce am unregistered script is making a vanity project. It happens I suppose, but what that means to you as the scritptwriter is going to depend on your business circumstances indeed.

You’ve lost me. First what are you protecting your script legally from? Nobody is going to steal your script or your ideas. It doesn’t happen. Literally doesn’t. The very few plagiarism or copyright cases that have been fought have been instances in which two groups have submitted scripts to a production company and elements of them may (or may not) have been combined. WGA registration doesn’t do a thing for that. The WGA acts as a date-stamp, nothing more. It tells you upfront that it does not give legal advice.

Nor is the writer responsible for clearances. If a song or a likeness or anything has to be cleared, that’s the job of the producer and the legal staff. The writer is normally not even around at that point. There are companies that do nothing but clearances. As you can see at Indie Clear, their clients are not writers.

How much are you paying your writers, just out of curiosity?

Not true, as you say in your own next sentence.

The issue is not so much that, as protecting your downstream partners (production, finance, distribution and exhibition worldwide, when the stakes are higher.

But you never hear about the ones where the case is strong enough to deter production, or is settled.

Right. WGA is a not a lawyer. They are a service that provides legal evidence of your state of affairs at a certain time so that it can be considered with other evidence.

You can fly without it. I just don’t recommend it unless you are not interested in anything beyond a dvd to show to a few friends. In that case, maybe 20 bucks is literally half the production budget and not worth it. But if you are in it as a business, no one will touch a script that is not registered. Why should I as a producer take a risk on you if you can’t invest 20 bucks on standard business practices that exist to protect you and your partners?

True, the producer is though, if distribution and/or exhibition is required In fact, insurance will be bought to cover it, and that is where the question will come up. You won’t get insurance, and then you won’t get distribution. And then the entire effort will be wasted. Again, why bother, when 20 bucks will cover it at an early stage?

Not true, unless the script was sold outright and the scriptwriter has no interest in teh finances of the production. Which is dumb on the screenwriter’s part IMHO, and dumb on the producer’s part to take and invest in such a script.

My point is that the scriptwriter needs to treat his action as a business, and few businesses have less cost to play than registering a script. If you can’t or won’t do that, why should I buy a script from you, in effect assuming the risk? You should probably be paying me to take your script if that is the risk you want me to take. $20 dollars to register is less than it costs to get a producer to assume the risk on your behalf :slight_smile:

No one suggested that writers have to manage the clearances. It is the producer’s job, but why would a producer take a script that in itself is going to be a problem because the asserted author can’t or won’t vouch for the provenance?

At least you are not recommending to mail it to yourself in an envelope, I will give you that much at least.

Depends on a case by case basis. The film in production I am acting as producer of location shots, the film was already written. The one that is completed, the writer will also direct. The one we are writing now, the writer will also direct. So pay will depend on various participation factors I don’t want to discuss here, because they are going to be increasingly non-standard over time.

Even though I haven’t solicited them, I have been sent some other script fragments from people who want to just sell a script and be done. Like I said, a dime a dozen seems about right, maybe less if the writer is not willing to vouch for the provenance of the script.

Honestly, I have never heard anyone object before that registering a script is a bad idea. The money is trivial - it is not like anyone is writing even one feature script a month, and even if they were, it would be dreck.

In fact, a few years back I was approached by someone in the industry that was interested in setting up a competing service because it was such a good idea.

Of course it’s a good idea. A legal scam is the only surefire way of minting money. That’s why the WGA has a monopoly on it.

Look, I’ve been a professional writer for 35 years. I’ve been a member of several writers organizations that do battle with the phonies. I know every scam that has ever been perpetrated on writers, legal or otherwise.

I call the WGA Registry a legal scam because the vast majority of the non-members that pay into it will never get anything, anything at all, in return. They have no hope of selling a script, no hope of winning a case, no hope even of becoming a member.

You may say that $20 is minimal, but it adds up. The total might be pocket change to the WGA but it’s more than the annual operating budget of many of the smaller writers organization. Writer Beware, which wins real court battles against real scammers, could run forever on what the WGA takes in from people who get no return. Other organizations do this to various extents. The Romance Writers of America have over 10,000 members but fewer than 2000 have sold professionally. The rest are wannabes whose dues money give the RWA major clout. However, in return they get lots of instruction on writing and selling fiction.

That’s not to say the WGA as an organization is a scammer or doesn’t do good things for writers. It does. But only for its members. I’m not talking about their members. I’m talking about the legions of wannabe nonmembers who send in their scripts - and drafts and notes and whatever - and get nothing for it but a receipt.

Similarly, while you seem to be talking about indie filmmaking, I’ve been talking about the standard Hollywood film. Those screenwriters do sell their scripts outright and have no say in the making of the film. They aren’t writer-directors. That’s a different world, totally separate from the one I thought the OP was asking about. Everybody knows about the blonde (formerly Polish) joke that tells about the wannabe starlet who’s so dumb that she slept with the writer.

The Hollywood world of moviemaking and the independent world of filmmaking are as different as selling print to a mainsteam New York publisher and self-publishing a PoD book. The advice you give to one doesn’t work for the other. We’re not connecting because we’re talking about different worlds.

Good advice from all, and whatever you do - do NOT send your script to a studio. I used to work for a major studio and they send all scripts back to the author, un-read, and it was a waste of postage. For tons of legal reasons, they will not even open the script, let alone read it. Plus - if you ever go to the department where they do read scripts, they have mountains of them that have been sent by legit agents.
It is a very hard nut to crack - and even if you do get your foot in the door, it generally doesn’t make it any easier to sell the next script.

One footnote - years ago in the LA Times there was a great article about a guy who had a huge house in Beverly Hills and tons of money from his scriptwriting - the odd thing was that despite having sold dozens of scripts to Hollywood studios, not ONE had ever been actually turned into a movie and produced. He mentioned how embarrassing it was when people asked what he did for a living, he would tell them, and they would say, “Oh, have I seen any of your films?” and he would have to answer, “No.”

And if you ever live in LA, it seems like every other person has a script tucked away in the trunk of their car - ready to foist it upon some actor/director/producer when the opportunity arises.

No, we are talking about the same thing. It seems you and at least 8000 other writers write scripts for a hobby, not as a business or career. Oh you disagree? When was the last time you put together a business plan for you business, or an individual script? Have you incorporated? Why or why not? While you may not get something from WGA directly for the 20 dollars besides a receipt, when ownership becomes a business matter, you will in fact have somethng to rely on that courts will trust.

In ~30 years I have never personally made a claim on my car insurance either - is it a scam? Seems like you might say it is. I say it is similar - you pay now for benefits later.

As for Hollywood writers, such as Dmark mentioned, the finished script I am working on is from such a writer. His IMDB listing is somewhat short, but he has made a living selling scripts. But generally, he was commissioned to write them, they were works for hire.

If he wrote one on his own, he would have had to sell it and that is a business step. Others have recommended an agent, but is that really the best business strategy in every case, or simply the default one that might not be best for you?

I suggest that if you believe your script is great, turn it into a company, get people to fund the sale of it in order to increase the likelihood of a return. If you can’t even convince your friends and family to put in a few thousand bucks or whatever to give you time to go sell it, how am I as a producer going to convince people to gie me 1 million dollars (e.g.) to buy it from you and make a film out of it?

Seriously, is your script writing a hobby or a business? you sound kind of bitter and upset that you have to spend 20 dollars per script and never see a return. How many scripts do you have? Even if you had 50, that is 1000 bucks - small change for a serious business to spend on itself. Makes me wonder what other business expenses you are foregoing - oh I know, you like the production part of making scripts, but not the selling part. That is why, if you want to make money, find a partner who likes selling, and can arrange creative deals, then share the reward as you are both risking your efforts.

You know, there ie one person on FB who found me, her whole goal in life seems to be to get a script she wrote made by Steven Spielberg. She is not willing to consider anyone else, or to even look for someone that might make her film. She has a Spielberg fetish. But even she saw the value in my advice to her to treat her scriptwriting as a business.

I live in a very agricultural area. What you are upset about is tantamount to an individual farmer bitching that his fruit, off of his farm, which is essentially undifferentiated from any other fruit, is not served in a top restaurant in Paris he heard about.

If that is his dream, then he needs to make a plan to get his fruit there. It won’t be cheap and in all likelihood it will fail. But if he wants to try, go for it. If he wants to make a steady living though, then he needs to understand teh current and possibly emerging ways in which his fruit might be sold, and invest in what he thinks will work best. If he does nothing, his fruit will rot, and the only one eating it will be him because he will have no income at all.

And it is really hard to eat a script.

So my advice to you is to have a business plan if you want to sell something as a business, or stop complaining if business channels are inaccessible to you if your scriptwriting is a hobby.

I say this to writers in general, not just you. The organization you linked to seems like a group for hobbyists to me at first glance, not a professional group actively growing its members’ businesses. More like a support group than anything. If you want something from them, how about they have at least a sub-group that works on business matters for its members, beyond saying “get an agent”?

Um, I’ve never written a script in my life, nor have I ever said I did.

The rest of your post was equally spot on.

So what is your point in this thread?

You are calling the business practices of a field in which you don’t practice, not even a hobby, a scam despite having it explained to you that there is value in the service.

Then you assert my post makes no sense at all, without explaining why in the least.

If you don’t want to register, don’t register. Maybe you relay on Copyright Registration, or do both or neither.

Do whatever you want, I don’t care.

But as a producer, my particular plans are to make sure that everyone involved in the product is also involved in the business. If approached with an unsolicited idea, I would look for evidence that the writer has a certain level (above zero) of interest in the business side of things.

One way to show that is to demonstrate respect for intellectual property issues that might arise as a result of the script.

Without that, I am inclined to think that said scriptwriter is asking me to take a the risk of his/her work, and the work simply isn’t going to be that outstanding compared to other material available to me and in competition with that script for my attention.

If said scriptwriter had an idea to mitigate the risks, I am all ears. But skeptical.

What would you suggest as a persuasive mitigation, exapno, given that I probably can’t raise sufficient production funds, or almost certainly, a distribution deal, on a script where the scriptwriter won’t take standard processes to guard and vouch for intellectual property?

Damn, that is cheap. For most trade associations, $20 is called “postage and handling.”