SO YOU'VE FINALLY FINISHED that coveted feature spec you’ve been slaving over for months (if not years), and are ready to watch it come to life on the big screen. Why not? That’s why you write screenplays, isn’t it? To see Sean Penn inserted as your male lead and to get the chance to goggle as he deftly delivers your clever dialogue. To watch the credits roll by after a successful Hollywood premier and see those lovely words – WRITTEN BY – followed by your name. To be able to log onto IMDB and marvel at each writing credit you’ve managed to manifest. Yes, these are the things a screenwriter lives for. So what’s standing in your way?
Clearly, it’s no cakewalk trying to convince a studio exec to green light your masterpiece, or even get a meeting with said exec in the first place. And unless Harvey Weinstein is on your speed dial, you most likely also have the usual culprits to contend with – finding an agent, motivation, discipline, support. But aside from those common speed bumps, what excuses do you have?
Now, understand, there’s nothing wrong with writing a screenplay that doesn’t ever reach the promised land of “being produced.” There are those writers who make a very good living while never seeing their work grace the silver screen (or the boob tube). There are even a handful of writers who’ve sold their scripts to studios for hundreds-of-thousands of dollars, have great agents, contacts, and resumes, but still have yet to see their work ultimately realized as a finished product. Should it matter? Is getting produced that big of a deal?
I don’t know about you, but if someone offered me half a million dollars for my spec, and told me it would probably never be made, I’d take it in a heartbeat. You may say that you write screenplays for fun – which is fantastic! But don’t tell me you haven’t, at some point while plugging away on your laptop, visualized that magic moment of walking into a cineplex and experiencing your baby on display in front of a packed audience. We all do it. And if you’re a TV writer, you’ve surely imagined that prime-time moment where your show flashes onto HD plasma screens everywhere. It’s only natural. Getting produced is important. Not only for your resume, but for your screenwriter’s soul. It is the most fitting end to a journey that begins with “FADE IN."
Assuming you don’t have the top literary agent at CAA in your corner, and you’re not the offspring of some famous Hollywood mogul, there are two solid ways I know of to get produced. The first is simple, and fairly straightforward: Network.
My first produced script occurred because I met someone who got me a job where I met another person, who introduced me to two other people, who eventually bought my script and turned it into a finished film. Bottom line – you can never know enough people! What would have happened if I hadn’t reached out to that initial contact? Well, someone else would probably be writing this article. I can’t tell you how valuable networking has been for me – and in this strange world of entertainment, one of the tricks to turning your contacts into future gold mines is learning to give before you receive. If someone asks you to take a look at their script and provide feedback, or help them prepare for an audition or an interview, or even hold a boom mic on the set of their short film – do it! People remember these things, and the favor will be returned. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met on their way up the entertainment power-ladder. Do something nice for them, and when they graduate to a mighty position in the industry, their return favor may just get you produced.
The second way to turn your script into a movie or TV show is to take matters into your own hands – literally! Write that script. Rewrite it until it’s ready to be made. Have as many people read it as possible to get a broad spectrum of feedback – and when you think it’s golden, grab a camera and SHOOT IT. Don’t wait around for Steven Spielberg to invite you into his office and offer you a six-figure deal plus back-end. Just make your movie, regardless of whether it’s a pilot, short, or feature. Introduce yourself to a DP, a producer, an editor. Direct it yourself, or find someone who shares your vision to help guide the process.
I made the decision to do just that in 2007, and now I have an award-winning film entering its fourth film festival. If I’d waited around for something to happen, I’d probably still be waiting. Sometimes you simply have to be pro-active and confident, and do it yourself. Is it easy to make a movie? No. But if you’re passionate enough about your story, and want more than anything for it to be viewed on the big screen, you’ll find a way to get it done. Mr. Weinstein may not be in your rolodex, but there are many other creative ways to find funding, including grants and contests. One thing I always try to remember if all else fails: Family members with a couple extra dollars laying around are out there, somewhere. Hopefully you’ve done them a favor!
Nicholas Pallos is a produced screenwriter living in Los Angeles. Visit his website at: www.nicholaspallos.com