(Disclaimer – I don’t really answer the question in this post, I just blather about possibilities.)

I met my first (and maybe only) goal for the new year: finish my screenplay. Well, the rough draft at least. I finished writing THE MELODY BOX yesterday. It’s about a young lad who is given a music box that writes infinite melodies. Ah, what a wonder it is! It’s 93 pages (really 92, because the last page is comprised only of the words “FADE OUT”). Many resources I have looked at say that the standard screenplay length for a beginner is 90-120 pages, and I was aiming for 90-95, so I’m kind of happily surprised that just by following my outline it worked out to just around what I was hoping for. I guess that is a sign that I am brilliant.

Okay, so I’ve got my first ever screenplay. Now what?

I don’t know.

From online screenwriting blogs and some books I ruffled through, I think I need to do a couple things.

1 – I need to polish this screenplay. I’ve given a copy to a some friends, and look forward to any feedback they might give. Hopefully I can force my parents to read it as well. Also, I need to get my mind off of it, because right now I’m so close to it that I’d probably be afraid to change much of it. So I need to–

2 – Write more screenplays. I’ve actually read you shouldn’t try marketing your first screenplay until you have written several, because potential agents or producers might say “I like your writing, but this one isn’t right for us, what else ya got?” and if you don’t have anything else, you’re kinda shooting yourself in the foot, especially since the chance of anyone saying that is pretty low to begin with. (Some also say that your first few screenplays will be complete garbage anyway; you just have to write them for the practice.) At this point, I don’t know if I’ll be able to resist dipping my toes in the water and trying to sell THE MELODY BOX before I finish anything else. I guess we’ll see how long it takes me to polish it and/or write another screenplay. It’s very tempting to just try marketing the screenplay RIGHT NOW, but I’ll resist.

3 – Try marketing it. A lot of the books I ruffled through suggested that one should get an agent, but some blogs I’ve read suggest that if you’re new to screenwriting and nobody recognizes your name, an agent might not be much help. So I’ll probably try marketing the screenplay directly to producers. I’m not quite sure how to do that, but from what I can tell, it involves sending out query letters, giving people a short description of my screenplay and asking if they’d like to read it. 99.9% will say no or never respond. If someone does request a copy, I send them the whole thing. And then, if the gods really favor me, they buy an option, which means I can’t sell the screenplay to anyone else for a year or so in exchange for $$$$. And then, if the gods really really favor me, they buy all the rights to it and make it into a real movie, and I win an Academy Award and become famous and all my dreams come true. I guess. (Of course, it could be purchased by a more low-budget studio, and might go directly to DVD or whatever, in which case, no Oscars.) Anyway, even if it’s optioned, they might not ever buy the full rights, or they may hold on to the option for several years, which means it can take a screenplay over a decade or two to actually be realized, if it ever is. So this really isn’t a very good get-rich-quick scheme at all.

One really confusing aspect that came up a lot in my research is the WGA, the Writers Guild of America. I don’t quite understand their role in all this, but from what I can tell, the big studios in the industry are “WGA signatories” and will only hire writers that are members of the guild. In turn, guild members can ONLY work for these WGA signatories. Want to join the WGA? Well, you can’t, at least not until you’re actually writing for a WGA signatory. So I’m not quite sure how exactly you get in.

My guess is that I really don’t have to worry about it until some WGA signatory producer or production company actually buys or options my screenplay, and then I’ll be pretty much forced to join. This would be very good, as I think it would imply that there’s a good amount of money involved (and then the WGA would always take 10% of all my writing profits). But if the screenplay is produced on a low budget, it’s possible that my screenplay could be produced by a non-signatory company. The thing that kind of bothers me is that, if I am lucky enough to have my screenplay purchased by a signatory company and am forced to join the WGA, I have to completely STOP marketing my screenplay to non-signatory companies. Which means I have to find out whether or not a production company is a signatory before I query them, which seems like it would be a pain.

And, to make matters even more confusing, the WGA doesn’t even really seem to exist. There’s actually a WGAWest and a WGAEast, each of them for different halves of the nation. I’d have to join East, since I’m in Virginia. Or I guess I could quickly move to California and join West?

So the entire business of screenwriting seems ridiculously confusing, at least for someone just starting to explore it. I guess I really don’t have to worry about much though since the chance of my screenplay being optioned by any producer or studio in the first place is very VERY small.

Anyway, for now I’m just waiting for feedback on THE MELODY BOX while plotting out some other screenplay ideas and trying to decide what to work on next. (And I’ve got TONS of ideas…)

PS – My recent obsession with screenplay did make me fail one of my goals–to keep updating my daily comic. I still have plenty of comic ideas, just less enthusiasm with which to draw them and post them. Hopefully I will continue though, eventually. I’m paying for the domain, after all.


7 Comments

LanthonyS · January 14, 2010 at 12:45 AM

As usual, I’m fine with reading and commenting (whether as minutely as last time or more generally depends on schoolwork) on your writing.

I’d go with option #2.

Michele Wallerstein · January 17, 2010 at 7:45 AM

Hi Sean: If your script is a well written as your blog, you must be very talented.
I am a screenplay consultant and the author of the new book “MIND YOUR BUSINESS: A Hollywood Literary Agent’s Guide To Your Writing Career”. Do you need my help? Check my web site at:
http://www.novelconsultant.com for my info.
I’d love to help you. – Michele

S P Hannifin · January 17, 2010 at 8:44 PM

Thanks, but I wouldn’t pay hundreds of dollars to a literary consultant who uses the phrase “a well written as your blog.” But I appreciate your marketing plan of spamming blogs with compliments and a link.

Michele Wallerstein · February 16, 2010 at 9:09 AM

Oops, you’re right. That was a typo. How dreadful. However I might suggest that you not burn bridges so early in your writing career.

S P Hannifin · February 16, 2010 at 10:58 AM

As you are probably aware, there are plenty of “consultants” out there willing and ready to make a buck off of new wannabe writers. If you don’t want to look like you’re out to scam people, I would not suggest your Internet marketing strategy of posting spam comments on blogs.

Robert · December 13, 2010 at 12:54 AM

S.P. –
Hey, I just finished my third screenplay and can vouch for the idea of writing several more before trying to market the first one. I’m presently rewriting my first script (which I thought was pretty good at the time). It was a disaster on all fronts.

Selling a script is tough too, but that’s why we write them. Eventually you have to market your stuff. The longer you can wait on that first one, the better.

I had some people read my third screenplay and say decent things about it, but I never got good reviews on the first one. My dialog was on the nose, it had no subtext, poor structure, you name it. The nice part about going back after two years and rewriting it though, is that the “bones” of the story are already in place.

I would suggest entering your screenplay in some contests like Bluecat, they offer a good review with each entry.

The big contest of course is the Nicholl Fellowship, that’s the granddaddy of contests and all you need to do is place in the top 250 and you will get some calls. That means hitting the top five percent bracket, and it isn’t easy.

There’s about five good contests that are worth testing your material in so — write on brotha’.

S P Hannifin · December 13, 2010 at 2:30 AM

Hi Robert, thanks for the comment!

I recently wrote a more recent blog post in which I whine about not really wanting to write anymore screenplays on spec, just because they feel like a waste of time if they go un-produced.

I went back and made some edits to the screenplay. Maybe in a few years I’ll reread it and think “ack, how awful!” but for now I’m still pretty pleased with it; though I could of course continue tweaking it upon each rereading…

I’ve started sending out query letters, though I expect that’s a bit like playing the lottery and won’t hold my breath. So far I’ve only attracted more people who want to sell me their consulting services.

Thanks for mentioning contests; I had completely forgotten about them! I think I’ll give the query letters a few months, and then start looking into them. I was also thinking about turning the story into a play, which might fun… I wonder how hard those are to sell? Even if I could interest a small theater group somewhere, that would be fun…

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