I just counted through the list of short screenplays that I’ve uploaded to this site. The current tally? Fifty. I’ve been at the writing game for a few years now, and it’s refreshing to realize that I’ve got a body of work to show for it.
But how many of those scripts have been produced?
In other words, roughly one out of every three short screenplays I’ve written has made the jump from script to screen. I’m happy with that ratio.
I recently met with another screenwriter to discuss a writing opportunity, and he steered the conversation toward production. He wondered how I’d come to have so many production credits. I gave the matter some thought, and decided I didn’t know. Not then, anyway.
I let the question simmer for a few days, then set down to write this post. I absolutely LOVE writing, but screenwriting is a tricky beast. If I write a short story, I can submit it for publication or self-publish online. The same goes for novels. I could finish an 80,000 word book, upload it Amazon, and tweet about it ’til my heart’s content.
But screenplays… screenplays aren’t done until they make it to the screen.
The first option I’d recommend that every unproduced screenwriter consider is to get out there and shoot it yourself. Back in the day, I got together with a buddy of mine and shot Inevitable. (Yeah, that’s my fat ass running around downtown Columbus, miraculously without breaking a sweat.) We shot Inevitable on an 8mm camcorder that I grabbed used, and I cut it on Sonic Foundry’s Vegas Video (back before Sony picked them up). I wrote a script with no dialogue (since I didn’t have any sound equipment), and we kept cast, locations, and shot composition within our limited skill sets.
We showed Inevitable at a couple of local filmmaker meetings, and we made enough contacts from that experience to shoot a second project (Game Day) with an actual actress. Knowing what I know now, I cringe at poor shot composition, bad editing decisions, and awful sound mixing. But by God, I got off my ass, made a short film, and put my ego aside long enough to show it to someone else.
The second bit of advice that I’d offer unproduced screenwriters is to network with other filmmakers. Writers are rarely extroverts, so the notion of going to a bar and shooting the $#!% with a stranger is about as appealing as the idea of tearing off your toenails and then wading into the Pacific. However, if you want to be a screenwriter… I mean, REALLY want to be a screenwriter, then you need to accept one simple truth:
Filmmaking is a collaborative art form.
As much as my time behind the camera has made me a better writer, I’ve found that I truly enjoy working with directors who have the same passion for directing that I do for writing. Martin Troy, who brought Bump to the screen, is a dyed-in-the-wool horror fan with both a love for the genre and talent behind the camera. I’ve worked with Max Groah (Backward Slate Productions) on multiple projects, and I’d drop whatever I’m working on if Max ever needed my help again. Why? Because his work is that damn good.
If I spent all of my time heads-down, writing, and I never stepped out of my own personal comfort zone to talk to other filmmakers, I’d have a lot less work to show for it. The other benefit of have produced work is that directors and producers will begin to seek you out to see if you have any scripts that are production ready.
If you’re not ready to leave the comfort and safety of your writing desk, you don’t need to just yet. Behold, the power of the Internet! I have a confession to make: I have not yet met Nic, the young Australian director who’s bringing Worth to the screen. Nic and I met… wait for it… ONLINE! He found a script I had posted in a writer’s forum and asked me if he could shoot it. I had to tell him no, though, since it had been optioned for production by another director just a few weeks prior.
“Would you be interested in writing something new for me to shoot?” he asked me. I believe my answer was something along the lines of, “Hell, yes!”
This leads me to the last bit of advice that I have to offer: put your work where others can find it. I know that we feel like our screenplays are never done, that they’re never quite right, but we absolutely cannot let that hold us back.
People will tell you your work sucks. People will laugh at you. People will accuse you of thievery, having stolen the title writer from those who really deserve it.
If you’re spending any time at all engaging these people, STOP IT! Accept that they’re out there, make a conscious decision to ignore them, and share something you wrote online.
If you’ve spent any time here on my site, you know that I’ve written a metric ton of screenplays for NYC Midnight. For the uninitiated, NYC Midnight is a screenwriting contest that assigns writers to a random heat, then gives each heat a genre, a character, a location, and a deadline. It turns out that this recipe works well in helping aspiring screenwriters actually write something.
Better yet, find a team that’s participating in a 48 Hour Film Project and volunteer to join the writing team. Four of the scripts here on my site are from 48 HFP shoots, but it’s the experience itself that’s going to help you in the long run. Writing a 5-10 page script in a few hours after you’ve just learned what the parameters of the script need to be? That’ll light a fire under your ass.
You can also post work online at Circalit and Trigger Street. Or, you could go the WordPress route and publish your screenplays on your blog. I’ve used all three outlets with varying degrees of success. Writers are often great at writing and not so great at self-promotion, but directors aren’t going to be able to find your work unless you give them something to find.
In summary, the three things you can start doing today to get your screenplays produced are:
- Shoot it yourself
- Network with filmmakers
- Put your work online
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but hopefully it helps point you in the right direction.
So what are you waiting for? Get to it!