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How To Market Your Screenplay

By Kathryn Knowlton

OK! You've got a terrific script! How do you get it read, and how do you sell it? The first step, of course, is to get good representation. One of the most important things to look for in your representative is whether or not s/he knows the marketplace. It is extremely important that your representative knows what the studios are looking for and the person at each studio who is looking for it.

With the success of 'American Beauty,' many of the studios are looking for quirky, edgy, offbeat movies, which would have been very hard to sell a year ago. Several studios have asked me recently for thrillers. For the past several years, there have been so many thrillers in development that no one wanted to hear about them. This is what I mean by knowing what they want: Why burn out your script when, by waiting out the tide, you can catch a wave?

I am also seeing that studios are looking more and more for genre films; i.e., horror, family or urban fare. Genre movies have a built-in audience. For example, even if a family movie grosses very little theatrically, they know they can make their money back in video sales. Another interesting trend is that quite a few musicals and riskier projects are in development now versus a year ago. Don't, however, forget that the core, repeat audience are 15 to 25-year-old males, the demographics the studios are willing to spend big money on.

On the other hand, I would never encourage a writer to write towards the current trend because, by the time your screenplay is finished, the studios will have filled all of those slots. Trends come and go quickly, which is why it helps to have a representative who talks to all the studios on a weekly basis.

Just to make it more confusing a studio may tell me that they want absolutely no CIA stories, but if I have a great CIA script and am armed with that knowledge, I can talk an executive into reading it, and if it's really good, probably buying it. If I was not armed with that knowledge, the script would just go to a reader, the executive would have no incentive to read it (after all, it's not what s/he has been asked to look for!) A representative with a personal relationship, however, can explain why this script is so good, and why s/he's willing to bet their reputation on someone spending time to read it.

Trends come and go very quickly, and yes, you can get lucky and catch that wave. To seriously succeed as a writer, however, and make more than just one sale, the best advice I can give you is write what you know and find a unique voice. At CSS, we each read approximately 1,000 scripts a year. Yes, one thousand, some of us read even more. For a script to make a sale, it has to stand out.

Some of the best scripts in town have yet to be produced, but have earned the writers years and years of work on other material. Stick to your guns, keep writing, and if you are a good writer and have solid representation, you will get your shot.

The truth is that no one really knows anything, it is passion that sells
material.

So, keep writing, keep honing your skills and be comforted by the fact that many truly successful writers tell me that they are still terrified every time they look at the blank page or computer screen. These are people making close to or more than one million dollars a script.

Meet the Author: Kathryn Knowlton