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January 19 at 2:04pm

Ten Things To Do Before You Submit A Script

By Ted Hope

There’s a whole lot more than ten things I could say on this subject. And this list is NOT a top ten. But people always wonder why certain scripts get acquired or developed, and others with similar content never touched; I would say the former’s filmmakers do most of the things on this list. You really only get one chance. “Getting feedback” will kill your script for the immediate period — at least with the company you are submitting it too. Spend the time now to get it right and understand why you need to be the one to tell this story at this point in time.
 

1) Cut at least another 10% of the script. Even when you think you are finished, there’s always another 10% that can come out.
2) Clarify what you feel the themes are and how they evolve during the course of the narrative.
3) Figure out some of the ways that the story can be expanded onto other platforms.
4) Know what the historical precedents are for your story and how you differ from them in how you have chosen to tell it.
5) Review the script from each characters’ point of view and make sure that their dialogue and actions remain emotionally true for each of them in their different situations.
6) Recognize what some of the mysteries contained within both the characters and story are that you are committed to protecting — as not everything should be explained.
7) Understand why you are truly prepared to tell this story at this time – or not.
8) Make the world that the characters inhabit truly authentic; don’t just give them jobs or apartments or hip music to listen to.
9) Make it somehow provocative, intriguing, audacious, or thought provoking — something that will make it stand out.
10) Make sure it is more than just a good story told well. Be truly ambitious. Take us somewhere new, or take us there in a new way.

 
The key thing with this list or any list is still to put yourself in the shoes of whom you are submitting the project to. Everyone has too much work as it is. Our company is only five people and we get 3000 submissions a year. You do the math (8.2 scripts/day to read, every day = 1.6/d per employee, every day of the year). And no one pays us to read your script. If reading it is a waste of time — because you did not pay us the courtesy of proof reading and writing something really GOOD, then we never want to see something from you ever again.
 
Most of our submissions come from agents, as we use them as sort of a filter — but to tell you the truth, I have never found something that did not come from a friend, a partner, or directly from a filmmaker that I had already wanted to work with. But please, think of the work load you are asking someone to take on when they read your script; you are just one out of 3000. The scripts pile up. Each one is a minimum two hour commitment and a selection not to spend limited time in a different direction. Please be courteous to whomever you submit your project to — even if it takes them longer than you ever dreamed to read it.


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  • Anonymous

    This is all true except that it's WHO you know as well. You have to do all of the above and have a friend at a film company to pass it along. This is evidenced by your statement "I have never found something that did not come from a friend, partner, or directly from a filmmaker that I had already wanted to work with." I have a hard time believing that in the THOUSANDS of blind submissions you have received that there weren't a few scripts worth making. There probably were, but some intern who didn't know what he/she was talking about gave it a pass.

  • pangofilms

    Reading scripts is a thankless job. I have no problem believing that there was nothing in the thousands of submissions. It's more of an achievement that Ted managed to find enough scripts to make as many good films as he has.

    Writers are all convinced that they're scripts are great. I don't know how practical that list is, but most of it makes sense. A different producer might have a few disagreements as Ted Hope looks for stuff that is different and new and original and a lot producers do not.

    Here's another one: don't take rejection personally. That's more from experience. I don't know if you can teach that.

  • Anonymous

    This is all well and good, except that everything on the list should be considered before you even write "FADE IN" and that can't be fixed simply by doing another draft (indeed, by then it's too late to do pretty much everything you've detailed here). Which means it's not a list of things to do "before you submit," it's a list of things to do "before you start."

  • Anonymous

    Could you please elaborate on #3? Thanks in advance.

  • Anonymous

    yes perhaps the article shd be retitled: Things To Do Before [emphasis on before] you start!

  • William

    I've submitted to various outlets from The Nuyorican Poets Cafe (when they had a Screenplay Readings Night) to CAA and the outlet you are submitting to should reflect your writing. Years back when I submitted to NPC I actually met the readers. They were all of 18 years old working for free. It is thankless and it is a stepping stone job into the industry. I've done that too.

    The reality is Ted is looking for something unique that stands out from the slushpile. The studio MO is the complete opposite — "the same but different." Now, especially, they want a copy of a copy of a copy. That's fine. Good stories can be told there too but that's not really Ted's goal here. Look at his producing credits on IMDb.

    It takes years and stacks of material to to know what it is you excel at as a writer. Look at your first screenplay and look at your most recent. It goes without saying that there should be more than one but there should also be a vast difference in style and quality. There are hundreds of moving parts that you have to adjust along the way and you need to be flexible. What's the rule of thumb? It takes ten years minimum to be a writer and by writer I mean competent. I'm not there yet.

    It's hard to not be cynical about the process but you can't be. Writing an engaging screenplay that will get made is almost impossible. Almost. Those are your odds and you should know that going in. Like pangofilms said, having a thick skin doesn't hurt either.

  • Jentri

    Thanks for the post, Ted. From my experience as an indie filmmaker, I've found all of your above points to be true at some point in my progressive screenwriting career. And I understand writer's frustrations, I really do. I've felt it all, too, but bottom line – it's a two-way street. We can't forget that, even though we're writing something WE would want to see, (hopefully that's the case) there's still a huge world out there we have to find – our audience. Without knowing who 'they' are, we're just wasting time.

    KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE.

    And…

    If you believe in your story you won't stop because someone says "no." You'll simply find another way. :)

    Happy writing, friends!

  • Anonymous

    In regards to the question about #3, most distributors these days are looking at ways to be able to expand just past one platform in order to take advantage of as much exposure and use from one idea as possible. This means that from your screenplay, see if there are ideas to expand it into video games, TV, internet segments (webseries/interactive websites like The Dark Knight did/ blogs, etc); ways to possibly connect to it mobily (the new big thing it sounds like), or other such things.

    I also agree with the point about knowing these things going in to writing your screenplay, though disagree that these things can't be fixed with rewrites or that at any point it's too late to revise (except if you submit prematurely to production companies that is!). Having worked for a production company where we had to go through hundreds of scripts (theatrical & TV Pilots), I see now how critical it is for all aspects of a story to come together as even a great concept can't tread water. I hold great respect to producers or companies who are willing to hold out or be extremely selective on the stories they choose, and if you want to learn how to be a better writer, work for a company where you read a lot of scripts… It'll really put into perspective how hard it is to find a very well rounded project that's worth the time and money to invest into. And I swear you'll vow to never become a writer who just puts slabs of raw beef on someone's plate and call it a hamburger.

    Last off, if you want to write, start learning how to love rewriting and find story editors (or writers) you can trust and who understand your voice and style and can offer critical, useful feedback (over your several drafts). The first draft is just laying out the brush strokes, the rewrites are the detail and color. How could you not love seeing your baby evolve for the better?!

    has Jentrl said, happy writing!

  • Cranky

    Hello – good food for thought. However, what does expanding a story into other platforms mean, exactly? Doing such certainly couldn't apply to every story, if I understand what expansion into other platforms actually is. Would love a response explaining that! Thanks!

  • Anonymous

    Re: Cranky's Question

    It's sort of difficult to pinpoint exactly what expanding into other platforms specifically means as it certainly goes differently based on different stories. Though there are a lot of strategies to look at in terms of how to expose your film over the different mediums. For example, with a very commercial film (say the one we hear a lot about right now – Avatar) they might try to hit up all sorts of platforms, making it into a video game, having an interactive website, doing viral videos, having people write blogs about it, following threads on twitter, getting coverage in magazines, all that stuff.

    Something with perhaps a more modest budget that say fits more into a dramatic context, and seemingly doesn't have the sort of story that might transfer over well to trying to create a tv series from it, or doesn't have that 'hook' to it that can generate instant word of mouth, it still has several options over the platforms to consider. It too could have an interactive website that releases content from the filming of the movie; maybe some behind-the-scenes content. You might also want to get your audience more involved with your content so give them photos they can photoshop or put up on their blogs. Maybe try something new and give them footage to cut together a teaser trailer with, or have a contest to win. For mobile use, have the actors talking about the shoot on twitter and posting photos and stuff. There is of course a limit to doing this stuff, and you want to control it so that it's nothing that can discredit your film, but these sort of things generate a lot of word or mouth and so if you can find ways to expand your story across these platforms with just the idea, just release interesting, interactive, free content, and you'll hopefully find positive response.

    Quick note towards platforms like TV or Webseries; these of course are a lot harder to go from theatrical down in to, though comedies can lend themselves to transitioning over in much broader ways as the world isn't so set on rules. It's much easier to go from a Webseries into TV (or maybe vice versa if the content is right) but Webseries alone have the ability to expand so much more into other platforms and can cross into music, film (especially shorts), and otherwise to find a diverse audience. My company Awkward Moment Productions just co-produced a webseries called Mental Beast (www.mentalbeast.com) which had artists around Vancouver write songs for it, as well as do in-character radio interviews that play separate from the webseries about a group of people running a radio station on the verge of collapse. It was just voted as one of the top ten best series of the decade and received a lot of word of mouth from the internet advertising and audiences in all those various venues. I know that's sort of shameless self promotion, but it's the best example for that I have right now. That and a webseries called Riese that's pulling in a huge audience for sifi fans (I have nothing to do with that, but check it out if you want to know more). They went down to Comicon and handed out like 60,000 flyers to sifi fans and have been getting great word of mouth!

    Hopefully that's detailed enough and helps a little. It's really complicated to know what is right and what could work, but think outside the box and if your film doesn't fit into the mold of expanding it's central idea, think of ways to use these platforms to gather word of mouth in other ways!

    Cheers

  • Ryan Stauffer

    Comment third from the top (Anonymous) said this:

    “This is all well and good, except that everything on the list should be considered before you even write ‘FADE IN’ and that can’t be fixed simply by doing another draft (indeed, by then it’s too late to do pretty much everything you’ve detailed here). Which means it’s not a list of things to do ‘before you submit,’ it’s a list of things to do ‘before you start.’”

    Have you, Sir, ever written a screenplay? A polished, crafted screenplay? If so, did you write it all in one draft, or did you fix some of its problems in later drafts and polishes?

    This kind of statement is nonsense. Every screenplay goes through multiple iterations. Even professionals will often admit that their first drafts are miserable.

    Admittedly it would be better to take Ted’s suggestions into consideration before embarking, but to say that you can’t fix even major, fundamental problems by continued work betrays a deep misunderstanding of the craft of screenwriting.

  • Jon

    I have to agree with the commenter citing Ted’s statement, “I have never found something that did not come from a friend, partner, or directly from a filmmaker that I had already wanted to work with.”

    This list really just makes me want to make my own films instead of even bothering with submitting to anyone. Really Ted. Why bother? If your staff never heard of me, they won’t bother with me either? And that makes me wonder why you even bother to post this at all.

  • jeff

    maybe if writers would spend more time writing and less time complaining mabe some new material would result from it.. Tired of seeing the re-makes thats all I’m saying…

  • http://theideagirlsays.wordpress.com Linda Randall

    I’m doing a blog tour tonight I started with syd field, found a youtube guy ashley and now I’m here :)

    I’ve written several novels (posted on authonomy.com for voters) and now my first screenplay during the 2010 Script Frenzy Challenge (winner).

    I took out seven books from the library and they all say “different” things about the script. Mind you they are from 1998. How do I know what the market is looking for now in 2010?

    Some want the (emotions) in the dialog while others say it’s an insult to put it into your script because when actors see it they run. (Joe Eszterhas Book – The devil’s guide to hollywood – the screenwriter as god – i’m blogging his book and Linda Palmer’s How to Write It How to Sell It on my writers blog the idea girl says – I’m sure i’ve seen your website in my comments from one of my readers)

    The other question is in the script do you describe how your characters look?

    Or does that only go into the synopsis?

    I wrote a one page synopsis but when I put the character descriptions in it goes to two pages, so I removed their descriptions.

    Not sure what to do about this, please advise. thanks.

    http://www.twitter.com/theideagirl

  • http://www.facebook.com/Various.Marks Mary Tagab

    In a short film you have a limited time to develop your characters and even less time to create complex plots, so the simpler the better. There is no one rule on how to make the best short film script, however originality is key, and the way your audience interprets your material is what is going to determine your success.

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  • Randy Brown

    I got this link fron Raindance. Very helpful. I am currently a top 20 finalist in a worldwide short screenplay contest. The winner gets their short produced. I'm in third place and need a little help- I need internet votes. Please go to http://www.wildsound.ca/the_gunfighte... , press the circle for The Gunfighter's Code, click 'vote'. Contest closes Nov. 27, 2011. Thanks for your vote! Randy Brown, Raindance Member- Toronto, Canada

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  • Sloanyoung

    This app will not work without script writers submitting material — so check it out:

    Ever wonder who picks the movie ideas? Now you can tell the movie makers what you want to see. The concept is simple. Look at an original screenplay concept, rate the idea, and let your review be counted.

    The biggest complaint about Hollywood is, “they have completely run out of ideas.” What few newish ideas get made into movies are usually not worth the ticket price. A general dissatisfaction is voiced, “who comes up with these awful ideas?” or “is that the best they can do?”

    Producers do not have the time or resources to scan through the thousands of original scripts available. What if you allowed millions of movie fans to choose the movie concepts they want to see? 

    Our new application 'The Producer' allows Facebook members to vote for original feature movie concepts and tell the world what they would and would not pay money to see. 

    The idea is to attract real producers and production companies to select the most popular ideas for development. If the many voices of the 99% have a say in the future of movies and their selection, an instant fan base is achieved — and movie makers will take heed.

    If you love movies and the concept of this application, spread the word and get your friends to join in and vote with enthusiasm.  Click the Like button and help promote the idea.

    What happens to the screenplays you review? If they get picked up and made into a movie, we will keep you up to date on production and release dates. After all, you helped get the movie made!

    SPECIAL MESSAGE TO AMATEUR SCREENWRITERS

    Tired of endless submissions and script contests? We know there are not enough production companies in the world to look at all of the original screenplays from unknown writers. Any call for submissions is likely to crash an e-mail server or overload the mailman, and it is so easy to get lost in the crowd.

    What if you could pitch the concept to the popcorn loving populous? Just because you think it is the greatest concept ever, doesn't make it true! However, if the people buying the tickets rate the concept high, and even more, state that they would buy a ticket to see the finished product, Hollywood will take notice. Think about it, a ready-made audience committed to seeing a movie they personally feel responsible for getting “Green-Lighted”.

    So, is your original script and concept the best? Is it worth making into a feature film? Are you willing to put it to the test? 

    You need a Facebook account to submit a pitch, summary, and the first couple of scenes on 'The Producer' site for review by everyone:

    https://apps.facebook.com/the_

    Facebook users who sign up search the submissions, rate the concepts (1 to 5 stars) and select whether they would see the finished product (note that you can also sign up and rate concepts).  Get your friends to join in, post on every writers discussion board, forum, and blog you belong to, and help promote the idea.

    You retain all rights to the material you post (Terms and Conditions), and every script you post has your contact information so any interested production company can contact you directly about your submission. 

    Most importantly, if your screenplay gets purchased, let us know so we can tell everybody who voted for your concept that they helped get your movie made, and when it will be released.

    You get a chance to showcase your creativity, movie buffs get to help pick the films of tomorrow, and everybody gets the power to help shape the future of the movie industry. Everybody gets the chance to play the role of The Producer! 

  • http://convercinema.tumblr.com Miles Maker

    My position on other platforms is this.

    If they don’t even like that you’ve written in screenplay format, the conversation will never come up. I also don’t believe it’s entirely up to the screenwriter to conceive these other iteration of story because there are experts out there to consult in addition to the company you’ve partnered with–if they don’t have any ideas, they’re certainly not going to follow your lead and explore all of yours.

    There are also very few companies out there willing and able to execute your story on other platforms even if you had the greatest ideas anyone could ever conceive. You’re likely dealing with a production company considering making your screenplay into a movie–that’s it.

    In addition, I would encourage screenwriters to retain all story rights EXCEPT motion picture rights, so if there is any exploiting of your IP on other platforms it will be deftly managed and strategically negotiated by YOU.

  • http://my168project.com/ Matches Malone

    I like what you said about what it costs to read a script submitted to you. I’m pretty sure agency representation would take care of this part, however.

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  • hallerwan

    You can try mule production, they always give feedback even if they don’t take it on unlike most production companies

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