As Hollywood and technology change, so do the ways in which you need to market yourself as a screenwriter. The old days of sending query letters – snail-mail or email – to agents, managers and production companies is pretty much over. These days, you have to be savvy, know how to use social media and, most importantly, have a market-ready, kick-ass script.
Assuming you don’t have an agent, manager or lawyer helping you (and even if you do), here are the things that can establish you as a screenwriter and get people interested in reading your script.
1. Decide who you are as a writer
When you’re learning to write screenplays, it’s a great idea to test the waters in various genres. I don’t think there’s a writer alive who doesn’t want to write that one perfect Western, or that one terrifying horror movie. But once you have several scripts under your belt and are preparing to try to make a career out of screenwriting, it’s best to put yourself into a neat, recognizable box (if you don’t, your manager will do it for you, so why not be in control?). Do you excel at writing family comedies like School of Rock? Or are R-rated comedies like The Hangover more your speed? Do you write epic science fiction scripts like Arrival? Or indie, low budget sci-fi like Ex-Machina? Things will be a heck of a lot easier (at least in the beginning) if you know your brand. Once you have some success, you can always venture out into other genres, but establish yourself as one type of writer first and become the absolute expert on that genre.
2. Get a blog
Say you write political thrillers. Start a blog (it’s free!) where you write about current and/or classic political thrillers and write about a different movie each week. Know the genre inside and out and share your thoughts about it. Ask your readers to suggest movies and share their opinions. Start a conversation with like-minded people and build a social media following. In your bio on the blog, include the logline of whatever political thriller you’re currently working on and why you’re excited about it. DO NOT put your script on your blog for the world to click on. What’s important is that you are establishing an internet presence and giving people something to read and tweet about.
3. Create a web series
You don’t have to become a full-on YouTuber, but putting content on FunnyOrDie.com if you’re a comedy writer can go along way and get you noticed. Create short, 3-5 minute episodes of a show in your specific genre. If you write romantic comedies, why not do a series of really bad dates? Or create crazy characters based on real Match.com profiles? More and more people are coming to legit film and television careers after creating content for the web.
4. Make a short film
This can be shot very inexpensively and edited on your laptop. Not only will you learn a lot about short-form story telling, learning to edit will only make you a better writer. If you’re near a college that has a drama department, you can put out a casting call in the school newspaper and hold auditions. You don’t have to pay your actors, but you must provide lunch and a DVD of the film when it’s complete. If the film is any good, you can send it to short film festivals. With any luck, you’ll get into at least one of them and if you do, you can attend and network away.
5. Send your script to screenwriting competitions
Some people find managers by entering competitions, or, at the very least get their work read. But do your homework. Screenwriting competitions can get pricey so you need to target the competitions you enter. The likelihood of a rom-com winning the Nicholl competition is pretty low. If you write horror, focus on The Bloodlist. Austin Film Festival has a great competition and their conference is very writer friendly. There are several good competitions out there that can open doors for new writers.
6. Go to film festivals
Even if you don’t live in Los Angeles or New York, you can still go to film festivals like South by Southwest and meet other filmmakers, producers, agents and managers. Bring a stack of postcards or business cards that have the name of your screenplay or webseries, the logline, your website/blog and your email address. Networking is always important and you just never know who you might meet at the Starbucks in Austin.
7. Stunt marketing
I’ve seen stunt marketing go very badly, but also very well. It depends on the script and the stunt. You may remember the interview I did with Billy Domineau who wrote a spec script of Seinfeld called “The Twin Towers” about Jerry and the gang reacting to 9/11. He uploaded his script onto Google Drive then mentioned it on Twitter and Facebook. Within just it 24 hours, it had gone viral and he got an agent. He is now a staff writer on Family Guy. This worked for him for three reasons: People are nostalgic for ‘90s shows like Seinfeld; 9/11 is a taboo topic that piqued people’s curiosity; the spec script was well written.
Another writer, Henry C. King, decided this past April to market his screenplay called Van’s Best Friend on billboards in Hollywood and Culver City, one was just a couple blocks from Sony. The billboard said it was available online at “The Blacklist.” One particularly cruel “producer” live-tweeted as he read the screenplay. It didn’t go well for King. I searched for him online because I was curious if he had any interest, but I was unable to find him.
The bottom line is that stunt marketing is risky but may work if you are very clever and have a high concept, comedy script.
8. Do a staged reading of your screenplay
Find a central location, get your actor friends together and let the 2-Buck-Chuck flow for audience members. Just make sure to invite all of your industry contacts and dedicate someone to live tweet the event and post photos. You can even stream part of it live on Facebook. Click here to see how our ScreenwritingU editor produced her own staged reading – you can do it, too!
What are the ways you market yourself? Please share in the comments section.