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Sell your screenplay!

by Durant Imboden

Your opus is done. Now you need to open some doors.

You've put the finishing touches on your spec screenplay--all 120 pages of it. You've read it through a dozen times, and you're confident that you've exorcised the last typos and loose ends. You've run off half a dozen copies at Kinko's, you've bought card-weight cover stock from the stationery store, and there's a box of brass-colored brads sitting on your desk. A few minutes of secretarial work, and you'll be ready to market your script--but how?

Step 1: Know your market.

Where should you submit your screenplay? To a studio like Disney, Columbia, or 20th Century Fox? Nope. Your target market is the independent producer (a.k.a. "production company").

A producer is a businessperson who finds or develops scripts, puts them together with actors and other creative personel, and sells the resulting "package" to a studio. There are literally thousands of full-and part-time producers in Hollywood, ranging from small-time hustlers and dabblers to major production companies that may have a dozen or more film and TV projects in the works at any given moment.

An established production company will typically have a director of development and/or a story editor who reads scripts. In some cases, these people will read submissions from unknown, unagented writers. More often, they refuse to read unsolicited submissions because (1) they already have more scripts than they can read, and (2) they're afraid of being sued by a newbie writer who says: "Hey, I submitted a story about an alien invasion, and those guys made Independence Day--they must have stolen my idea!"

So how do you reach these producers and their staffs? Usually, you'll need to approach them through an agent. (Some producers will read your script if you sign a release to protect them from plagiarism suits, but it's still better to have an agent, if only because an agent knows who's a legitimate producer and who hasn't made a film in 20 years.)

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