Note: This post first appeared on Thursday, March 26, 2009
Last week I got a question from a reader named Ian:
Simply put, how does a script come into your, or any other reader's, hand? What is the route it takes? I feel it would be valuable for aspiring writers such as myself to know how to get to the gatekeeper in the first place. :)
Generally, it varies with the job. When I work for a production company, the vast majority of the material I read comes in through agents. At agencies and management companies, most of the time, those scripts are coming in through agents as well.
So how does one get a script to a reader when they don't have an agent? Probably the most common way would be through a personal connection. If you're in L.A., network; make friends with other writers, with agent and producer assistants. Once you're on good terms with them, ask if they'd read your script and give you their reaction. If they think it's good, maybe they'll pass it up the ladder to people they work for. I tend to favor asking the contact for notes first rather than just saying, "Hey can you show this to your boss?" In that case, you're basically asking them flat-out to cash in one of their favors, and few people in that situation would be inclined to do that without vetting the material first to make sure it's not a waste of their boss's time. Plus, your friend might have good notes, or maybe he'll like it enough off the bat to ask, "Hey, you mind if I show this to a few people at work?"
Contests can also be a way up to the Gatekeepers. Several of my previous employers have requested the top ten finalists from many competitions like the Nichols Fellowship. Strangely, despite the reputation those contests and many others have, rarely are those submissions as strong as the professionally-submitted ones. If you've got confidence in your writing, it might not hurt to pick a contest or two and see how you do. Just make sure it's one with a good reputation. It can cost $50 or more to enter some of these competitions, which is why I don't suggest going crazy with those submissions.
I hasten to point out that even winning a competition doesn't necessarily mean much. The odds of a contest-winning script getting sold and produced are still pretty low. I come at it from the view that doing well in a contest at least gives you something to put in a query letter to an agent or manager. At the very least, it shows that someone with some experience in script reading has vetted the script and found good things in the material. It's a foot in the door - but be aware, query letters don't always have a very high success rate. If you get one response from every ten or fifteen you send out, that's pretty good.
Depressing, ain't it? Does anyone out there have any suggestions for other ways to get read?