Wednesday, March 6, 2013

How do European script writers break in?

Harvey writes in with a question that I've gotten from a few other people recently:

Do you feel European scripts to be well-represented in your reading? According to the folk at Scriptapalooza last year, mine was the only UK script to make their last 100. I felt the combination of UK setting, European story tone (magical realism, after a fashion), and a central conceit from the US but globally-loved would offer plenty of incentive, but the script didn't seem to generate any interest from their shopping around. 

The two features I'm shopping around at the moment are movies I believe in as high-end indie pieces, particularly my 'other' script which is a character-driven sci-fi piece and culturally red hot (it is, also, something that has to play out stateside). I feel in both cases that I'm suffering a little for writing outside of my home territory, yet on the other hand I'm getting great responses from readers and peers the world over. Frustrating, all told, but the case for many I'm sure. 

What advice if any would you give to people working outside of the US, but pitching content which wouldn't play out anywhere else? I am assuming some folk are less turned off by remote contact than others in the early stages of negotiation over work.

Last question first - I have zero advice to give for people breaking in from outside the U.S.  That's pretty much outside my sphere of knowledge so rather than fill your head with misinformation, I'll just say I haven't got a clue.

I don't read a high percentage of European scripts.  When I have read them in the past, I do recall that the fact they didn't "feel" like typical American specs might have counted against them, but most of the time that was either a function of the pacing being too slow or the concepts not feeling strong enough.  I don't know if it's really wise to generalize based on the few that I read, though I feel like a European indie might have more issues because it's hard enough to get an American indie movie made!

I'll be honest, I can offer advice about how American writers might get their submissions read in large part because I'm right in the thick of it and I've seen how people pull that off.  I have zero practical knowledge of how the few European scripts that have reached me managed to end up there.  This is probably a better question for some European writers.

I got a recent question about how UK writers can break in over here, and my answer is pretty much the same for them as well.


  1. While there's exceptions to every rule of course, about the only way a Hollywood agent/manager/producer will pay any attention to a foreigner is if they have made a splash in their home territory, so your options are to first make a red hot British indie and ride its success to Hollywood - or find a local producer with US contacts.

    Loads of (the bigger) British producers have partners and co production deals in Hollywood, and will be thrilled to have something to take Stateside if they fall in love with your project. Not every, of course - plenty are happy working in the local market, but that's just a question of research. To be blunt, anyone that says "sorry we can't do anything with this because it's American" is simply passing on the project.

    The bigger agencies in London (The Agency, United Agents et all) partner with managers and agents in the US, so that's another possibility though most of them will only take on writers with something of a track record. To be fair, the bigger production companies that are working with the US (Company, Kudos, Working Title etc) aren't easy to get read at without a contact or track record either, but you're in the exact same position with them as any random American who rocks up in Hollywood without any contacts - network, grab their attention with a shit hot short or one act play, get some heat from the BBC Writers Room or a BAFTA/Rocliffe read... the usual.

    It's not easy of course, but really no tougher (albeit indirect maybe) than for an American outside Hollywood - and more importantly the same basic principle applies: write something spectacular, and someone will figure out a way to make it.

  2. I'm Canadian. Just wondering if it's more difficult to get an American buyer to purchase a script (if they were interested) once they find out where I'm from.

  3. Hi everyone, it's Franklin Leonard, from the Black List. Would just like to add that anyone with an English language screenplay from anywhere in the world can upload a script to our website ( Already one writer (that we know of) from outside the United States has signed with a Hollywood manager.

  4. Claire Duffy has this right.

    Bottom line? If you are thinking of "pitching content" or negotiating for work directly, then you're already in trouble. And it sounds like you're thinking of cold-calling US companies. That's going to be a very, very tough route in.

    Most good production companies insist that script submissions come via agents anyway (because it's the first line of defence against the shit-avalanche).

    So it's far better to have a good agent take care of the "content pitching" and seeking offers of work for you. If you're UK-based there are plenty of good, US-connected agencies who can do that for you: United Agents, Curtis Brown, Casarotto and Independent are probably the big four. Securing representation should be your first step.

    Pick an agent who understands your Stateside ambitions and can faciliate them (and can point to examples on their list where clients are co-rep'd and in work in the US as well as on home shores).

    If your script is as good as your peers say, you'll be able to find UK representation. If your script is REALLY as good as you hope it is, your UK agent will be able to fix up US representation and jointly take your spec to market there. This does happen - Howard Overman (creator of "Misfits", rep'd by Independent in the UK) sold his spec THE SLACKFI PROJECT last year. A British writer is penning both IRON MAN 3 and SHERLOCK HOLMES 3 (pretty classy gigs for a guy who started out creating the "No Heroics" sitcom).

    You may wish to leapfrog this system in a bid to get there faster... but most people will just assume that a screenwriter calling directly is a newbie/outsider whose work isn't good enough to secure representation. Don't be that guy!

    If you post more about your represenation status, maybe I/Claire/someone can help steer you towards getting fixed up.