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GOOD ADVICE FOR SCREENWRITERS

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Learning about how to write a script is essential as more rejections are made due to improper script formatting and structure than you realize.  Visit our books for writers page.

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If you are tired of the rejections and your really want to get your script sold, you should read our book Screen & Stage Marketing Secrets

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Which screenwriting magazine is the best?  Script Magazine and Fade In: Magazine are best for writers trying to break into the business.  The New York Screenwriter Magazine and the Hollywood Scriptwriter Newsletter are similar.  Written By: Magazine is the magazine generally for writers who have already sold or optioned a script and moving up in the world.  You can find these magazines at major bookstores and on our Screenwriting Links page.

"Fortune knocks at every man's door once in a lifetime, but in a good many cases, the man is in a neighboring saloon and does not hear." - Mark Twain

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Which screenwriting formatting program is the best?  Tough question.  Many are excellent.  Pros use any of these; Movie Magic, Script Thing, Final Draft and Scriptware.  These are the big four.  Ask the software firm to send information about the product and evaluate which one is best for you.  You can't go wrong no matter which one you choose.  Ask if they have demo software so you can try it out first.  Most will format scripts to TV, Audio Visual, MOW, stage play and more.  

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What about story development programs?  You don't need them if you already know how to structure a story for film, television or theater.  If you don't know how, the story building software can be of great value.  Truby's Writers Studio's Blockbuster program is very good and inexpensive.  Dramatica Pro is a high-end program that is very deep in content and expensive.  You can easily find these programs on screenwriting Web sites.

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Agencies are listed in screenwriting magazine annual agency surveys and other publications.  You'll notice a few  mention they are no longer accepting queries for a variety of reasons.  Don't believe it.  Mail them your query letter.  Why?  Because to be listed in the survey they must fill in a form each year and be willing to accept submissions.  This "not open for submissions" firewall is only a ploy to keep the amateur writers from contacting the agency.  Every agency - no matter who they may be - are taking on new writers all of the time!  The key is to present a professional script submission!

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When writing your script, do not use any "cheat" features that expand the page margins so you can fit in more text on the page.  It is unprofessional and your script will be quickly rejected.  The page margins should be 1 1/2" on left, 1" or 1 1/2" on right and 1" top and bottom of the page.  Screenwriting software will format the pages automatically for you.

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Should you enter your script in screenplay contests?  Absolutely.  If you rank high or win the contest it is great ammunition to use in your query letter.  There are many contests and you may be wondering which is the best for you.  Nobody knows.  The large contests can take on so many thousands of submissions you can easily get lost in the crowd.  Smaller contests can give you the edge to win or rank high.  Point is, obtaining a high rank in any contest can give your query letter the punch you need to obtain recognition and representation.  Don't enter a dozen contests each year unless you have the budget to pay all the fees.  Some pro writers do not advise wasting money on contests, but they do admit it does not hurt to gain recognition.  Contests are getting better offering production deals to winners.

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Should you send simultaneous submissions to film industry agents?  Yes.  Unlike the book publishing industry they are used to it.  However, a producer or production company should (but is not mandatory) be given an exclusive submission for two months to accept or reject the script.  Make sure you mention in your query letter to a producer or prodco the submission is proprietary with a deadline.

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Should you put the WGA and copyright numbers on the cover page of your script?  No.  You can put the words, "WGA Registered & Copyrighted" at the bottom edge of the title page, but it is better to place these notices on your cover letter.  Some producers just don't like seeing the notices in the script as it sends a message of distrust.   And yes, you do distrust, but your fears are basically unfounded.  Few scripts are stolen and ideas can't be copyrighted anyway.  You can't sell a script unless you pass it around.

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The query letter is designed for one purpose; to tease the reader to request your script.  The cover letter sells the benefits of the script.  Don't mix these two ideas into any one letter.  Novice writers have a nasty habit of doing this blending and often results in an instant  rejection.  Our book Screen & Stage Marketing Secrets has many sample query and cover letters specific to the screenwriting industry you can use.   Examples:  query to agent, query to producer, query to studio, query to obtain referral, how not to write a query, etc.  

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Should you capitalize sound effects in the script?  You can, sparingly.  That means only about two or three per page, if that.  Today, you don't have to capitalize any words in the author script.  It's optional.

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The word CONTINUED is no longer used in scripts at the top and bottom of the page, but it is still okay to use them when dialog is broken between description paragraphs or pages.  It's optional, but including dialog continuations absolutely helps the reader flow with the story from page to page.  For this reason, you should use them in the character cues.

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So you want to adapt a published book or stage play into a screenplay?  Don't.  It's not worth the grief.  You have to obtain the rights from the publisher first before you even write one word.  Those rights don't come cheap and may not even be available to you.  Best bet?  Write your own story.  It is not good to become obsessed with copyrighted material.  Generally, the screenwriter does not contract these deals, unless you are already established in the industry.  A new writer has little chance of obtaining the rights and package the deal.

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Should you write a television pilot?  No.  The industry is already hard set to only use established writers on hit shows to develop pilots.  A back-end deal can be made by writing a movie screenplay with a TV pilot, but even then it's a hard sell.

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Would you like to entertain the thought of producing and directing your own film?  To start, begin with reading MovieMaker Magazinehttp://www.moviemaker.com  If you do produce your own film you will need an attorney.  Here's one of many to consider: http://www.marklitwak.com

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So you want to meet producers, directors, agents and actors so you can pitch your script?  Click on the link for MovieMaker (above paragraph).  This magazine lists many film festivals.  Attend these festivals and you now have direct contact with the players in the industry.  Each state and province has some sort of film festival, but here the major festivals are listed.  You will be amazed how much success you may receive attending these festivals.  Just roam about and pass out business cards.   Most importantly, get their business card so you can later follow up with a query letter to everyone you have met.  Don't bring scripts with you, just you and your business card.  At most, a query letter pushing your best script is acceptable to distribute to those who show great interest in what you have to offer. 

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Are you submitting your query letters to the same agents and production companies every other screenwriter is?  That's okay, you have to, but the competition is severe and often leads to great frustration trying to beat the masses.  Have you considered independent film? These firms are screaming to find screenplays and screenwriters!  Don't forget Movies Of The Week.  The market is large to sell your TV script.  the stage play market even larger, in the thousands in the USA alone!  Consider writing a MOW and a stage play.  

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Did you know  Writer's Digest Magazine has a lot of advice and opportunities listed for screenwriters?  They have helpful articles, books, correspondence courses, contests and much more.

 

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To contact a movie star to read your script you can't send the script to the star.  Read our Advice for Screenwriters page for details on how it is done.  If you want a director to read your script, contact: http://www.dga.org  Use the same procedure for contacting a movie star.

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You've tried to get an agent with no luck.  There's another source you may not be aware of; the Talent Manager.  They have all the contacts and clout to get scripts made into movies.  They have strong contacts with movie stars, after all, they manage stars!  They also represent screenwriters.  Yes.  New screenwriters, too!  The Talent Manager can get a script sold fast, very fast, in a matter of a few hours to a few weeks.  Our book Screen & Stage Marketing Secrets explains all this and lists Talent Managers willing to give readers of the book special consideration

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Should you use a Script Doctor to evaluate your script?  Book authors must use professional editors before they submit manuscripts to agents and publishers.  Screenwriters should do the same, at least those who wish to see their script get sold.

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Which book is best for learning how to format and structure a screenplay?  There are many books, but the fastest of them all to read and apply is David Trottier's The Screenwriters Bible.  You can find it listed in our Books for Writers page.  

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How to sell a screenplay?  There are many methods.  The primary procedure is to comply with industry standards of submitting and marketing scripts.  Most good writers fail not because the script is bad, but due to the submission is so amateur the agent has no time to deal with that writer.  Writers performing submissions by the seat of the pants method will only keep being rejected with no end in sight.  Learn how to submit your scripts professionally and you will see a great reversal of grief and a stronger measure of success.

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How to stop rejections?  Have your script professionally edited and rewritten by a qualified script doctor and read Screen & Stage Marketing Secrets to learn how to place your script into the hands of people who can get  your script sold. 

 PUBLISHING OPPORTUNITY

  We are interesting in potentially publishing your screenplay or stage play.  If your script is well written and meets our marketing criteria this is what we propose;

  1. We would publish your script electronically and in traditional script/brad paperback or perfect bound format to sell to the consumer, bookstores, libraries, schools, script sellers, theaters for live stage play performance, etc.

  2. The advantage is, you will earn traditional book trade royalties of ten to fifteen percent on net book sales and generate exposure.  Scripts that are published can generate film industry heat and production interest if the script becomes popular and sells.  The fact your script is published by a book publisher generates credentials any agent and producer will recognize as worthy of consideration.

  3. You do not lose the right to sell your script to production companies and you may continue to market your screenplay to the film industry; however, as publisher, we do reserve marketing and sales rights and are entitled to a small commission on any sale of the script (approximately 8%).  This is standard procedure in the publishing of books to be adapted to film and is fair and square to the author and publisher.

  4. Primarily we are a book publisher and will focus the market attention to the sale of your screenplay to the book markets.  However, we will periodically contact production companies to consider evaluating our screenplay books for possible production.

  5. The concept of publishing unproduced screenplays is new and the general public is ready to purchase scripts.  We have sold scripts.  Publishing your screenplay could be the ticket to success or failure.  Nobody knows.  When the book is released the consumer and film industry may take to it or reject the book, just as they would do to any traditional paperback book.  Not all books are successful, but yours might be.  The greatest risk is not taking one! 

  6. There is no fee to you if we publish your screenplay.  We are not a vanity or subsidy press.  We are not an internet electronic book distributor posing as a book publisher.  We are a full-service traditional book publisher handling all markets worldwide; not just a few internet sites and a few bookstores.  We market to hundreds of thousands of outlets to sell our books!

  7.  If you already have a literary agent you may not like the idea of adding in another commission, but it generally balances out when the script is sold since agent and publisher often split the commission.  Everybody gives and takes when production deals materialize.

  8. There are many ways to sell a screenplay or stage play.  Publishing is only one way to enhance exposure, build name recognition in the industry, attract attention and hopefully lead to a film industry sale.  While you are waiting for that big break, your book may be selling and earning you royalty income.  Publishing is a gamble.  No publisher can guarantee your book will be a success.

  9. We have the world's largest book distributors; Ingram and Baker & Taylor.  We sell our books worldwide.  We are a small independent book publisher with top notch marketing distribution.

  10. . We do employ a Reversion of Rights in our publishing agreement.  This means, if book sales drop to nil sales levels, we will take the book out of print and you can then offer the book to another publisher.

  11. We do not publish offensive material, excessive violence, obscene language or horror.  We will request you rewrite your screenplay to remove any offensive or vulgar material to tone down the material.   Remember, we are selling the script to the general public and in all markets.  We prefer comedy, drama, action-adventure, true stories, among other genres. 

  12. . First read our Submission Guidelines   If your script qualifies, send us your query letter and we'll take it from there.  You may submit a multiple submission logline listing all of your qualified scripts.  Your script may be produced or unproduced, but it must not have been previously published by any publisher.  We do not reprint published works. 

  13. When submitting a postal query include an S.A.S.E.  Start with the query.   Don't send us your script until we ask for it.  You may send us an electronic e-mail query.

  14. To be published in a book your screenplay must ultimately be available on computer disk in rich text format or text only.  If you used a computer (most all writers use a computer), or Microsoft Word for Windows, Page to Stage or other professional screenwriting program to write your script, they will produce the necessary disk file with ease.  If you can't generate these files you will have to scan the pages and have them saved in the file format.  Most all writing software allows exporting of text files.

  15. Your script need not be WGA registered, but it must be registered with the Library of Congress Copyright division to be published.   Don't worry, the publisher will assist you to obtain the copyright.  You should consider using the WGA or ProtectRite before you submit scripts for submission.  

  16. This is not a contract or agreement but an informal communication.  The publishing agreement will identify and retain the actual terms and agreement.

  17. Consider this new option to increase the potential of earning money from script book sales while enhancing your exposure to the film industry.  Contact us with your query letter if you are interested in having your script published.

  18. . Use the Internet Address Book to help you manage script submissions.

  19. . If you plan to write a story based on another persons life story you need a story rights agreement.  See below for a copy.

ProtectRite

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The Lord Pays The Bills!  Read Malachi 3:10 (KJV)


  
STORY RIGHTS AGREEMENT

 

THIS AGREEMENT made between writer, (YOUR NAME), herein called writer,
Writer: (Your Name)
(Your Street Address)
(City, State, Zip Code)
(Phone)
 
AND
 
Story Owner: (STORY OWNER'S NAME)
(Owners Street Address)
(City, State, Zip Code)
(Phone)
herein called Story Owner,
 
WITNESSETH:
The parties agree as follows:
 
I.  Term:  This Agreement shall be in effect for a period of one (1) year commencing the date Story Owner and Writer of this signing.  See Section III paragraph "I" herein.
 
II.  Subject Matter:  The parties agree that Writer shall have the exclusive right to represent Story Owner's life story pertaining to the events that took place with [his (or her) employment with ABC Airlines in the State of California.]
 
Work:  Tentative screenplay, play, book, or teleplay herein known as, ("Title of Screenplay").  Parties agree this is a tentative working title and may change beyond the control of the Writer or Story Owner.
 
III.  Writer's responsibility, limitations and authority:
 
A.  Writer shall utilize his knowledge, skill, contacts, experience and best efforts to write the story at least one-draft in standard screenplay format, promote the sale of Story Owner's Work for publication and any other appropriate productions and markets, domestically and internationally.  Writer shall own the copyright and all rights therein to the work, including the tone, texture and form.  Writer shall register the work with the Writer's Guild of America for at least 5-years, and U.S. Library of Congress Copyright Office, at least the first draft.
 
B.  Writer shall not be responsible for any copyright infringements.
 
 
C.  Writer shall make good attempt to portray the story as truthful as possible, however, the
parties agree, for dramatic purposes, elements of the story may need to change, and, may need to change from the needs and desires of actors, producers, production companies, etc.  The parties agree to these changes so as not to make the work unmarketable.
 
D.  Writer shall be responsible for any costs incurred in the reproduction, postage, photo copying, registering and marketing of the work.  It is understood all costs incurred shall be reimbursed to Writer prior to payment to Story Owner if a option or sale is made.
 
E.   Writer shall have the exclusive right to represent the Work, and the Story Owner, in all contractual negotiations involving the Work.  Including media interviews or other publicity events of any sort with the Story Owner, including 15% of such moneys from said publicity.
 
F.  Writer shall make any commitment involving the Work without approval from the Story Owner.  Media interviews with the Story Owner will require Story Owner's written permission, and, Story Owner may decline to perform such interviews to remain anonymous.  The parties agree that the name of the Story Owner can be given out, including phone number and addresses to Writer's literary agent(s), producers, directors, attorneys, studio executives, attorneys, or any other person who needs to know, to sell, produce, or market or defend the Work.
 
G.  Writer agrees to inform Story Owner of any significant replies from publishers, producers, or other markets at the earliest possible time.  This can be verbal or in written form.
 
H.  There is no guarantee a sale of the Work will be made.  The Work is a speculative venture.
 
I.  Writer agrees to market the Work.  After one (1) year no market exists, or Writer cannot,  or fails to pursue marketing of the Work,  this contract will automatically expire.  Writer will return to Story Owner the Work, however, rights still remain with Writer as creator of the the Work and copyright holder.
 
J.  Writer will not sell the Work without negotiating with Buyer 50% for Story Owner.  If no such negotiation is successful, or cannot be made, Writer will pay Story Owner 50% of any moneys earned, after Writer's expenses are reimbursed.  This includes royalty and residual payments derived from the express sale or visual presentation of the Work.  This does not include rewrite income or career promotions or actual pay scales for the Writer from the Buyer. 
 
K.  Writer is under no obligation to pay Story Owner any moneys over and above the terms and conditions of this contract for the Work, including any income from screen writing contests. 
 
L.  If a option is given and money received, the moneys will be split 50%-50% with Story Owner, after Writer's expenses deducted within 60-days of cashing of check, and check has cleared.
 
M.  Rewrite income from Buyer is Writer's income for labor on the Work.  
 
 
IV.  Story Owner's responsibilities, limitations and authority:
 
A.  During the term of this Agreement, Story Owner shall not permit any other person, firm or corporation to act in any representative manner or capacity for the Work, nor is the Story Owner or any representative of the Story Owner, to circumvent Writer by contacting any publishers, producers or media concerning Work unless written permission is given by Writer.
 
B.   Story Owner agrees to give full designation and control to Writer throughout the marketing process, including the producing, filming and exhibition of the Work in any medium.
 
C.  Story Owner agrees to accept from Writer a nominal one-dollar,$1.00 American funds, payment for the story rights.
 
D.  Story Owner understands and agrees that the monetary value of the Work may, or may not be, substantial.  That Writer has no control, nor is expected to have control of the Work's value.  Story Owner has no control over the final negotiated price of sale of the Work or residual royalty payments.  This requires, usually, a negotiated contract with the buyer or buyers of the Work.  There is no certainty to the outcome of such arrangements.   
 
E.  Referring to section III paragraph "I" if Work is returned to Story Owner,  Story Owner may shop and market the script to agents, publishers, producers, etc., at Story Owner's convenience and at his own expense.   Story Owner agrees prior to any option or sale, Writer will be notified, and Writer's copyright and WGA registration shall be validated to such buyer.  Writer agrees to negotiate in good faith to promote the sale of the Work.  50%-50% agreement still applies.
 
F.  If a offer is made to option or purchase of the Work, Story Owner understands Writer may do so without permission from Story Owner, regardless of the value of the Option or Sale.  It is understood, Story Owner will stand to claim a 50% fee, after deduction of Writer's fees and expenses for the express Option or Sale of the Work.  This does not include rewrite income or career promotions or actual pay scales for the Writer from the Buyer.  Only the option, royalty, residual, and outright sale is binding.
 
G.  Story Owner agrees that the compensation payable to Story Owner is entirely in the hands of, and the sole decision of the Buyer(s).  In the event the Buyer does not contract with Story Owner, Writer will pay 50% of moneys earned by Writer, after Writer's expenses are reimbursed.   This does not include rewrite income or career promotions or actual pay scales for the Writer from the Buyer.
 
H.  Story Owner has no claim on any moneys for Writer's promotions to co-producer, producer, director or assistant director credits or funds.  Writer's career moves are not included in this agreement, even if relative to the Work. 
  
I.  If Writer is promoted to assistant producer or higher related to the Work or otherwise, Story Owner agrees this income is Writer's income and no claim upon such will be made.
 
J.  Story Owner has the right to read and correct the Work to maintain relative accuracy to the true story with Writer prior to the first copyrighted draft.
 
K.  Story Owner agrees Writer may assign Work to a literary agent or producer for marketing.  There are costs involved with such representation and Writer will bear these costs.  Writer is entitled to be reimbursed for such costs, prior to payments of any moneys to Story Owner.
                      
V.   Services of Writer:
 
A.  Story Owner agrees that services of Writer are not exclusive and Writer shall, at all times, be free to perform and provide the same or similar services for others as well as engage in any and all other forms of business activity.  If Agent consummates a sale, commissions and other costs is born by both Writer and Story Owner.  Agent takes commission on gross sale price.
 
VI.  Successors and assigns:
 
This Agreement shall be binding on heirs, executors, administrators, legal representatives, successors and assigns of the respective parties.
 
VII.  Construction: 
 
This Agreement shall be construed in accordance with the laws of the (State of California).
 
VIII.  Modification:
 
This Agreement shall not be changed or modified, nor any provision hereof be waived except by mutual consent of both parties in writing, with a new contract.
 
IX.  Termination:
 
This Agreement shall be continuous.  At any time, the parties may negotiate for the termination of this agreement and shall become void when consummated in writing and agreed by both parties.  Writer may, at any time after 1-year, with written notice to Story Owner, terminate this agreement.  Story Owner may terminate agreement without cost or penalty to Story Owner if Writer fails to promote the Work as herein stated in this agreement.  Copyrights remain with Writer.
 
X.  Indemnification:
 
Story Owner and Writer warrants and certifies that Work, under the exclusive control of the Story Owner and Writer is factual, is not slanderous or libelous to any living person or entity, and indemnifies Buyer against any actions, of any nature, resulting from the Work.
 
XI.  Payments:
 
Writer will not charge Story Owner for any bills not so agreed in this contract.  Story Owner will not charge Writer for any bills not so agreed in this contract.
 
XII.  Arbitration:
 
A.  Both parties agree to settle all disputes through arbitration and the arbitrator's decision will be final.  No civil suits of any kind will be filed.  The arbitrator used shall be a qualified arbitrator in the State of California, and California law will prevail.  Litigants will share expenses for the arbitration hearing, exempting travel, motel, meals, and other erroneous costs, etc.
 
 
 

Executed this_______________day of _________________19_____.
 
 
 
________________________.  Date__________________.
Writer.
 

________________________.  Date__________________.
Story Owner.
 

Note:   Delete the following information.  It is not part of the Agreement.  Substitute information in parenthesis or brackets as indicated.  You may want to use an Arbitrator in your state to avoid travel expenses to California, but keep laws applicable to this Agreement to California law.  New York also has well established entertainment laws.  You can make changes to this Agreement to suit your preferences.  You can have an attorney inspect the agreement if you wish.   You should have an entertainment attorney fine tune this sample agreement to reflect evolving technologies that will affect contract terms, conditions and language.

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NEED AN AGENT? 

CHECK OUT OUR AGENT LISTING ON OUR  SCREENWRITING LINKS PAGE.

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