Thursday, June 2, 2011

How To Get Your Short Film Produced

The Catch-22 of not being able to get your screenplay produced because nothing you’ve written has been produced yet, is immensely frustrating. But there is hope.

In the wake of the recent online release of Second Thoughts, a short film written by me and directed/produced by Trevor Walsh at White Tiger Films, I thought it might be helpful to share some of the insights I’ve gained in the process of getting a short script produced. There’s no magic bullet, and more often than not a breakthrough will come from an unexpected source, but the following are some strategies I’ve found practical and effective. Above all, these strategies have enabled me, as a screenwriter, to keep the initiative and avoid feeling like a victim.

See Second Thoughts on YouTube.

Enter Screenwriting Competitions
There are numerous competitions out there, some are free to enter, others charge a fee. Some give complimentary feedback, even from multiple readers. To find out about competitions and upcoming deadlines, check out Hayley Mackenzie’s calendar over at Script Angel. For a less UK-centric overview, register at Without a Box, to receive very regular updates about upcoming competitions and deadlines. You don’t have to win a competition for it to be helpful in terms of getting your film produced. Any mention in a screenwriting competition, even “quarter finalist” or “third round,” is evidence that your writing has enough quality to be taken seriously. Don’t forget to read each competition’s rules carefully, and make sure your screenplay is properly formatted and proofread before you send it.

Find A Director Or A Producer
There are literally thousands of directors and producers out there, hungry for good scripts. But they won’t find you unless you make your existence known to them. There are various ways to go about this. For example, last year, at the London Screenwriters Festival, I attended a forum in which director Olly Blackburn advised screenwriters with short screenplays to contact commercials directors, something that had helped launch his own career. Often these are directors with a huge amount of professional skill and experience, some of whom are looking to transition into directing shorts and features. It’s easy to find out online who directed a particular commercial, and most directors have their own websites or are on Facebook, etc. Another great way to find directors and producers, is to browse the catalogues of film festivals such as Raindance. Every short film screened will be listed and will include details of who directed and produced the film. Check them out online and get in contact with them. Another tried and trusted method is answering calls for scripts on online bulletins such as Shooting People. Which brings me to:

Have A Good Written Pitch Ready
It’s no good going out into the world with a script under your arm unless you know how to sell it. And we’re talking short screenplays here, so I don’t mean selling it for money. I mean knowing how to describe your script briefly and appetizingly. You basically need a good logline a brief synopsis, and an appealing one-page blurb. The one-pager can include one-sentence statements about things like genre, who the potential audience is, length of the script, production value (how many characters, locations, etc.). Any kind of brief information that will give the reader a quick and clear overview of what the project is likely to entail. Very important: Don’t bluff. If you’re not sure, don’t include it in the document. Here’s an example for a short script of mine entitled We Shall See.

Keep Yourself Motivated By Knowing Your Objective
Why do want to get your short screenplay produced in the first place? That may seem like a trite question, but it isn’t. Most short films, especially involving screenwriters with no produced material to their name, do not generate any income and are made either for very little or no money at all. Are you prepared to work on a short film production for free? That means taking notes from the director and producer, doing multiple rewrites, and so on, all for no pay. For most screenwriters without a credit, the primary reason for doing this kind of work for free, is to get that all-important first credit. Keeping that in mind, as well as the fact that most other people working on short films are in the same boat, can be an extremely good way of keeping your morale up. Lastly, acknowledge and accept beforehand that the majority of the people you contact will not get back to you. Not even a “Thank you for your email.” Don’t take that personally. There could be any number of reasons why a director or producer or anyone else doesn’t respond to your enquiries. It’s usually not because you’re a bad writer… Apart from anything else, it’s important to keep on writing new material. Once a script is ready to pitch, start pitching it and entering it into competitions, but also start writing the next script right away! What you write is your main asset. The more scripts you write, and the more feedback you get on your writing, the better you will write. The more people who read your material, the closer that first credit will come. It’s partly just a numbers game in that respect.

Concluding words
And finally this: Second Thoughts came about through a combination of the above strategies. Another short script of mine had been recommended to Trevor Walsh by script reader Jez Freedman, and when Trevor contacted me about that script, he asked me if I would write something else for him first. Which I did. So you see, you never know when opportunity will knock or how. The trick is to always be prepared for when it does…

That’s it for now, I have to get back to my scripts now…