I HAVE AN IDEA FOR A MOVIE, NOW WHAT DO I DO?
(Updated Feb. 11, 2022)
At some point in our lives, we’ve all thought about what would make a great movie—and how great it would be if we could make it! It could be something from our personal life, whether it was making it through a difficult patch or a hard-to-believe-that-really-happened three-day weekend. After all, how many movies are made about real-life happening to real people?
Or it could be a fantastical sci-fi story with all the action, weird aliens, and funny sidekicks to make a summer blockbuster! It could be a western, documentary, cop drama series, or slapstick comedy. Whatever the idea is, you may have even gone as far as giving your movie a title, casting the leading roles, and debating who would direct your film.
For many, it’s a fun way to daydream about seeing their name in lights and hob-nobbing with the Tinseltown elite. Or maybe it’s more than a dream, but you’re just not sure how to go about getting your good idea into the hands of the right Hollywood producer or decision-maker.
I HAVE A MOVIE IDEA. NOW, WHAT DO I DO?
You have faith in your film and are convinced that if you just get a chance to pitch your movie idea to the right people, you’ll be on your way. And you could be right! But there’s a long way between your idea and a Labor Day opening. There are a lot of great ideas out there, but there’s also a lot of legwork involved in selling an idea.
WRITE YOUR SCRIPT OR IDEAS OUT
The first thing you’ll want to do is get your idea for a movie or tv show down on paper, or at least on your hard drive. At the start, you’ll want to get down as much as you can for your own benefit. Start a master file where you can dump ideas, lines of snappy dialogue, and other passages that you think belong in the piece.
In fact, you may want to write a movie script entirely before shopping it around. You want to make sure you have a finished product, or reasonably finished, before sending it out. However, when it comes to pitching movies, you’ll want to boil your work down to three or four pages.
Think of it like writing a book report. Write cleanly, concisely, and with purpose. Dialogue isn’t important at this point, but telling the story is. You don’t need to set every scene, although you may want to include a particularly important passage.
WRIT YOUR “SPEC SCRIPT”
When it comes time to target production companies, they’re not going to have time to read through 120 pages for a feature film. If you get a bite or two, you’ll want to make sure you have a “spec script” ready to read. That’s a screenplay that’s been written without solicitation from a production company or Hollywood studio.
Once finished, make sure to register the work through the Writer’s Guild of America. This will protect your intellectual property without having to copyright it. When you’re ready to submit your initial screenplay, make sure to include a small cover letter of sorts with a short synopsis of your idea. And keep it professional, like applying for a job: Instead of selling yourself, you’re selling your idea.
HOW TO SUBMIT A MOVIE IDEA? WHERE DO I SEND MY SCRIPT?
You have your synopsis of a film as well as a screenplay ready to go… but where do you send it? You could move to Los Angeles, print off a hundred copies, and drop them off at every production company in Hollywood. Is this the most efficient way? No, but you’ll get to see a lot of the city.
There is no single way that has the best track record for getting your work read, much less sold. In the past, there were publications that listed contact information for production companies, such as the Hollywood Creative Directory. But like so many print products before them, the internet has made them obsolete.
So instead of beating the street, fire up the ol’ laptop and get to work. What you want to do as a screenwriter is find production companies that are currently accepting “unsolicited scripts.” Those two words are key. Send that pristine screenplay with its three brass fasteners and hardstock cover to a production company that doesn’t accept unsolicited scripts and it will be flatly refused or shredded (with documentation of it that shredding). Production companies need to protect themselves so play by the rules.
Always consider the target audience of the production companies you’re reaching out to. While major studios may consider “Oscar Fodder,” smaller movies will be better received by independent houses. Chances are, those bigger production houses will farm out those movies to their smaller subsidiaries anyway.
You can even set your sights on those who have the ear of the decision-makers, such as agents. It can be hard to find out who really has the juice to get your work in front of those who make the movies. As with the production houses you’re reaching out to, make sure to do your research.
Keep track of who you’ve reached out to, who you’ve heard back from, and other information about your submissions. Set up timelines to send follow-up reminders, around four weeks after your initial submission. You don’t want to seem overeager, but you do want to keep yourself top of mind.
It’s a time-consuming business to be sure, both for you and for those who read submissions, day in and day out. It can be frustrating. So when you get attention, make sure to keep those relationships alive. Take their advice, make note of suggestions, and don’t be afraid to consider recommended changes.
CREATE KILLER SCRIPTS
The best thing you can do for yourself is to write the Killer Script that can’t be ignored. The Film Connection Screenwriting School will pair you with a mentor who has written, sold, and had their screenplays made into movies. They’ll give you the pointers you need to be able to turn your idea into a feature film, a TV pilot, or other visual media.
The most important thing to remember is never to give up on yourself. Keep writing, refining, and resubmitting your works. One way to ensure your ideas will never be seen on the big or small screens is to stop altogether. Remember: All it takes is one person to give you the green light.