So much of professional success may come down to digital research of who’s who… it’s a shame they didn’t teach that in business school. Anyhow, you’re going to be looking for a few different types of people and then contacting them directly.
The ones I focused on were mostly producers, but you may also want to focus on agents, semi-attainable talent (not Brad Pitt, but also not Jim Bob from Whoknowswhere), and maybe even filmmakers seeking to collaborate with up-and-coming screenwriters. Here are the differences and the reasons you may pursue each:
Producers are kind of like the glue that holds movies together. They wrangle up the necessary funding (or provide it themselves), call in their network of appropriate directors, tap the right agents (who have access to the right talent), and pretty much make the whole thing happen.
Getting a yes from a producer may not be the ultimate finish line (you may still need the studio execs to agree to greenlight the piece or start pitching it to various networks until it finds a home), but a producer can make the success of that a lot more likely.
Agents represent talent. They can also represent screenwriters and other players in the web of creatives that make Hollywood hits happen.
Part of my being productive did mean reaching out to a handful (or more) of screenwriting agents, but this didn’t amount to much. I also didn’t focus too much on agents, once I realized that many screenwriting agents won’t really help advance your script along until you’ve already done quite a bit of legwork on your own.
In fact, it seems like that’s how a lot of managers and agents operate these days, which is perhaps why there are more independent creatives wondering if they need that representation at all… or at least pondering whether it’s worth giving up 10% to 20% of their earnings for it.
This might come as a surprise, but talent can play a big role in moving a screenplay forward or winning over a producer or studio that’s otherwise on the fence. You don’t necessarily need to sign or commit talent to your script right now, but if you can successfully make those inroads with the talent (or their agents or managers) who you think would be a perfect fit for one of your screenplay’s major roles, you could give yourself quite a leg-up on those who don’t.
While getting a “maybe” or a noncommittal “possible yes” from talent or their manager won’t guarantee their involvement, it sure is a vote of confidence to the producer considering the project.
But you actually don’t have to go this far; all you really need to do is determine who is the right talent. In fact, this is a question I was asked by multiple producers, and thanks to one awful conversation I had with one of the first interested producers, he let me in on this secret before hanging up in disgust: How dare I not have assigned each role in my script to a mid-tier actor who was attainable (affordable), had a proven track record in that genre, and would draw the ideal target audience?!
Sorry, I just didn’t know any better… but now I do, and so do you. Showing the producers that you’ve thought about the best actors for the characters in your script helps paint a picture for those producers of how the project could look in real life.
It also shows that you understand the holistic process that is turning a screenplay into a big-screen, real-life feature, and you’re willing to be an integral part of that process, beyond the initial writing.
Now, this might be a hard one to find all in one place, but if you can identify filmmakers who are (1) seeking a new project and are (2) eager to work with an independent, unknown, up-and-coming screenwriter, you could have yourself a great partnership.
I would suggest looking at places like Seed and Spark or other creative crowdfunding sites or even freelancer marketplaces. However, you may have better luck looking in places that already have an RFP (request for proposal) out to screenwriters.
The hard part here is that they may have specific requirements for the genre, length, and topic for the script, but it’s definitely worth looking into. A few places to search for relevant screenwriter RFPs include Screenwritingstaffing, NetworkISA, and TheScreenwritersMarket, among many others that Google will likely point you to.
Some studios actually allow pitches or screenplay submissions from non-professional, independent (not represented by an agent), and otherwise total newbie nobody hopefuls.
I believe Netflix used to have open submissions, and back in 2017 when I was writing my screenplay feature; Amazon Studios did too. In fact, mine made it most of the way through the Amazon Studios consideration process—it was really cool actually. You could see if it passed the logline test, then the first read-through, then review by a supervising editor, then assistant producer, etc.
I got to see the status updates to see my screenplay go through the chain of command at Amazon Studios and make it all the way to the final round. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure Amazon has stopped allowing for open submissions (likely because they were inundated with more submissions than they could review, or possibly because they wanted to put more budget towards projects from the already proven, traditional Hollywood players).
However, things change, and if I were looking to shop my screenplay around right now, I would most certainly investigate which studios might still be accepting open submissions from newbies and give it a shot.
Among those four options, I had my best luck with producers, but that’s also mostly where I focused my searching.