Today’s question comes from Maria:
What should I do if I want someone to read my script? The problem is that I don’t have enough money to enter contests or go to festivals. Btw: I don’t live in LA.
This is a big challenge faced by people trying to break into the screenwriting world, including those writers lucky enough to live in LA. Contests, coverage services, screenwriting books, conferences, festivals… they all come with a price tag. So if you’re on a tight budget, what’s a writer to do?
In order, these are the free or low-cost steps that I would recommend to aspiring screenwriters on a budget:
1. Read Story by Robert McKee and Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, in that order. Buy used copies on Amazon. If that’s too expensive, borrow them from friends. If you don’t have any writer friends, check them out from the library.
2. Read scripts. Thousands of scripts are available to read online for free, including the nice little collection we’ve put together here at LA Screenwriter. Read scripts that are in the genre you’re most interested in. Look at how they’re formatted, how they’re structured, the way they’re written. Do this on a continual basis.
3. Write. It doesn’t cost a thing to write a script. If you can afford it, you should invest in screenwriting software like Final Draft or Movie Magic Screenwriter, but if you don’t have the money for that, there are plenty of free screenwriting applications available online. I put this as number three because you shouldn’t just dive into a script without knowing anything about formatting or structure. If you do that, you’re going to waste a lot of time. Once you know the basics, though, spend the most time on this vital step. Outline, ponder, write, rewrite, and rewrite again. This is how you’ll get to the level at which people will want to read your script.
4. Get feedback on your writing. Your writing won’t progress in a vacuum. Show it to people you trust and listen to their feedback. Develop a circle of friends who you can trust to (1) actually read your script and (2) give you valuable feedback. You should also look for a writers group in your area. If one doesn’t exist, start one on Meetup.com. I personally find the professional coverage services of Script Pipeline to be well worth the $200~ investment. If that sounds like a ton of money, wait until you think your script is its absolute best before sending it their way. They’ll help you take it to the next level. Alternatively, you can get much cheaper coverage through The Black List, but with them, you get what you pay for.
5. Make wise investments. Look for free events that you can attend to meet other writers and network. These may be harder to come by outside of LA, but if you take the time, you should be able to find a worthwhile event every now and then. Contests are expensive, and a lot of them simply aren’t worth the money, but some contests can really help propel you forward. Choose a select list of contests that you think are worth the money and send your script in early to avoid the higher enter fees that go along with late entries. The contests I recommend are the Nichols Fellowship, The Page International Screenwriting Awards, The Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition, and the Bluecat Screenplay Competition.
6. Send query letters. When you truly think that your script is the best it can be (and ideally you have three scripts that meet this criteria), send query letters to up-and-coming agents and managers and independent production companies. Contact information for a lot of these places is readily available online (check the WGA website), you just have to do the research to find it. You can also invest in a query service (see the resource page), just be prepared to get a lot of false positives (never pay an “agent” to read your script or develop your project on your behalf.)
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