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The Creative Business of Screenwriting

By Marilyn Horowitz

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I recently gave a seminar at New York Women in Film & Television (NYWIFT) called “The Creative Business of Screenwriting.” In this workshop, I teach people how to create a logline for their screenplay, compose a proper query letter, and to pitch their script verbally. While some of this information can be found online, there’s a lot more to successfully marketing and selling your work—and controlling your destiny—than surfing the Internet in your pajamas. To that end, a few suggestions…

1.    Be your own producer and agent

Every movie ever made was a group effort, but in the beginning, we’re all on our own. Therefore, until you’ve found a producer or agent for your script, you need to take on these roles yourself and start thinking of screenwriting not just as an art but as a business. Read the trades, familiarize yourself with who the current players are, and figure out how to connect with them. Screenwriting contests and conferences are great ways to meet agents and producers, and since you’re already acting as your own, you’ll appear much more impressive when you finally meet one.

2.    You must be willing to promote yourself

Ugh! A horrid idea for people who prefer to sit alone in a room and write. In fact, the whole business of marketing oneself is the polar opposite of our natural tendencies as writers. However, if you want to succeed in today’s marketplace, you must be willing to network, to employ social media, and to attend conferences and screenings. A good first step is to create a simple web site, the modern-day version of a résumé. Then get yourself some business cards that give your title as “writer” and start putting yourself “out there.” Moviebytes.com is an excellent online resource that will give you information on various screenwriting conferences and contests.

3.    Create a business persona

If putting yourself out there terrifies you, then the answer is simple: put someone else out there. I don’t mean committing fraud or giving yourself a fake name (although a certain politician famously did just that), but designing a marketing persona for yourself that you can pull out when necessary. Do it in the same way that an actor creates a part. Take stock of your social skills and weave them into a version of yourself that can easily make phone calls, write query letters, and deliver an effective five-minute pitch, anywhere, anytime. This is a version of you that is always neatly put together, has a ready smile, and can talk about the small niceties of weather, sports, the election, and so on. You can start by finding the right outfit and hairstyle and, if female, the perfect makeup and accessories. It’s also useful to have two outfits, in case you score that second meeting. Just write up a little script for yourself, including notes to smile and offer pleasantries regardless of how terrified or anxious you feel inside. And remember, no one needs to know it’s not exactly the real you.

4.    Consistency

Writers write, and to succeed you must always be creating new material. So, commit to a daily routine where you turn off the cell phone and e-mail, and write. You need to produce a body of work, because the more you have, the better your chances of finding the right fit. In addition, keep watching movies and TV, and keep some kind of a journal. Personal writing often creates the basis for wonderful fictional stories.

5.    Read the trades

Keep abreast of what’s happening and who’s involved. This is necessary to ensure that you properly target your script. After all, you wouldn’t send a slasher script to Disney, right? So take time to read the trades and follow the latest twists and turns in the business. This will save you a lot of heartache down the line.

6.    Find a partner

Think of it as a buddy system for writers. In my class, I send a contact sheet around, and at the break I suggest that my students find someone in the room to connect with so that they can help and support each other, by reading each other’s material and encouraging each other stick to a schedule. Whether or not you and your buddy write together, having someone who “has your back” is a great first step in building the kind of team I mentioned earlier. I have a writing partner who keeps me on track, and I recommend it highly.

To recap:

There’s more to selling a script than just writing a query letter. You may want to check out my book, How to Sell a Screenplay in 30 Days, which is available at my web site.

Here’s to your successful writing!

About Marilyn Horowitz

Marilyn Horowitz is an award-winning New York University professor, author, producer, and Manhattan-based writing consultant, who works with successful novelists, produced screenwriters, and award-winning filmmakers. She has a passion for helping novices get started. Since 1998 she has taught thousands of aspiring screenwriters to complete a feature length screenplay using her method. She is also a judge for the Fulbright Scholarship Program for film and media students. In 2004 she received the coveted New York University Award for Teaching Excellence.

Professor Horowitz has created a revolutionary system that yields a new, more effective way of writing. She is the author of six books that help the writer learn her trademarked writing system, including editions for college, high school, and middle school. The college version is a required text at New York University and the University of California, Long Beach.

Professor Horowitz has written several feature-length screenplays. Her production credits include the feature films And Then Came Love (2007). Her new novel, The Book of Zev is available on Amazon.

Screenwriting Article by Marilyn Horowitz

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