Simple techniques of a professional screenwriter…

October 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

If you want to be a professional screenwriter in Hollywood you will need to use the proper formatting software recognized by the industry.  Spend the money on a proper screenwriting program and never use something that you formatted yourself.  I use Final Draft and it’s been my screenwriting software since I graduated from film school.  There are other decent screenwriting programs on the market, but do the research before you spend the money.  Remember, screenwriting software is a business expense that you can write off on your taxes.

Okay, you’ve finished your script and you are ready to unleash it upon Hollywood.  Congratulations!  You’ve read it several times, made your own changes, even took notes from other writers you trust, and maybe even done a polish.  You’re feeling confident and ready for professionals to read your genius.  So, like 50,000 other writers do every year, it’s time to register your script or treatment with the Writers Guild of America for protection.  It’s the standard in the creation of legal evidence for the protection of your work. Always register your script before submitting it to agents, managers, or producers, so you can document your authorship on a given date should there be unauthorized usage.  It costs $20 for non WGA members and $10 for members and it’s registered for five years.  You can register a script in person, by mail or on the WGA’s website: http://www.wgawregistry.org/webrss/

Now that you’re protected, you don’t want to ruin your chances and have your hard work end up in the dustbin of broken dreams do you?   Of course not, so follow this important tip: Do not write your WGA registration number on the title page of your script.  It screams amateur hour and indicates your fear of someone stealing your precious script.  Even when you don’t list that it’s registered, it’s pretty much assumed industry wide your script is either registered with the WGA or with the copyright office.  The only time a screenwriter owns his or her script is when they write it as an original spec.  Once a studio or production company buys your script they are the legal owners of the material.   This is why it’s unnecessary to copyright your screenplay because once you sell it to a production company, they will make you transfer the rights to them and it will become a work for hire.  So, if you copyright your script, not only is it a lengthy process, but also a waste of money that isn’t necessary.  A simple way of protecting your script is to mail it to yourself and never open it.  The postmark is a way to prove your script was in existence on that specific date.

If a producer, agent or manager requests to read your script, do not write the title of your script on the spine.  Years ago when I was first starting out, I did this when my former agent requested that I bring him five copies of my script so he could send it out.  He grimaced and politely explained that writing the title on the spine indicates the script has been already read.  I’m sure you’ve been in a producer’s office and noticed a bookshelf full of scripts with their titles handwritten on the spines?  That’s because they were already read and logged into their system.  Now, my agent couldn’t send out my scripts as fresh copies because they looked as if they were already read.  Avoid this rookie mistake.

As you send out your script, it’s important to keep a submission log to keep track of where your script is read and where you pitch your idea.  List the production company, who is the contact person, and when they received the script or heard your pitch.  After you follow-up with them, indicate if they “passed” on the script or if they wanted to meet and when.  If you keep a detailed log of your script and pitch contacts, it will help protect you if any problems arise in the future.  If an agent or manager wants to sign you or take out your script, your script log will be an invaluable source of information for them to better represent you and your project.

If you follow these simple tips and make them standard practice, you will stand out as a screenwriter who deserves the respect of being considered professionally.  Good luck.

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