Tales From the Lockdown: How to Advance Your Writing Career

The lockdown doesn't mean you're locked out of Hollywood. Bob Saenz shares advice on getting your script read and how to advance your writing career.
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Yep. We’re all in the same boat. Stuck at home. Production Execs, producers, directors, actors, writers, crew…. All trying to figure out what’s happening and what’s going to happen.

Me? If I was going to be at home for at least a month, today is 41 days and counting, I thought I was going to write a couple of new original specs with the time and there wouldn’t be much of anything else going on. And… once again, I was wrong. Phone lit up. A film I wrote that had been greenlit before the pandemic was still greenlit and needed another rewrite from network notes. So, I had a conference call, got the notes, and did the rewrite. Work. Yay.

I got a call while I was doing that rewrite from a production exec about rewriting another of my sold scripts, and then I optioned my horror script to some wonderful people and an old friend I’m thrilled to be working with again. Another friend called and said she has an offer on her series and more meetings this week, online. Talked to a director who has been contacted about some work that I might be able to help with.

A few days ago, I talked to my manager, to another producer, to a guy who runs a big film festival who wants me to speak / panel at their now virtual festival. Business is proceeding in this industry. It's different right now for sure because of the physical work stoppage on production, but development is steaming ahead so they are ready to hit the ground running whenever it’s safe.

What does this mean for the screenwriter sitting at home right now? For new screenwriters? Is this a time to get busy?

Short answer? Are you kidding me? Yes.

If you’re not working from home, or home schooling your kids (God’s work), then you should be writing and querying and getting your scripts entered into The Nicholl. (If you don’t know what this is, look it up.)

You have time to get that query letter in the best shape it’s ever been in. You have time to make that logline sing. Producers and managers are home and reading scripts. My guess is you’ll get it read a lot faster now than in the past just because of circumstances if they request it.

[Script Extra: 50 Reasons Why Your Query Letter Sucks]

Time to subscribe to IMDbPro and look up the producers who make the kind of film you’ve written. Please do this and target the right people. Nothing is worse than querying your slasher film to a Hallmark Christmas film producer. And know, because you aren’t the only one doing this, that your query and logline better be the best it can be. If you send out 100 queries and get 5 read requests, you’re doing great.

But Bob, you say… producers don’t want to read new writer’s scripts. That’s what everyone says. They want to keep new writers out. Stop teasing us.

The best way for me to answer this is with a script transition.

INSERT: Gif of a dog rolling its eyes.

Let's put that absolute lie to rest. They want to produce stuff that they see as great. Saleable. With an audience. Something unique. Something creative.

Do they care where it comes from? Not on your life.

Do they read stuff from writers they know and trust first? Yep, they do. Absolutely. And they get them from agents and managers and directors and actors, so they carry extra weight. Do they reject stuff from those writers? Every day. Multiple times.

So… the 64 dollar question:

Do they read stuff from new writers? Why not? Your query doesn’t say, “Hi, I’m a new writer” in it. (If it does, now you know what to delete.) So, if your query letter interests them, yes. It’s ALL about content, not who or what you are at this point. They don’t care.

What percentage of queries do they read? 1% would be my educated guess...

This tells you two things.... how hard it is to get read and how amazing it is to get read. How much it says about your logline...

Then it 100% becomes about the script. The story you're telling. The way you're telling it. This is why you need to send only a script that represents your VERY BEST WORK and nothing less. Even if you have to send your 5th script to do it. Or 6th. Or 12th. It has to be a quick read. Efficient. Not something they have to trudge through. 90 to 110 pages if you can. Certainly not over 120. You can show your 145-page script to producers after you’ve had a few made.

[Script Extra: Tips for Polishing Your Screenplay]

You get ONE chance with producers at this point. They do keep a list. If they requested a script from you and it's an unreadable mess? They'll look at your next query and toss it without a thought because they don't want to waste any more time with you.

That's why contests like The Nicholl and Austin are good. To see where your script is... how it's received by those readers.

But... and believe this... if you have a GREAT script (which are rare, honestly) it will get found. You still have to do all the heavy lifting to get it out there.... but it will get found, even if you're a new writer.

Stop believing the lies that producers are against new writers. They're only against new writers who waste their time with formula crap... with unreadable scripts filled with spelling, format, and grammar errors, with predictable stories they've seen a thousand times.... stories no one would ever pay or choose to see.... new writers who send scripts that can't be read past page 3.

[Script Extra: Get our free download with tips on querying executives here!]

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So... stop thinking there's a conspiracy. Stop thinking there's ANY instant gratification. It's a long game.

You have to uber-smart about it. Don't send your scripts before they are ready.

But if they are ready, it’s a good time to get off the dime and do it. Be businesslike. Brevity is your friend. If you have questions, in my book I have examples of successful loglines and query letters. Like anything else, this doesn’t guarantee success. Screenwriting is a crapshoot at best, but you can’t win if you don’t play.

Fire up those computers, heat up that query letter, and get them out there. Business is still in open mode. Screenwriting is not a zero sum game. Just because one writer has success doesn’t mean another won’t. It’s 100% about the content of your work.

You can break in. It's absolutely possible. I did it. It can take years, incredibly hard work... and knowing you are sending the best script you can write. One that they can't put down. This is NOT easy to do, but it’s looking like now’s the time to do it.

I wish you all nothing but success.

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