Now more than ever, it's crucial for screenwriters to depart from their traditional roles and start thinking outside the box. In a very tough climate, when it seems harder to break through than ever before, it's important for screenwriters to start thinking like producers. Screenwriters often have a problem with thinking like producers because many simply do not have the desire to produce (or direct) their movies -- they just want to write movies. The marketplace is such these days, however, that screenwriters need to take a proactive role in moving their projects forward. It's simply essential that you take steps to make your project stand out from the pack. Here are some alternatives you may not have thought of before:
Work With Up-and-Coming Producers
If you don't have an agent or manager who can submit scripts for you and advocate on your behalf, the first way to try to get your foot in the door is to work with up-and-coming producers who are extremely passionate about your project, and about leveraging their relationships. Indie producers can spend years working to forge relationships with notable producers or production companies, talent agents, sales agents, and distributors. They may not have the ability to get the film funded and in the can, but they may have the ability to take your script to the person who can.
Not sure where to find these up-and-coming producers? Try networking or filmmaker groups, like Film Independent in Los Angeles (IFP), with chapters throughout the U.S., or Women in Film and Video (WIFV). Start visiting film festivals, and even film markets, like Cannes or AFM. Once you get to these places, start talking up your projects, start talking up yourself. A big part of screenwriting is being able to "sell" yourself. Otherwise, why would anyone read your script? You may have a great script, but simply saying it's great doesn't mean anything to anyone.
Next, you may want to review festival or market attendee lists. Some major markets (such as the Berlinale and the American Film Market) may publish their attendee lists online. The list may take some sifting through, since there will be a mix of distributors, sales agents, and producers. But many smaller production companies may be in attendance from all over the world. Vetting will be extremely important in this case, but events are a great way to locate these up-and-coming producers.
As always, note that when working with any producer you don't know (or attempting to submit to any producer you don't know), a certain amount of reasonable caution should be exercised. Under NO circumstances should you blindly submit a script to anyone whose policies don't allow it and whose reputation you do not know.
If working with an up-and-coming producer, typically you would sign an option agreement or a shopping agreement with the producer. If they are an up-and-comer, they would most likely have little money to pay you and instead are going to try to shop your script to those who can pay you (or secure financing to have the film from your script made independently). But these producers can bring a lot of fire to your project. They may be able to secure a cast, a director, really make a package or get it to those who can. Sometimes the passionate up-and-comers are the ones who give the project a real edge, especially for screenwriters starting out or establishing themselves.
Screenwriters can successfully leverage an up-and-coming producer to help open doors and get their scripts noticed by other, maybe more notable producers, or agents, or distributors, etc. who then might be able to leverage their might to take the project to the next level, attaching cast, financing, directors, maybe even distributors -- the works.
Hire a Casting Director to Help Create a Package
A lot of screenwriters simply overlook directly approaching casting talent. But for a producer who is looking to get a project going, casting agents are some of their best-kept secrets. What do you need for your project to stand out from the pack? Names attached. (However, you must be careful which names you attach as different names can mean different things to a project. It is not the casting director's job to understand what names are meaningful in the international marketplace, nor it it their responsibility to.) Their specialty is finding actors appropriate for the script, leveraging their relationships to get scripts to actors or their representatives, and making proper offers. It is the responsibility of the person hiring the casting director to understand which names can help move their projects forward.
How do you find a casting director? There are several ways to find a casting director including referrals from other filmmakers, or the Casting Society of America (CSA) (which has an online database of casting directors). Different casting directors do have different specialties, so be sure to research who they are and their credits before contacting them.
A lot of times, indies use "casting associates" who work right under casting directors. Casting associates are still establishing themselves, but have substantial contacts and relationships with agents if they are working for a bigger casting director, and can be one of an indie filmmaker's best tools. It takes years to learn the ropes and establish the relationships needed to become a successful casting director. Their fees can be much lower than an established casting director, as they are still getting credits under their belts. But once again, thorough vetting is important to make sure you are making the right choice in casting directors.