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Finding a Screenplay for Your Film

Finding a screenplay is easy — but finding a good one is hard. But if you look carefully, you can find many talented, up-and-coming screenwriters who have good or maybe even great scripts just waiting to be made into films. Or, if you find a great story from a published book, you can adapt it into a screenplay.

Keep in mind that the beginning filmmaker should select or write a story that is realistic to shoot as a first-time movie. Don't choose material that's too ambitious. Keep the locations and characters to a minimum and keep away from special effects (they can be costly and time consuming).

The right way to find a screenwriter

How do you find screenplay writers? Here are some ideas:

  • Read screenplay magazines such as Creative Screenwriting and Scr(i)pt Magazine and look for articles on writers. Check the classified sections and request available screenplays being advertised by writers.
    Screenplay magazines usually list writers' newsletters and writers groups that you can join in order to find writers who have a screenplay ready to turn into a film.
  • Attend writing seminars advertised in the various writers' magazines or in the classified sections of trade papers like The Hollywood Reporter, or that you find out about from a writers' group, and network with the people in attendance, in addition to the speaker. Many attendees probably have a script they're peddling.
  • Send e-mail to everyone you know (we all have a screenplay in us), telling them you're looking for a great screenplay or idea for a great film. After the word spreads, especially on the Internet, you'll start getting submissions.
  • Contact agencies that represent writers. (You can request a list of agencies from the Writer's Guild of America. Send a query letter or call, and tell the agency that you're looking for scripts. Be sure to give them an idea of your budget range — how much money you have to make your film (a little or a lot?).
  • Check the library and bookstores for directories such as The Hollywood Creative Directory that list established writers who may have a great spec script sitting in their closets, or young new writers eager to have you produce their work. A spec script is a speculative screenplay that a writer has written without being commissioned by someone to write it — in the hopes of it being considered for production. It's usually a story the writer is extremely passionate about.

A novel idea: Working with an adaptation

One of the better ways to get a studio deal in Hollywood is to find a great book and option the rights to it. When you option a book, you're temporarily leasing the rights to it, giving you exclusive permission to adapt it to a screenplay and to shop it around as if you owned it. In a sense, you do own it — for a limited amount of time. An option can be as short as four months or as long as two years or more.

Literally hundreds of thousands of books are out there. Go to the library or a secondhand bookstore. You're sure to stumble across a little gem that somebody has missed. Scan the racks for something that could work as a film. You could even take a short story and adapt it into a full-length feature film. Many of Stephen King's short stories were adapted into full-length films. King's short story Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption became the feature film The Shawshank Redemption, and his novella The Body was released as the theatrical film Stand by Me.

The popularity of the book will determine whether you can get an inexpensive option. If it's an older book, the chances of getting an inexpensive option are very good — especially if you can contact the author directly.

When you option the rights to a novel, you draw up an agreement (preferably have an attorney do it) and you name a purchase price to be paid if and when you sell the novel to a studio or produce it yourself. You can often option for $1 and set a purchase price that is paid only when the film is produced. Often the purchase price of a script is 10 to 15 percent of the budget on an independent production, plus any agreed upon royalties on the picture's profits. You're probably saying to yourself, "Why even pay a dollar?" Any monetary amount makes it a legal agreement.

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