How do I get an agent? Where do I send my completed screenplay? How do I stop people stealing my idea? What's the different between a treatment, a beat outline and a synopsis?
These are just a few of the questions we'll attempt to answer below. If you don't find the answer you're looking for, please contact us: we'll be updating this page regularly with your questions as they come in.
Do I really need to write my script in the absolutely correct format, font and layout?
Yes, absolutely - and especially if you are writing a script for cinema or a feature-length TV drama. You do not have to worry about layout while you actually write your script if it inhibits you (although most professional writers prefer to use the correct format from the start) but it certainly matters when you send it out. The wrong format will immediately get you dismissed as an amateur. Unfair? Maybe. But that's the industry.
I've completed my screenplay. Where do I send it?
Nowhere! Yet! If you've been on some courses, read a few screenwriting books and have just completed your first script you're probably practising your Oscar speech every bath time and planning how you're going to spend your first million. But don't go shopping yet. You need to make sure that, if you are going to send this script out to anyone in the industry, it's in the best possible shape it can be. Who's read it? Your best friend (who never goes to the cinema or watches TV)? Your spouse (ditto)? How many drafts has it been through?
First step should to be get your script read by someone who will be gentle to you! Maybe that friend, doting mother and/or spouse (although preferably they should go to the movies occasionally or watch the box every now and then...) Hopefully they will think you and your script are wonderful, although if they have a few minor, tentative comments do listen. They may have a point.
Next you must try to find someone who knows about the industry. This is where you need to make contacts. Go to workshops, networking events, build up your address book. Or better still, get your script professionally assessed.
We cannot advise too strongly that you get a proper script report - which you'll have to pay for - but which will be worth every penny if it means you get a meeting with an excited producer rather than a curt rejection note.
Many organisations offer this service - the best way to compare prices and service is to google 'screenwriting script reports'.
Here at Euroscript we offer a Bullet Point Report which will give you a succinct overview of what works and what doesn't; and a Full Report which is more expensive but gives you detailed, extensive feedback. You may speak to your script editor about either of these reports if you have queries.
A well-written report will point out the strengths in your script, including some you may not be aware of, to help you build on them, and constructively criticise if there are any areas of weakness. You may well find that the criticisms reflect feelings you have already had, perhaps subconsciously. It should suggest ways of improving on these, in a positive and helpful manner. A good organisation should also offer the chance to ask follow-up questions or even arrange to meet the script consultant for more detailed help.
Nobody likes criticism, but learning to use it constructively is part of becoming professional, and more experienced writers expect reports to be tough on them and bring out the best in their writing. (Go to Winner's Interview on our Competition page to read what it feels like to get extensive feedback).
If you work with a script editor to get your script into shape, it's more likely you'll sell it.
No really, it's a masterpiece, where should I send it? If you don't have an agent, it may be time to consider getting one. Buy the Writers and Artists Yearbook and find out which agents work in the film and TV world. Send them your screenplay and a short covering letter; if you've had anything published (even if it's short articles on websites) mention it. However, getting an agent is not essential (see below) and generally only happens once you have already sold something.
Subscribe to the industry film magazine in your country (Screen International for Great Britain). Note the names of producers who are making similar films to the script you're working on and send it to them.
Get onto the free e-mail circulation lists of writing and producing networks in your country and start attending their networking meetings. Euroscript writers have optioned their scripts after meeting producers at the bar at our networking events.
Enter your script into 'legitimate' competitions. Submit it for public readings. You never know who'll get to hear about it.
Most important - start working on your next script. Ambitious writers have many scripts doing the rounds; if the producer you meet on the bus hates horror movies, pull a rom com out of your bag.
How do I get an agent?
Don't even start trying until you've written a couple of screenplays and have been getting good reports back on them. Select your best and send it out (buy the Writers and Artist Yearbook, see above). Remember, agents are looking at the long term - hoping to set up a relationship that will last for a long career.
If you've been to lots of networking events you'll be meeting other writers who have agents; ask them whether their agents are looking for new writers. If you hear about agents who are leaving to set up their own agency, contact them right away.
However, as mentioned above, it is not essential to have an agent. They are not a panacea, guaranteeing sales. You will generally not find it easy to get an agent until you have made at least one sale. Even with an agent, you will still need to work hard establishing your contacts, meeting producers and getting your material read.
Many successful writers manage without an agent altogether. If you do not have one, but need to negotiate a deal, then find a media lawyer to act for you. They are listed in industry manuals, such as Kays, Kemps and The Knowledge, and will often be helpful to up-and-coming writers. Unlike agents, who take a percentage commission, a lawyer will take a fee for each job, but you are perfectly within your rights to negotiate that down to a figure you can reasonably afford.
How do I stop people stealing my idea?
While ideas do sometimes get stolen, it doesn't happen as often as you'd think, and it's something that worries beginner writers much more than experienced professionals. (What follows is a very general guide to the legal situation, but if are concerned, as with any other legal matter you must consult an experienced media lawyer).
The first thing you need to know is that there is no copyright in ideas, only in how they are developed and recorded in some form (written, photographed, etc).
You should not talk about your ideas too freely until you have developed them as fully as possible. In any case, you are unlikely to find even development funds for them until you have written at least one draft of the script (see below). Furthermore, too much talk can lessen the pressure on yourself to finish the writing. However, once the script is written, you will need to pitch it. Don't over-agonise about the risks. Everyone pitches. If you pitch to responsible, legitimate industry professionals, the chances of them stealing an idea you have already developed to script is small.
If you are really concerned, then ideas can be covered by the law of confidentiality. Politely make it clear that your pitch is made in confidence, perhaps in a letter before or after the meeting. But don't be aggressive or legalistic - it looks amateur.
Anything you have developed, eg: written down in detail, from synopsis to script, is however covered by the law of copyright. The more detailed the better. Your rights are automatic - you don't even need to put the copyright symbol on. However, if you think your script has been plagiarised you will need to be able to prove you wrote yours first.
Again, this doesn't happen often, but if you are worried there are a couple of things you can do in advance. You can post yourself your script in a sealed jiffy - taped over with signatures over the tape to show it has not been tampered with. Make sure you use a postal service that registers the date of delivery and keep it unopened. If you ever need it for legal reasons, you will need to open the envelope in front of a lawyer. There are also organisations which will receive and register your script for a small fee. Google "script registration" to find one that suits you.
What's the different between a beat outline, a synopsis and a treatment?
The way people describe the prose summary of their script varies wildly but in general: a beat outline is for the writer's eyes only because it's a working document that beats out the story to help you get through the script; a synopsis is a short pithy sales document hard-selling your script; and a full treatment describes the script in great detail over 20 to 30 pages. If you google 'How to Write a Treatment' you'll visit many excellent sites giving you tips.
Can I sell my story on a treatment or do I have to write the script?
It's unlikely a producer will pay you to write a script if you've never written one before, no matter how hot your story. So write the script. Once you have a couple of excellent scripts under your belt which show you can write you're more likely to sell your story via the treatment.
I can't spell. Does this matter?
No. But try to get a friend to check the script if your spelling is really bad.