Toil as an independent scriptwriter long enough and you’ll come face to face with the cold truth: whatever their merits, most feature-length scripts never receive serious consideration.
These five best practices won’t by themselves earn you an offer from every indie filmmaker who reads your script. But they might just tip the scales in your favor.
1. Proofread It
Don’t laugh. When you’re working three other jobs to make ends meet in Los Feliz or Bed-Stuy, it’s easy to lose sight of the little things. Before you send off your script, triple-check it for clarity, spelling, proper punctuation, flow. Producers do notice.
2. Focus on Character-Driven Concepts
Create characters that really jump off the pages of your script, even if you’re not writing an intense period drama or coming-of-age story that will live and die by the personalities on screen. Seasoned indie filmmakers favor character-driven concepts over big, flashy ideas, says movie-maker David Mimran, whose credits include the acclaimed Warrior.
3. Don’t Run Too Long
Don’t obsess over your script’s length, but don’t let it creep too far outside the normal range for feature-length films. You’ve probably heard horror stories about the 500-page scripts that land in producers’ inboxes from time to time, so you know what the worst-case scenario looks like. The very rough rule of thumb for a properly formatted script is one page per minute of screen time, but it’s best to overshoot a bit to account for excisions.
4. Get It In Front of the Right People
As author Porter Gale so memorably quipped, your network is your net worth. Make sure yours follows a steady growth curve — and that you’re getting any work you produce in front of the right people at the right time.
5. Avoid Holding Back or Keeping Your Script Close to the Vest
Aspiring scriptwriters have every reason to be wary. After all, there are far scriptwriters in the world than filmmakers, let alone indie imprint heads. Only a small fraction of all the indie scripts written this year, or any other, will become feature films.
Scriptwriters shouldn’t clam up, though. In fact, experienced producers encourage scriptwriters to share their work as widely as possible, and not just with “the right people”.
“It’s so hard to come up with original stuff and of course there’s always elements of other movies,” said longtime producer Cassian Elwes, who’s read thousands of scripts in his time, in a 2016 interview. Elwes insists that indie producers and studios would rather pay for the rights to a good script than take the risk of copping a concept, which could precipitate years of legal wrangling.
Success Without the Sellout
Don’t listen to those who equate success with selling out. Increasingly fragmented media consumption habits present a whole host of challenges for creatives, but strengthening legacy gatekeepers’ hands is not one of them. On the contrary, it’s easier than ever for independent creatives, including budding filmmakers, to find financial and critical success without compromising their ethics or making unacceptable changes to their vision.
If you work hard and keep these best practices in mind, you’ll find filmmaking success is possible without selling out.