9 steps to a script deal

There’s nothing more exciting for writers than to sell something. And so, I thought it might be useful to write a post on the kind of things that led up to doing a recent script deal to give a view of how it might go down and a few things it might be worth looking out for.

1. Write a script

Our hypothetical story starts with you writing a script. You sweat, you toil, you break the story, pound out pages, and you move commas around. Finally, you think it’s ready, and your agent sends it out. People read it — hopefully some people like it. And maybe they ask you to come in to meet them… “This is it,” you think, “I’m about to finally get the million dollar script deal I’ve always wanted.” You’re wrong.

2. Take a general meeting

When you do, don’t do the things in this post. Assuming you traverse the difficulties of awkward social conversation, you get to the point where they say: we really liked your script, BUT…

It’s too expensive…

We have something just like it…

We think it would be too hard to make.

You slump back in your seat: 1,001 different words for “no”, right? Then they get to the “but…”

3. Listen to what they want

Sit back up. Because everything that’s happened hitherto has been preamble. This next part is why the meeting is happening. The producer or exec wants something. Be it ever-so generic or ever-so specific: a mid-budget genre pic, a story that involves a truck journey between Arizona and New Mexico, something that can star some actor they want to work with…

Your reply (although only if it’s true) should be: yeah, I’d really like to write something like that.

4. Come up with an idea

Go away. Think for a week or so. Maybe get something down on paper. Then get in touch and say – “Hi, been thinking a lot about that thing we talked about – INSERT YOUR ONE OR TWO AWSOME IDEAS FOR A MOVIE HERE.” Maybe they’ll want you to come in and talk about them a bit more, maybe they’d be interested in reading a page on what you think will be a cool film.

5. Wait a few weeks

Or maybe even a few months. And you assume your ideas were just a big pile of crap. Until…

6. Fail

They get in touch and are really apologetic… it’s been busy! But they really dug your ideas and would like to talk about them a bit more. You go in. They think the first idea is really cool, but don’t think it quite fits their budget. The second one is great – but the setting just doesn’t work with where they are planning on filming their next couple of films. Is there any way that idea could be a bit more like…?

7. Try again

You go away and re-think your idea, and how it might go in a different direction. Make the changes they want. But not unthinkingly. Often you will have to re-build your script to ensure the whole still works with their changes. Then send it back.

8. Wait a few weeks/months

See 5, above. And give up the ghost. It’s been too long. You won’t hear anything… Then you get an e-mail. “Sorry, we’ve been busy. Do you want to come in…”

9. Be flexible

And this time, there are more people in the room – which is weird. And their job titles are slightly longer. And they talk more in terms of budgets and locations than previously. And they say they love your idea, but it could do with a couple of changes that hopefully won’t damage your vision but will make the final film more saleable. AND —

If you’re on board with the changes, then they’d like to make a script deal.

And the thing is — once you’ve taken a second to think about it, their ideas won’t damage the film at all. In fact, once you’ve thought about it a bit more, it will make the film work better, and be more saleable, AND you’re really excited to write it.

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I'm James, a screenwriter working in the film and TV industry. To get in touch, see my e-mail contact page.

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