Screenwriting: from Fail to Sale (3/5)

Two years back a friend said to me, why don’t you enter some of your scripts into scripts comps.

Phooey, I thought, (yes I thought Phooey – great word huh, so under used.)

-By Samuel Bartlett


I conjured images of those competitions you find in supermarkets where all you have to do is fill out a brightly coloured form with your name and address and you stand to win a car, or a yacht, (I just realized I have no idea how to spell yacht – thankyou spell-check) or a holiday to a remote place with crystal waters, etc… but no body ever knew anyone that had won these prizes.

There is getting noticed, there is getting producers to read your work, and that’s where my first TIP comes into it.

I figured screenwriting comps were for chumps.

Ba-bow (its back!).

Screenwriting comps are a great ‘in’ for people with zero or little inside contacts in the functional film business.

If you ‘place,’ in a script comp it’s basically a stamp of approval that comes with your script saying, this isn’t a pile of shit, you’re not completely wasting your time reading this.

I’ve just realized how much there is to say on script comps, but I want to keep this concise so here goes…

If you ‘place,’ in a script comp
it’s basically a stamp of approval

trophy 1 | the both and | shorts and longs | julie rybarczykDon’t go for the win in a comp. Placing in a comp is just as good as winning. MANY, many, times it’s the script that comes in 8th that gets signed by an agency or made by a production company, so often the winner gets lost in obscurity.

Don’t expect the scripts comp to advance your writing career; that’s your job, not the script comp’s, even if that’s what they proclaim they’ll do if you win.

No, all they can do if you win is send out your script to producers and agents with their script comp’s stamp of approval, but get this, agents and prod companies are just as interested in reading that 8th placing script as the winner because they KNOW that at that top level of things what defines a 1st placing script against an 8th placing script is so very subjective – particularly when you’re talking about a script pool of 5,800 scripts. 8th is as good as first when you’re looking at the crème of that many scripts.

So that’s what you’ve got to do. Write that script, send it to the comps, when one does ‘place’ then it’s your job to use that accolade and start approaching prod companies. Only now when you send an email to them, (keep it super brief, professional) lead with that accolade from the script comp:

I’m writing to you regarding a script that has just placed in the X screen writing competition.

Most producers will read the first line of an email, they read that much, you’ve got their attention, they’ll read on.

Don’t expect the scripts comp
to advance your writing career;
that’s your job.

If a prod company is looking for scripts (and all functional prod companies are) then they’ll be a thousand times more inclined to read your script than if you just send a cold email saying, hey I’ve written a script, it’s great, my friend says so and he/she knows their shit, so fucking read it.


That is what I did:

My script came top ten at the Austin Film Fest in its category. I sent an email to a prod company in LA. They read it in a few days then emailed me back saying they really liked it, can we buy it?

Fuck yeah, I said…

I didn’t have an agent, a manager? But I did have a friend. Friends are great, especially when they’ve got managers and agents and have sold films and scripts. I found this friend at a party at the Austin Screen Writing Festival. Without him I would have been fucked.

Friends are great, especially when they’ve got
managers and agents and have sold films and scripts.

I had no idea what a script contract looked like. The one I ended up signing basically said that this prod company could do what the hell they want with my script, they could even get someone in to completely re-write the thing and not even give me a credit as writer.

I had no clue – but my friend ran the contract by his agent and it came back fine, just a standard contract.

Peaceful ResolutionWe negotiated price, came up with a figure we’re both cool with, I signed, didn’t hear anything for a while, but when the financing finally came through they got in touch with me for re-writes.

Re-writes. Holy shit that was fun.

That was when I felt like a real writer, this is actually going to be made, emailing back and forth with a producer in LA, bettering the script.

The one thing I learned from that process was to never, ever, ever, underestimate a producer that’s actually MAKING movies. 

Samuel Bartlett

Part 1 – The Beginnings
Part 2 – Cars and Cops
Part 4 – The Law of Causation
Part 5 – Writing and Reading


Photo Credit: Nomadic Lass – Shorts and Longs

Samuel Bartlett is an award winning screen writer and film maker with two feature films currently in development with Los Angeles based production companies.
He shot his first award winning feature film in 2011 and has another short film ready for the festival circuit. He divides his time between Sydney, London and LA.

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