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Your Screenwriting Career: Using stats to improve your sell

You already have the power and the ability to succeed in the film and television industries, though you might be missing some tools.  You are in control of your screenwriting career and have to make decisions that will advance your career.  Statistics give you the 20/20 hindsight and the forecasting power to make informed, strategic decisions to drive your screenwriting career towards success.  So, let’s explore what statistics are important to your career, how to keep track of them, and how to turn those statistics into action.

Considering there are so many ways to skin a cat, there is one absurd quote I have heard too many times to count: “A good script sells itself.” This concept is, at its core, flawed.

Definition: Sell (/sel/) – verb: give or hand over (something) in exchange for money.

This definition inherently requires there be more than one party to a “sell” transaction, so before a sale can take place, “something” must be introduced by the selling party to the buying party.  It is the seller’s job to get the buyer to first consider the product before the sale can take place.

Take for instance, any recognizable brand.  Coca-Cola is one single product; they spend nearly $3 Billion per year in advertising, have had 61 different slogans since their inception, and have executed countless commercial advertising campaigns. Again, Coca-Cola is one product.  

Coca-Cola’s executives do not change their commercial advertisements out of boredom, or just for giggles; it’s because ads can lose public relevance, and bottom line: one advertisement can sell the same product better than another.

Our industry is no different. Why do you think the studios have different trailers and posters for movies they release? And these are films already produced!  So if studios have to sell their movies, why would anyone think a screenplay would sell itself? Screenwriters are selling a "product" in hopes of it turning into a different product--a movie. 

Smart scripts don't sell scripts. Smart writers sell scripts.

Selling a product requires knowledge on how to sell.  In our business, since reading scripts takes time and there are many scripts to consider, there are several items that producers and executives take into consideration before actually committing their time to reading a screenplay.  In some circumstances, these “considered items” could be as simple as an introduction, referral, or a writer’s previous track record of produced films and television shows.  However, for unproduced writers, and for the vast majority of produced writers as well, the most commonly requested items include: logline, synopsis, treatment, and resume.

What does this mean for you?  This means that every logline, synopsis, treatment, and resume is considered a selling point to getting executives to read your screenplays.  Remember Coca-Cola finds certain ads sell their product better than others; therefore: 

Certain loglines, synopses, treatments, and resumes will sell your scripts better than others.

 

Scientifically Improve Your Loglines, etc. Through InkTip

In order to scientifically improve your loglines, synopses, treatments, and resumes (hereinafter referred to as “Selling Tools”), you have to be able to track the success of each version or draft of these.  To do that, executives actually have to read them.

[Shameless plug time :-)] InkTip.com is a great place to test and improve your loglines and other Selling Tools.  Listing a screenplay on InkTip.com makes your Selling Tools and your screenplays available to thousands of filmmakers and executives, and it’s this kind of exposure that you need in order to fine-tune your sales approach for each screenplay.

Rule #1: Track everything.

For those of you who have at least one script currently listed on InkTip, or are planning to, we recommend creating an excel doc to keep track of your viewings.  A spreadsheet will help you analyze the success of each of your Selling Tools.  

You can set up an excel sheet like this:

W.E.

Logline

Synopsis

Treatment

Resume

Script

Pro Discussions Opened

7/19/2013

6

2

0

0

0

0

7/26/2013

10

1

0

1

1

0

8/2/2013

5

6

0

0

0

1

8/9/2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’ll notice that this is set up to keep weekly statistics on all of your Selling Tools where the far-left column represents the “Week Ending” (W.E.) date.

You will also want to create a document titled “Daily Log” to note and track all changes to your Selling Tools and your screenplay.

A new Writer Analysis Tool spreadsheet and Daily Log should be created for each script you are selling (I recommend you create dedicated sub-folders on your computer for each script where you can keep these documents organized).

For those of you who currently have scripts listed on InkTip, login to your account, and click on “Check Script Viewings” from the My Scripts/Viewings drop down.  Click the Excel button to load your stats into an excel doc and sort.  Or use the Filter Item drop down at the bottom to see your various stats and record them into an excel doc.

On your excel doc in Column G, you will fill in the number of entertainment professionals with whom you have started conversations. Every conversation initiated should be counted. These conversations could include emails, phone calls, in-person meetings, etc.

Once you have all of your data filled in, and at least four week’s worth of data, you can now start making some changes.

Rule #2: Only make changes one at a time.

Now you can use these statistics to find which weeks where your logline was more successful at getting executives to read your synopsis, and weeks where your synopsis was more successful at getting executives to download or read your screenplay.  

After analyzing your stats, if there were weeks that were particularly better than others, you should ask yourself what changes you made or actions you took during those time periods.  More often than not, measurable spikes or drops in your synopsis’ success-rate (think more script downloads or requests) will be based on changes to the synopsis itself—likewise for your logline’s success-rate.  However, it may sometimes surprise you the kind of impact seemingly unrelated changes can have on your overall success.

For instance, perhaps your logline success rates have been steady from Week 1 through Week 15, but in Week 7 you changed your logline without it having an impact in your synopsis viewings one way or the other.  However, from Week 8 though Week 15 you noticed a slight uptick in screenplay downloads.  This could mean that your new logline is so good that execs are skipping your synopsis and going straight to the screenplay.  You can confirm or debunk this by looking to see for drops in your synopsis reads.  However, if all the stats are normal, and the only increase is in the number of scripts read, this could indicate that though your original logline was getting people to read your synopsis, its style or tone was inconsistent with your synopsis, and was thus making execs feel like they weren’t reading what they wanted or expected, and therefore declined to read your screenplay.

In other words, this would further indicate that the change you made to the logline in Week 7, while attracting the same number of producers, in fact attracted a different group of producers who were more likely to be attracted to your synopsis, thereby leading to more screenplay downloads.

This all leads back to the importance of your brand new Daily Log!

Just like your excel doc, in your Daily Log you should keep track of every change you make or action you take in relation to your screenplay each week.  However, follow Rule #2: only make one change at a time and allow that change to take effect for at least three weeks before reverting back or making any other changes.  This is for two important reasons: (1) you need to allow enough time for each change to take effect, in order to be able to see a measurable impact, if any, and (2) by changing more than one thing at a time, you won’t know which change had which impact.

I know many of you are going to wonder early on, what are some good stats to strive for, so I ran the numbers on a listing that I consulted on for the purposes of this article.  The first few weeks were slow, so I started making edits to the logline, synopsis, and resume.  I tracked every change in a Daily Log, and despite my experience, I even had to revert back on some modifications because the statistics suggested it.  In the six months I had it listed on InkTip, my logline resulted in synopsis views 21% of the time, and my synopsis lead to a screenplay download 67.6% of the time.  Considering the large number of script downloads, with no offers on the table, it appears that this screenplay may need some work, as it is not finding its producer-audience.  If I, or the writer, believe this screenplay to already be in excellent shape, then it could be advisable to modify both the logline and the synopsis to better match the style and tone of the screenplay.

Similar statistics should be kept for any email marketing you do, where you would instead be more likely to track the following Selling Tools: email copy (the message itself), logline, synopsis requests, script requests, and options/sales/hires.  Since executives on InkTip are specifically there to read pitches, there are different protocols to follow in emails—as they are unsolicited.  You can find more on this in our article “Part IV: Learning to write… emails for success.” The same can be said for snail mail queries.

Conclusion

I’m aware that these might be new concepts for some of you, and that’s what makes this article so necessary.  I’m also aware that there are a lot of nay-sayers and “screenwriting experts” out there who argue for sole attention to honing your craft as the key to success—and on the rare occasion, they may beat the odds—but this is one thing I can guarantee you 100%: following this advice will only help your career.

Take your career seriously and create the results you’re seeking.  Like I said, you do have the power and the ability to absolutely control your screenwriting career; it might just take some new tools and thought processes you weren’t aware of to navigate your way to success.

"Things work out best for those who make the best of how things work out" – John Wooden

 

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About the Author:
Gato Scatena is a producer with Scatena & Rosner Films, and former vice president at InkTip.  His most recent productions include the film, "Filth," starring James McAvoy, the upcoming comedy, "Mantevention," starring Mario Van Peebles, and Lifetime's "Imaginary Friend," starring Paul Sorvino.  Scatena & Rosner Films is in development on more features for 2015, and also works in film tax incentive financing.

Questions for Gato can be tweeted to @GatoScatena on Twitter.

Revised and Updated by: Chris Cookson

 

Written by: Gato Scatena - producer, Scatena & Rosner Films
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