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Your Screenwriting Career, Targeting - Finding more of the right hands

Controlling your career and your success as a screenwriter is reliant on you making your script available to as many credible industry professionals as possible.  Your script will not be produced if no one knows it exists.  But where do you find the filmmakers you need? 

You need to increase your potential buyer list for your script.  So, let's give you new tools to increase your screenplays' audience of filmmakers and reps.

Connections in the film industry are like a healthy tree - with you as the trunk.  Every branch can lead to another branch, and yet another, where all of them ultimately lead to thousands of leaves.  In other words, every route you may follow when searching for new contacts can lead to several other routes and connections in the industry.

Have you noticed that when you go to the movie theater, the trailers they play are primarily in the same genre or happen to star some of the same actors as the movie you're about to watch?  This is because distributors make two important assumptions in terms of marketing their next releases.  (1) If you're sitting in that seat, chances are that you'll be interested in seeing another movie of the same genre, or with one of the same actors, and (2) many moviegoers get pulled along by someone else who really wanted to see a particular movie, which makes for a great opportunity to "pitch" another movie to an otherwise uninterested audience.  This translates as follows:

Someone who's interested in something is likely to have friends interested in that same thing.

This concept is even truer when it comes to professional friends.  If I'm looking to produce an action movie this year, it's a safe bet that my friends who I've worked with in the past are aware of this, and are keeping their eyes and ears open, and in all likelihood want to produce an action movie too.  So, let's talk about how to navigate and expand the giant tree that is your network.

CONTENTS:
1) Know Who's Looking for You
2) Targeting Companies
3) Targeting Individuals
4) Pitching Events
5) Conclusion

Know Who's Looking for You
Before you just start randomly contacting production companies, you need to know who's more likely to want your material in the first place.  Hitting up Adam Sandler's production company with a drama is probably not the route most likely to succeed.  Not to say that they wouldn't be open to a drama, I don't know.But dramatic movies are not exactly their wheelhouse.  The same can be said for sending a broad comedy to Fox Searchlight.

Logically, you know that you have to get your script to people working in the industry.  On a broad scale, it is always a good thing to get your scripts to as many people working in the industry as you can, but not because they can all get your movie made, rather because everyone knows someone.  That said, your script marketing efforts should be targeted to those who are likely to be interested in your material, and with their ancillary contacts in mind.

So, before you can start targeting every person in your proverbial tree, you need to do some research to figure out where to start.

InkTip Research

For those of you who have screenplays listed on InkTip.com, you have an advantage over other writers, and have already seen some companies checking out your scripts.  There is an opportunity here that you can take without violating InkTip's terms of service.  Your job isn't done just because a producer read your script and may or may not be interested in hiring you.  It has just begun!

You should be close to an expert on every company that has checked out your synopsis or screenplay on InkTip.com.  Know what kind of movies they normally produce, and who else they commonly work with.  This includes other writers, directors, and other companies they have co-produced with.  All of these individuals are potential interested parties in your screenplays. 

By keeping track of companies who have seen your work on InkTip, and the other companies and individuals they work with, you can start to compile a more thorough and accurate list of people who may be open to your screenplays.

For example, let's say a producer who has a deal with Lionsgate read your synopsis or script on InkTip.com.  This shows that he or she is looking for material like yours, whether or not they chose to go further with you.  You have now found your target audience.  Look up all the actors, producers, distributors and production companies that the producer has recently worked with.  Pitch them-don't pitch the Lionsgate producer; they've already been pitched-pitch the companies and individuals who work with the Lionsgate producer.

Trade Research

You should be reading the trades on a daily basis to know who's greenlighting what.  Some trades to follow would include The Hollywood Reporter, and Variety.  Business articles that cover producers who are hiring writers and producing movies not only feature information on the relevant deal that was recently closed, but also provide highlights of the key players' and their most recent and notable feature films and television shows.  Their recent notable films and shows provide insight into those individuals' preferences and abilities.

So, if you read an article about a producer who recently optioned a dramatic screenplay, when that producer is better known for producing comedies, this could be an indication that they're now broadening their horizons, or even shifting their genre direction completely.  A producer like this would likely be a good target for both comedies and dramas at this point.

The trades can also be a good source for who's currently looking and who isn't.  Larger production companies tend to always be looking for new scripts, though smaller companies and producers tend to slow down on reading new screenplays when they're in development or production on another film.  This doesn't mean you don't reach out to the smaller companies, but it does mean that you should estimate when those contacts will be looking for new material, and set a calendar alarm for yourself to follow up with them at that time.

International Movie Database (IMDb.com)

IMDb.com is an amazing source of information on all things "entertainment," and for IMDb Pro users, you can gather valuable data such as company and individual contact information, film production status, chronologically organized associated news releases, and much more.

When you're researching entertainment professionals who have been checking you out on InkTip, or when you're looking to see if another director you read about in The Hollywood Reporter is currently available or busy on another project, IMDb is the best place to do this.

Targeting Companies
There are three types of companies to target: production companies, agencies, and management companies.  Each of these company types has a distinct job to do, and as I discussed above, every company has specialties.  So, before you just sporadically start emailing companies, here's what you should know.

Production companies

Production companies are the first logical group you're likely to target.  So, let's explore how to track down the right companies.It should go without saying, that focusing exclusively on large companies and studios is not the way to go.  Even so, let's start at the top and work our way down. 

For every script that you have, get online and compile a list of the closest comparables you've seen in the theaters within the past twelve months.  Now, research all the production and distribution companies affiliated with each of these movies.  The best way to get a comprehensive list of associated companies is through IMDbPro, however it can normally be put together by general Google searches and Wikipedia for free. 

In all of these cases you're going to see one or two very large companies attached to each film, but there are likely to be one or two smaller companies also attached.  For instance, my own producing career has really just begun, but we still managed to attach ourselves to a movie called "Filth" starring James McAvoy, which is produced by Maven Pictures and Steel Mill Pictures.  Maven has produced some well known pictures, but the fact that my company was involved means that we have direct access to that larger production company.  In the case of the current box office hit, "The Conjuring," New Line Cinema is the big name company attached, but it's a little-known Texas-based production company, Evergreen Media Group, with only one other feature documentary to their name, that spearheaded the production.  Taking note of these smaller companies is of great import, and it's worthwhile to give them the same courtesy you would give a major studio.

Moving to the lower levels, you should begin researching distribution companies.  Look for the distributors who release a good number of films in your genre each year.  Many of these films may be direct-to-DVD/VOD, but you should research each film to identify the production companies behind them.  These production companies may not offer the Paramount deal you're hoping for, but they have produced films, have proven their ability to finance, and therefore will have many more big-company connections than you.  Getting in tight with smaller production companies on the rise is akin to getting in on the ground floor as an investor with companies like Microsoft.  Companies and people do not forget those who they knew before they were big.

Agencies

Agents and agencies tend to be all business; they're job is to find work for their clients, and accept offers for their clients.  However, like every company, agencies have employees who are both hungry for new talent, and/or on the rise.  There's a film that I'm producing that has two major actors attached.  In fact, it's one of these actors who brought me the project.  Over a year ago, the writer of the screenplay started using his connections to get in with United Talent Agency (UTA).  He was going after one actor in particular, and managed to get the actor's agent to read the script, who then set up a lunch meeting between the actor and the writer.  As a result, both the agency and the actor are now getting behind the project.

Just like production companies, agencies, and agents as individuals, tend to have specialties.  Some agents focus on comedy writers, or comedic actors.  Others, drama, horror...etc.

You should research which agents specialize in your genre.  Go after the literary agents who look for writers like you, but likewise, go after agents who represent directors and actors known for your genre.  Getting an agent behind your project, even if they don't want to represent you just yet, is of the highest value, and will provide you with the "street cred" to approach other companies and individuals, and you will be taken even more seriously.  In their eyes, they'll see you as not just a writer, but someone who gets the business.

Management Companies

Unlike agencies, which are bound by certain legalities that prohibit them from being a "production company," management companies are the new-wave answer to the studio system of yesteryear.  Back in the day, studios [not agencies] controlled their talent.  If you were an actor for Paramount Studios, you acted in Paramount films... period.  Occasionally, the studios would "loan out" actors to another studio in exchange for money or services.

Nowadays, management companies have filled this gap.  They represent actors, writers, and directors that fit their wheelhouse, and they also produce films.  Approaching these companies should be just as focused as your production company or agency strategy, but the added benefit is that when you hit your target, they may not only be able to package your film, but produce it too.

BenderSpink is a great example of a successful management company.  They produce major motion pictures that are theatrically released, and they represent a pool of talent.  They don't generally represent the biggest talent in their movies, but if you can get in with a management company like this, and propose attaching a couple actors they're trying to develop, your pitch may resonate with them and lead to your film getting packaged and produced.

Targeting Individuals

Independent Producers

Independent producers are the life blood of the industry.  Some may debate this, but the bottom line is that distribution is getting less expensive, and since the dawn of film, the majority of successful filmmakers started independent.  Some producers rise through the ranks at the studios, but the lion's share of producers out there had to do things on their own at some point.

This calls back to the suggestions made in regards to production companies: don't just focus on the big dogs; go after the other producers attached to films like yours.  These are people who have access and connections that you don't yet have, and as an independent, they are statistically easier to reach.

Directors

When you're researching films that are similar to yours, you should also be including directors on your target list.  Some of the newer directors are not going to be getting that many emails or contacts, and they are all hungry for their next project.  Getting a director on your side will not always lead to success, but having an agreement with a director where if he or she gets your movie going, they're attached to direct, will essentially put a major power piece in your corner. 

Admittedly, the bigger directors get hit up a lot, but finding an up-and-comer to take your project and run with it could be the difference between getting your script read and having your script ignored.  What's more, a director with one or two films behind them can make it much easier to approach agents and managers.  Agents and managers don't generally like their actors working with first-time directors, so if you have an experienced director rallying behind you, those representatives will feel more confident that their talent are in good hands.

One caveat is that if you 100% secure a director as attached, as opposed to saying "if you deliver the production company or funding, then you're attached," production companies may be harder to convince because they might have directors that they prefer to work with.  The bottom line is that if you can get a director to stand behind your project, but you don't have to sign the whole thing over, it can only help.

Talent

There's no reason you can't approach talent on your projects.  Producers just starting out do it all the time, and though it might not be an easy task, it does no harm.  Like my film that I already mentioned, if you can manage to get an actor to show interest in your project, it makes it much more valuable to a producer.  Even if the producer doesn't want to use that actor, the fact that you got a known actor attached to your film shows that your script has already been vetted. 

I should note that I've seen a lot of projects with actors attached who I didn't even recognize, and this won't do anything for a project.  When I say "talent," I don't necessarily mean Brad Pitt, but I do mean someone whose face I will recognize.

There are a lot of ways to show your scripts credibility, and having a recognizable face attached is one of the best.


  Conclusion
When it comes to controlling your career, the more exposure the better; however, you should always focus your efforts to a specific group in your genre whenever possible.  Targeting individuals and companies that are more likely to be interested in your material will make the best use of your valuable time.  Approaching known actors who are recognizable, whether they're household names or not, is generally only a boon to your project.  Going after not only the big studios, but also producers with one or two films behind them who have worked with a good number of companies and other filmmakers is also a great way to get more access to this industry of "closed doors."

Control your career by building a small army behind every script.  The more people who read your screenplay, the more people you'll have who want to see your project get made, and the more people you'll have fighting to get your project made.  Be the CEO, be the strategist, and pitch your project to the people who can help you succeed, not just the people who have already succeeded.

"Ideas in secret die. They need light and air or they starve to death."
- Seth Godin

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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.

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