Script to Screen: Inside the Development Process - March 7, 2009
March 7, 2009
New York, NY
Mike Ryan, Producer, Old Joy
Quentin Little, Producer & Former Development Exec, HDNet Films
Kelly Masterson, Screenwriter, Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead
Cordelia Stephens, Development Exec, Belladonna
Angela Lee, Development Exec, Vox 3
Ryan: How can companies be approached with scripts? What is your experience with this process?
Little: We look into the type of material they have and what their mandate is…We make sure you’re very specifically demographically targeted…It’s a lot harder for us to accept unsolicited submissions. They may however read unsolicited queries. You can send in a query letter. It’s a sense of your project, but not the script…You want to narrow it down to a short and concise couple of sentences…Be sure you’re capturing the essence of it.
Stevens: Our submission process is fairly open. We really read all the query letters that are sent. We don’t read unsolicited scripts…I really don’t like to get a query letter in the mail, I liked to get it emailed…It’s really important that the query letter tells about the script in a way I can read it in a few seconds. I’m getting dozens of query letters every week, probably five or six every day…From all of those query letters, we probably select one or two scripts a week that we’re going to bring into the company. We’re also getting scripts sent in by agents…It’s a big mistake to give too much or too little information…I just want to make a point that this is a marketing process. Is this film good and will it make money…because that’s the game. The marketing process culminates with the distributor…When you’re submitting that query letter, I’m convinced that (the film will) get somebody into a movie theater on a sunny afternoon.
Lee: We also don’t take unsolicited scripts…Another venue for getting in touch with development execs is getting your project accepted into events like the IFP Market. It’s an amazing event that’s using new voices that I wouldn’t otherwise heard of and then have relationships with.
Ryan: As a screenwriter, what’s your process of approaching companies?
Masterson: Two years ago, I was exactly where a lot of you are…I was a playwright for 20 years. I made all the mistakes that these people are telling you not to. I sent out scripts. I did everything I could. I came to events like this. I targeted people like Angela and gave them 30 seconds of my time with my log line…The most important thing that will change your life is getting the movie made. I got there two years ago. It took a long time to do…Now I have an agent and a manager…I have pet projects, things that are still very close to my heart that I spend a lot of time on…If you believe in your script, that’s the movie you want to get maid, find the right people. It sounds very simple, but it’s not at all.
Ryan: Once the query letter has been written and a development executive is interested, what can the screenwriter expect in that first meeting? What’s the next step?
Lee: It depends on how far along we like the script…Let’s say for example, we’re happy with where the script is at, we see that there’s potential, there’s interest in the marketplace…the decision makers at the company agree to the vision of your project and bring it on…we’ll do the meet and greet. At that point if we’re happy with it we’ll probably start to negotiate the option…At our company, we’re going to either be able to make it, fund raise for it and get it to production pretty quickly. Our company would not focus it on...numerous years…I would say we’d option it for a year to 18 months.
Stevens: It’s maybe important to explain how options actually work…It gives a production company the exclusive rights to try to raise money and attachments to that script. You may not get paid very much when a project is optioned…We take projects at different stages. We want to meet the writers to get a sense if they’re somebody we want to work with…It’s sort of a dating process.
Audience Question: Should you trust someone to option your script for $0?
Ryan: The Door in the Floor is a good example. It was optioned for $2. Why…because Ted Hope said ‘this is a tough sell. I need to invest my time and money to get this and it could take six months of my time and money to get this to somebody like Jeff Bridges. If you believe in me and I’m not subsidized by a studio and I’m going to go with this vision of the script…and I’m going to invest my time, I need it for zero.”
Little: Keep in mind, even at Guild minimum, you’re looking at a couple of thousand dollars per a year to 18 months. Work that down by hour, that’s minimum wage. It’s pretty minor. I don’t think it’s a sign of bad faith.