Monday, January 17, 2011

Column: Screenwriting: How The Industry Works

Screenwriting: How The Industry Works
By Karen Albright Lin

In past postings I’ve discussed the technical aspect of writing original scripts as well as adaptations. Once you’ve written a screenplay you’ll want to understand the market. If you’ve adapted someone else’s work (with legal permission) you may already have a contract in place, actors attached, and producers gathering money for the project. Lucky you!

If you are on your own, however, it’s even more important to understand how the industry works. First I suggest that you explore your own desires for your career. Is your goal to write in a particular genre? Are you in L.A.? If not, are you willing and able to travel there for meetings? Having a presence there is important for pitching and rewriting. Remember, film is collaborative. And being in L.A. is essential if your ultimate goal is to write for T.V. series.

There are several ways to market using your script. 1) outright sale 2) a development deal using your script as a lure to pitch your ideas 3) audition in which your sample script secures you an audition for a writing assignment – using one of my comedy scripts, I won a writer-for-hire comedy script contract. 4) option in which the producer or director pays a fee to keep the exclusive right to buy your script for an agreed-upon time (typically 6-12 months and anywhere from $0-$20,000). When the time limit is reached the producer needs to pay the agreed upon purchase price or pass. If it’s a pass, the writer keeps option money and all rights go back to the writer.

Next posting we’ll discuss what’s hot and what’s not and what makes a screenplay “high concept.” Meanwhile, keep your dialogue snappy and your directions brief. Don’t step on the director. Avoid dusk and dawn.

Karen is an editor, ghost writer, pitch coach, speaker and award-winning author of novels, cookbooks, and screenplays. She’s written over a dozen solo and collaborative scripts (with Janet Fogg, Christian Lyons and director Erich Toll) each has garnered international, national and regional recognition: Moondance Film Festival, BlueCat, All She Wrote, Lighthouse Writers, Boulder Asian Film Festival, SouthWest Writers Contest, and PPW Contest. Find out more at

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