Guest blog by produced screenwriter Rick Hansberry. [Get your script into the hands of the decision-makers.]
I am writing this from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. While I live in a growing community of artistic and creative endeavors, it’s hardly the entertainment mecca of a major city. Hollywood isn’t worried. The point is, making industry contacts from here is work. Plain and simple. I can’t take meetings over lunch. So how does one go about approaching B-List actors and other professionals in Hollywood from Amish country?
HAVE THE GOODS: You can write from anywhere. No excuses. Have a portfolio of finished and polished scripts. Not one that your family and former English profession ‘just love.’ A few scripts, preferably not all of the same genre, that have the chops to submit to festivals and competitions, if you’re not doing that already – and if you’re not, read no further, you don’t want it bad enough. If you are, and you have your strong scripts at the ready, please consider the fact that those scripts are just that – stories awaiting to be told – and they do you little good sitting on your hard drive or in a drawer. They need to get to others that can do something with them. [Submit to Season 4 of Screenwriting Staffing Query Letter Contest.]
PACKAGE THE GOODS: When crafting your script, think of a known actor that could play the lead. Write with them in mind. Not only will you be able to visualize your story better, you'll be building a project that may interest them. Be smart about it. Do not use an A-list actor - Tom Cruise is not the goal here. In extremely rare situations, those mega stars come across material they become passionate about but let that dream play out on its own. What’s within your control is to reach out to the working actor.
In my case, I was able to write for Fred Lehne. The name might not mean anything to you, but a quick glimpse over his IMDb credits reveals the obvious. He's been in everything - worked with the biggest of the big.
I approached him with a short film script that I thought he was perfect for. I also paid attention. I noted the things that he wrote and directed and made sure to watch his work and learn his backstory. Only then did I make my pitch.
Next thing I know, he's contacting me about my project and letting me know that he’s willing to put his own money toward this film and enlist a Tony-award-winning actor friend to play as his co-star.
As a writer, I'm now benefiting from his decades of experience on sets for everything from locations to shot cheats. His involvement in the project brings it instant credibility and bankability and will garner huge benefits when it comes time to submit it to festivals.
In summary, get your project packaged for the actively working actors in the industry - not the superstars.
How do you find them? Pay attention to their hometowns, scour their IMDb credits, and subscribe to local film and theater blogs and news feeds that feature entertainment news on talent from your area. For instance, many people only recently learned that Broadway and television star, Jonathan Groff, is from Lancaster County, PA, and went to high school only miles from my house. Around here, that’s old news. He frequently comes back and actively supports the local arts community. I’ve also made connections from professional gigs I’ve landed, connecting me to actors wanting to be a part of my projects. You can too! [Submit to Screenwriting Gigs Here!]
PROMOTE THE GOODS: I’m not the most media-savvy promoter, but you have to try at least to get the word out about your script.
Creating a social media presence is essential to establishing a base audience and generating interest in your project. [Read Social Media for today's Screenwriter]
Yes, you have to own the fact that it’s yours and make it irresistible to everyone else. Hard? You bet. Impossible? Hardly. You have to work at it, just like a rewrite. Create a poster or teaser and post it. Make note of hits and shares. If something connects to the global audience, let it fly and build on it. If you don’t get any likes or shares, fine-tune your approach. Create a different poster or campaign. Always be working toward promotion or refining your outlets.
Sound like a lot of work? It is. If it sounds like too much work, read no further, you don’t want it bad enough.
TREAT THE GOODS WELL. If you’re already doing the above things, you know this, but if you plan to start – at all times – be professional, humble, courteous, and gracious. There will be some that turn you away. Be kind and move on. There will be some that instruct you to not contact them. Be accepting and move on.
There will be critics and suspicions and enterprising scam artists that respond to your advances to get material to your intended working artists. Accept it and expect it and go about your business. This is a business where you’ll frequently encounter people on their way up or on their way down and you should be someone who is always respected and thought of as a professional.. The Golden Rule applies – treat others as you hope to be treated, and you’ll be just fine.
DON’T DAMAGE THE GOODS. If someone agrees to read your material, do not misrepresent that they have attached themselves, have optioned it, or are considering it for production. Never lie or name drop. Respect any recipient of their privacy and do not use their interest as leverage against someone else to falsely claim a bankable name is secured. In my case, this has happened on its own, and it will also work for you.
Many working actors have long-standing relationships with people in all capacities of production, and it will work to your advantage.
Don’t risk you or your project’s credibility by being anything but sincere, honest and transparent.
RINSE AND REPEAT. Never forget the feeling of getting a contest win, an award, a screening or a request to forward your material. [How to win a script contest!] It’s a high that you always want to relive. In order to do that, you’ll need that next project, so if the above sounds like a lot of work – and it is, guess what? The even harder work comes next because after you do all of these steps for Project A, your next task is to write and polish Project B to perfection so that it can go through the same exact exercise. If that sounds like too much work – you’ve read far enough to know – you’ve got to want it bad enough. Sign up to read more screenwriting blogs like this: www.screenwritingstaffing.com/sign-up-free-membership
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Blog written by Rick Hansberry:
Rick Hansberry is an award-winning screenwriter with more than 25 years of industry experience. With several produced credits on his IMDb page, Rick has written, produced and directed several short films. 2017 saw the release of two feature-length movies, "Alienate" and "Evil In Her." 2018 brought the release of another award-winning short, "My Two O'Clock". In 2019, Rick wrote, produced and directed his first web series pilot, "Clean Slate" and delivered creative and narrative material to an Emmy-winning documentary, "This Is My Home". Watch out for new productions from Rick later in 2022, including the feature roadtrip dramedy "Baggage Claim" (with Nikki Neurohr); a short romantic comedy, "Impression" (with Brooke Vanderdonck) and a horror feature, "Crimson Shadows" (with Chloe Carroll).
Rick is presently working on new shorts and features. He has dozens of scripts available for production and is also interested in spec writing, collaborating and adapting stories for the screen. Many of his scripts can be found on Script Revolution: https://www.scriptrevolution.com/profiles/rick-hansberry
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