MY FIRST TIME
What can I expect after selling my first script?
A book called "The First Time I Got Paid For It...," edited by Peter Lefcourt and Laura J. Shapiro, shares almost sixty different stories from TV and film writers.
Since no story is exactly the same, it's impossible for me to answer this question with any sort of accuracy.
It is safe to say that after selling your first script, there'll be a long wait for the paycheck.
But that aside, I thought I'd ask screenwriter James V. Simpson to answer this question.
He recently sold his first screenplay - ARMORED - after landing a finalist position in the Nicholl Fellowship. What follows is James' response.
First, let me apologize to the loyal INSIDE PITCH readers who are expecting Chris Lockhart's usual erudite bons mots. Unfortunately, you are stuck with me. Chris invited me to write a guest blog, which is like asking Gabby Hayes to fill in for John Wayne.
"What can I expect after selling my first script?"
This is the question that drives every pre-professional screenwriter. Visions of quiting your day job, working with talented stars and powerful studio execs dance in your head. Maybe the occasional fantasy of buying a house in the Hills and winning awards pops up.
I know because until recently I was a pre-pro.
I don't think it's possible to definitively answer this question because there are so many variables to consider.
The results of a sale will be a function of the deal, the people involved and the writer's situation. The only thing that is certain to happen after your first sale is that you will now be a "professional writer" who is earning money for doing what you love to do.
No matter what else may or may not happen because of your first sale, it doesn't get any better than being paid to do what you love.
Since the results of each sale are different, rather than offer some broad generic advice we have all heard a million times before, I will share my own experiences in the hopes that it will inspire you to keep writing and prepare you for the day when you make your first sale.
After the calls from my manager and lawyer congratulating me were finished, I told my wife. She cried and laughed and I told her to start looking for a car because it had been my promise to her that I would buy her a car with the money from my first sale to thank her for her support and tolerating me all these years.
Then I called my mother. She wept when I told her about the sale. For the first time in my life, my mother was proud of me. I don't care how much money you get, there is nothing more important than your family and sharing this moment with them.
Since my deal had been done without an agent, I immediately had a lot of requests for meetings from agents as well as producers.
This is the victory lap and you have to take it if you want to start a career, so be prepared to be in LA for at least a week to begin with and for longer periods as your career develops.
Let me pause here to say, there are many different kinds of writers with different situations and goals. It is my opinion that anyone can sell a script from anywhere, but to accomplish that and build a career you need a team in L.A. that will be working every day on your behalf. If you can join your team in L.A., on a part or full time basis, all the better.
Selling a script is trench warfare. You need boots on the ground to do it.
Back to my story.
The sale gave me street cred. I was no longer some schmuck from Canada with a script and a dream. I was Mr. Professional Writer with a studio deal. That sort of upward momentum attracts a lot of people who want to go along for the ride. I had dozens of meetings set up with Agents, some of them had passed on the script before the sale. Most came at me with a hard sell and cute little lines like, "We are in the phone call making business, not the phone call taking business".
It was tempting to sign with some of them, but I had to stick to my strategy and go with the agent I felt would best position me for my next sale and my long term career goals. They all wanted to know what my career plan was. Figure out your plan if you don't have one. If you don't know what you want, how can you know who to align yourself with or what steps you need to take at this very critical juncture in your career?
Some minor silly things to expect: Expect to be taken out for lunch, dinner and drinks. Expect to be offered water when you go into a meeting. Always take the water. You never know when your throat is going to get dry. Expect to get lost if you are not from the area. Expect to be late. Expect to need to make calls to ask for directions and to reschedule meetings.
You can also expect to be amazed and humbled. Expect to be stunned by a plaque on the Sony lot for the David Lean building.
I had a flurry of meetings with producers, many of whom wanted the script for themselves and others were just fans of the writing. All of them wanted to get to know me and learn what made me tick. These are meetings where people will ask what ideas you have. My advice is to not tell them until you and your team are 100% sure your pitch is solid and appropriate for these people.
You are in the show. Now it's time to act like a pro and be selective about what ideas you share and who you share them with. The producers will often discuss projects they think you might be right for and hope that it will spark with you and possibly lead to an assignment. But in reality, since this is your first sale, expect them to be looking for you to spec out a script or proposal.
The people at Screen Gems and Sony who bought my script are terrific. The meetings with them were not about stroking my ego. They had notes the first meeting and wanted to discuss the project in detail. They had lots of questions. Questions about backstory, deep backstory, plot, research.
It was unexpected for me. It had me off balance for a few minutes. Luckily, I had answers for them all. We also talked about talent and directors I thought would be right for the project. Know your names and know who is hot because they will want to know your vision for the project.
They wanted more meetings and ultimately paid for me to stay in town longer so I could meet with the studio execs again. I had to be accommodating and available. Expect to be flexible.
Now my life is about rewrites and making the studio's notes work. Everything else is pushed aside because this is a business and in order to remain a professional I have to act like one and do the job I am being paid to do.
At the same time, there is pressure to follow up my first sale with a second.
The second sale is what will prove my ability to stay in this business and build a career. Fortunately for me, I have a new spec that is nearly finished.
Expect to be under pressure to produce, not only for the people who bought the script but also for your career with new material. Expect to write, write, write.
Now I am preparing to fly back to LA in a few days for another week of meetings with the studio and some follow-up meetings with producers I met during my victory lap.
I'm also in the process of setting up a loan out company and finalizing my contracts. Expect to travel. Expect to need a lawyer and expect to do a lot of paper work.
That's been my post-first sale experiences.
As I said above, every writer's experience will be different depending on their deal and situation. I hope this has answered your question and prepared you for what to expect after your own sale.
P.S. My mother now carries the copy of Variety with the sale in it so she can show it to everyone in my small home town so if you are in Stratford and a woman comes up to you and shoves a copy of Variety in your face, you have my sincere apologies.
Let’s not forget those writers who recently passed away. Their contributions to the creative community and our lives are greatly appreciated.
Gillo Pontecorvo, 86
Theodore Taylor, 85
William Styron, 81
Jerry Belson, 68
Leonard Schrader, 62
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