How To Get Your Screenplay Accepted – Tips & Tricks

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16 Min Read

In the highly competitive world of screenwriting, talent alone isn’t always enough to get noticed. But if a well-written story isn’t enough to get your story to the big screen, what is? That’s what we’re answering today—what things you need to do to increase your chances of getting your screenplays noticed and picked up.

The things above are crucial to success as a screenwriter. Of course, you need a good script, but building a brand and establishing pre-awareness are equally crucial steps, and you’ve got to stand out from others. Let’s break down how you can do these things and increase your chances of getting your script picked up.

How To Get Your Screenplay Accepted

As mentioned above, getting your screenplay accepted takes more than a good story and a well-written script. Below are some things you’ll need to do beyond writing a quality screenplay if you want to be accepted. Let’s jump into them.

Creating Pre-Awareness

A script is an investment for a studio. After all, depending on the film’s scale, they could spend millions of dollars getting your story to the screen. Keeping this in mind gives a clear perspective on what people want from a script. In short, they want something that people will watch.

Aside from general quality, any signals you can send that there is an audience for your work go a long way in making your script a safe investment. One of the best ways to do this is to build pre-awareness for your work. In other words, show people you’re pitching to that people are interested even before the movie has been made.

Here’s how you can do it.

Diversify Your Mediums

As screenwriters, we get hung up on the idea that our stories are for film and film alone. In reality, many stories work well (or possibly better) as novels, short stories, TV shows, and short films. Don’t write yourself into a corner by focusing solely on feature films.

Aside from broadening your horizons and making you a more versatile and desirable writer, these other mediums are used to build awareness for the work. They’re usually faster, cheaper, and safer. And can still prove your script is a winner.

If you write a novela version that proves popular or create a short film on YouTube that people like, this will show executives that the story is marketable before they spend a penny.

Engage With Endorsements

Another way to establish an audience for a potential film is to reach out for endorsements from groups who may identify with your work. For example, if your script is about a same-sex couple, reaching out to LGTBQ organizations would make sense.

To be clear, we’re not looking for financing from these groups. Instead, we’re seeking a vote of confidence from the group that the script has people with whom it resonates, which we can bring to the table during our pitch. If you have a solid script and an audience to go with it, you’ll be a step ahead of everyone else.

Build Your Brand

Don’t be afraid to market yourself like you would a product because that’s exactly what your script is: a product. When we start raising awareness for our work and finding our own endorsements, we start building ourselves as a brand with a following.

This concept is precisely what we (and studios) want. Again, it tells them that we bring success with us, even before they’ve accepted our script. Furthermore, when you market yourself as a writer who is willing and able to do it all (TV shows, short films, full features), you become a problem solver.

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If you’ve pitched yourself as a capable, versatile, open-minded writer, you may be given a writing assignment even if your script isn’t picked up. For example, you could be asked to rewrite a television series the studio is working on that’s a similar style to your script.

Change It Up

Speaking of style, breaking the mold goes hand in hand with brand awareness. When you write uniquely, that flare will be associated with your brand. For example, if I say Quentin Tarantino, his distinct blend of dialogue, nonlinear storytelling, and intense storytelling immediately comes to mind.

The caveat is that being different just to stand out rarely works well. Instead of reinventing the wheel, apply some incremental changes to normal things. I like to say, “Do it, but do it differently.” This concept of uniqueness within things that can be popular is a fine line to walk.

Balance Commercial Appeal & Artistic Integrity

We’ve established that studios want scripts that will become movies people want to watch. So, when we write a screenplay, it’s essential to have an idea of who would watch it and write to that market. However, we don’t have to sell out on our ideas to be commercial.

I recommend writing things geared toward commercial appeal and the whackiest “this will never get picked up” ideas that you have as well. Write it all. Sometimes, the lack of traditional commercial appeal is the appeal.

But understand that if all you’re willing to write is avant-garde, black-and-white musicals, you will have an uphill battle with mainstream audiences and commercial investors. That said, if you’ve considered your audience and concluded what you’re working on would be enjoyed by people, go for it.

5 Things That Get You Rejected

This advice comes from an intern who worked reading screenplays for a film firm. Essentially, their job was to read scripts and pass the best of them on to the executives to read. Throughout this summer internship, a few things became repeat offenders in causing a script to be rejected.

You can check out the entire video here:

In summary, these are some things you’ll want to avoid at all costs if you want to get your screenplay accepted.

1. Too Much Shock Value, Not Enough Quality

The first thing mentioned was an overreliance on shock value. Shocking, visceral scenes grab the reader’s attention but they won’t carry a mediocre script. So, be sure you’ve written a great script and that all of your shocking scenes deserve a spot in the narrative.

2. Lackluster Characters

We all know good characters are essential to a good film. But perhaps they need even more attention than they often get. One significant factor that contributed to scripts not being produced was weak characters. Even if the writing was tight and the concept was good, if the characters sounded the same or didn’t feel natural, it didn’t make the cut.

Check out How To Write Unique Characters With LivingWriter to ensure you’re covered on good characters.

3. Slow Starts

It’s no secret that directors, script readers, agents, etc, won’t waste time reading something that doesn’t seem promising. So, using your entire First Act as a set-up for your major plot twist in Act Two isn’t going to cut it. You don’t have to open with a literal action scene, but you do want something that entices the reader to continue.

The best way to do this is to be sure you incite conflict early – Introduce a character and then have something happen to them that sets them on a path. A path where the reader has to wonder how and if the character will resolve whatever has happened.

Beyond this, we’ll cover some of the most cliche openings you’ll want to avoid below.

4. Writing About Writing

I know what you’re thinking… Your story about a writer writing is good and isn’t pretentious at all. Maybe you’re right. Just know you’re playing with fire with this one. It comes up a lot, and it rarely works out. I advise focusing on a good plot and solid characters and leaving the “angst of the process” out of the mix.

5. Looking For Shortcuts

Writing is hard, and it’s expected that your script will be passed up nine times out of ten. It’s the nature of the business, and you mustn’t let rejection stop you. Keep writing, keep improving, and don’t give up. That is truly the key to success; there is no secret sauce.

How To Start A Screenplay

As mentioned, we don’t have time to kill in regards to getting intriguing with our story. When someone reads a screenplay, they’ll know pretty early on if they’re interested or not. If not, they likely won’t continue to read. So, suffice it to say that how we start our screenplays is paramount to their success.

Again, the main thing we want to do is make the reader want to keep reading. Here are a few suggestions for the start of your screenplays.

1. Avoid Boredom

Boring is bad at any stage of a screenplay, but it’s a killer at the start. And it happens quite a bit. As the writer, we know the whole story, and it’s easy to use the opening sections as a setup for the exciting things to come. It is a setup for the later parts of the book, but it has to have something that bites the reader and gets them to keep turning pages.

You don’t have to open on a particularly action-filled scene, either. Take the opening moments of “Inception” as an example. It starts with Cobb waking up on a beach. He is disoriented and disheveled, which hints at some turmoil. As he gets up and looks around, there is an elderly man sitting nearby, watching him.

inception beach scene
Leonardo DiCaprio waking up on the beach in Inception

The man beckons Cobb to approach and engages him in conversation, asking probing questions about Cobb’s state of mind and his understanding of reality. This dialogue sets the tone for the film, introducing themes of perception, consciousness, and the nature of reality.

Despite the tranquil setting of the beach, Cobb’s situation and the significance of his encounter with the old man are tense and mysterious. This scene (while not action-filled) raises questions and piques the audience’s curiosity about the situation and the world in which it takes place.

2. Ensure Stakes

The best way to avoid boredom is to ensure that something is at stake very early on.

In the opening scene of “The Dark Knight,” a group of masked robbers breaks into a bank. Each crew member is assigned a specific role, and tension mounts as they execute their meticulously planned heist.

Interestingly, this scene doesn’t directly tie into the film’s main plot, which revolves around Batman’s conflict with the Joker. However, it sets up the stakes by showing the ruthlessness of Gotham’s criminal underworld and the lengths people will go to achieve their goals.

robbery scene from The Dark Night film
The robbery scene from The Dark Knight

This establishes a sense of danger and unpredictability early on, making it clear that the world of Gotham City is fraught with peril, even before the Joker’s chaotic presence is fully felt. And honestly, the outcome of the heist itself is something to stick around for.

I make this example to show that you don’t have to get into your primary plot action sequences on page one, but you do need something that people can invest in the outcome of.

3. Steer Clear of Dream Sequences

Opening on a dream that someone is having is risky. Doing so can disrupt the narrative flow and confuse viewers. There is also an inherent trust between a film and the viewer to determine what is happening/possible within the movie. Dream sequences can do some damage in these regards.

However, having just referenced the opening of Inception (which is a dream sequence), it’s clear that there are exceptions to this advice. That said, you’ve got to realize when they work and when they’ll be problematic. Inception is about distorting reality so that “is this real” feeling works well. A Nightmare on Elm is another example of when they can work.

Freddy Kruger from A Nightmare on Elm Street
Freedy Kruger from A Nightmare on Elm Street

What you want to avoid is using early dream sequences as a cheap way to start on something exciting only to say, “Just kidding,” and jump into the real story once you’ve got a reader thinking they know what is happening.

4. Balance Setting and Action

It’s common for beginner writers to want to describe the setting very early, and it is often not necessary. The city your story is set in, the weather, and even the time of day might seem important to establish right away, but in many cases, these details can be woven into the narrative more subtly as the story unfolds.

Instead of providing a laundry list of setting details upfront, consider introducing them gradually as they become relevant to the plot or character development. In general, it’s better to describe these as needed and through character action when possible. This immerses readers in the story without feeling overwhelmed by unnecessary exposition and allows you to get into the captivating things from the start.

Maximizing Your Screenplay Success: Essential Tips & Techniques

We’ve covered the bulk of what you do and do not want to be doing in regard to getting your screenplay accepted. That said, I have a few more bonus tips to give you the highest possible chance of success. Here are my essential tips & techniques that every screenwriter should be employing.

Write Consistently

Quantity matters; write as many screenplays as possible, including bad ones. As mentioned above, there are no shortcuts or “secret sauces” to success. You’ve got to write as much as possible, submit your work, have others read it, get feedback, improve, and repeat.

Utilize Screenplay Platforms

Submitting your scripts can be tricky because many places don’t accept unsolicited submissions. However, if you’re looking for exposure (which you should be), there are a number of online submission sites that will host your work. Some even have the added benefit of being regularly scouted by production companies. Here are a few good options:

The Black ListScripts are searchable to production companies by genre, ratings, etc.

Hosts screenwriting contests

Free to host your scripts

Services like “Pitch Week” are paid services
CoverflyScripts are searchable to production companies by genres, ratings, etc.

Hosts screenwriting contests

Free to host your scripts

Services like “Pitch Week” are paid services
Stage 32Large community with industry access opportunities.
The Script LabProvides feedback on scripts through professional services.

Annual screenwriting competitions

Offers online screenwriting classes and workshops

Read Screenplays

In addition to submitting your screenplays, you should also read other people’s work. You can do this on sites like these:

  • SimplyScripts: This website offers a collection of free scripts across various genres, including feature films, television shows, and shorts.
  • Internet Movie Script Database: IMSDb provides a large database of movie scripts that users can read online for free. It includes scripts from both classic and contemporary films.
  • Screenplay Explorer: Screenplay Explorer is an online database that offers a wide selection of screenplays for users to read. It categorizes scripts by genre, writer, and other criteria for easy browsing.
  • ScreenCraft: ScreenCraft offers a curated selection of screenplays from its screenplay competitions and events. Users can access these scripts for educational purposes and inspiration.

Concise Pitching

When pitching your screenplay, brevity is key. Focus on conveying the essence of your story in a way that captures attention and leaves room for curiosity. Highlight the most compelling aspects of your plot, characters, and themes, but avoid overwhelming your audience with unnecessary details.

Aim to deliver a pitch that is clear, engaging, and memorable. Practice refining your pitch to ensure it effectively communicates the unique appeal of your screenplay in just a few sentences.

Focus on distilling your screenplay’s central conflict, main characters, and unique elements into a single sentence that hooks the audience’s interest. Aim to convey your story’s stakes, tone, and overarching goal in a way that sparks intrigue and invites further exploration.

a person stands before an audience gesturing toward a "lightbulb" idea on a board

For example, “In a post-apocalyptic world, a lone survivor must navigate treacherous terrain and outwit ruthless scavengers to protect a valuable artifact that holds the key to humanity’s survival.” conveys the protagonist, the setting, the central conflict, and the stakes.

It provides a clear sense of the genre (post-apocalyptic). It introduces the main character’s goal (protecting a valuable artifact) while hinting at the challenges they’ll face (ruthless scavengers) and the broader significance of their mission (humanity’s survival).

Try to be sure you have these bases covered with your loglines, and you’ll be in a pretty good spot.

Know Your Story

To pitch your screenplay effectively in one strong sentence, you must thoroughly understand your story’s core elements. Dive deep into your story’s arcs and characters and understand their nuances and significance. Consider the motivations driving your characters, their conflicts, and the overarching themes woven throughout your narrative.

Knowing your story inside out strengthens your pitch and empowers you to navigate the creative process with confidence and clarity. Take the time to explore and analyze your story from multiple angles, ensuring that you can articulate it easily.

You may also be interested to know that studios often won’t want to see how the story ends. Instead, they’ll examine whether what happens early grabs them enough to make them want to know the rest.

Pitching Flexibility

You want your pitch concise but they aren’t one-size fits all. Flexibility in pitching is crucial for adapting to different situations and feedback. Be open to adjusting your pitch based on the context, whether you’re pitching to industry professionals, fellow writers, or potential collaborators.

Tailor your pitch to suit the preferences and interests of your audience, emphasizing aspects of your story that are likely most relevant and intriguing to them. By remaining flexible and receptive to feedback, you can refine your pitch over time and increase its effectiveness in capturing interest and generating opportunities.

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For instance, when pitching to industry executives at a film festival, you’d emphasize the commercial appeal and market potential of your story, focusing on its genre, audience demographics, and box office prospects. In contrast, when networking with fellow writers, prioritize the creative aspects of your screenplay, fostering connections through shared experiences and discussions about craft.

Lastly, in pitch meetings with potential collaborators like directors or producers, tailor your pitch to align with their creative vision and expertise, emphasizing elements of your screenplay that resonate with their filmmaking style and thematic interests. By flexibly adjusting your pitch strategy, you can effectively engage diverse audiences and maximize opportunities for success.

At LivingWriter, we believe that great writing is about more than just putting words on a page – it’s about crafting a story, screenplay, or research paper that resonates with your readers.