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Whether submitting to competitions, production companies, agents, managers, studios or talent, screenwriters need to go through a checklist to prepare their scripts for submission.
This is the first time the powers that be will be seeing your script. This is the first and only impression that you can make with them. If the script is not up to their standards and doesn’t adhere to the various submission directives that there may be on their end, you’ve lost them before you ever had them.
So here’s a to-do list for all screenwriters, offering habits to get into before submitting scripts. And we’ll toss in some tricks of the trade as well.
1. Make sure you have permission to submit your script.
This is primarily for submitting to agents, managers, production companies, studios and talent. You cannot send unsolicited material to these powers that be. Hollywood is so afraid of being sued these days. Because of that, they simply won’t accept unsolicited screenplays, television scripts and treatments. Most of the big agencies won’t even accept query letters or emails that showcase loglines or a short synopsis.
So make sure you have permission to send a script in the first place. Often, you’ll be asked to fill out a release form, releasing them from any litigation regarding concepts that may be similar to yours that they eventually produce.
2. Make sure you and your script adhere to the content requirements set forth by contests, competitions and fellowships.
Read through the terms, conditions, requirements and rules of any and all contests, competitions and fellowships that you enter. There are often stipulations as to how much money you’ve made from screenwriting in past years—if you’ve made X amount of money as a screenwriter, you may not be eligible.
If your script is being entered into a specific category, make sure that your script falls under that category or genre. If not, it will be immediately dismissed.
If your script has content that is communicated as non-desirable (profanity, sex, etc.), make sure you either rewrite it to fall under those requirements or find a different place to submit it.
If your script is too long or too short according to the rules or guidelines of the contests, competitions and fellowships you’re entering, don’t chance it. Just make the necessary changes.
Tip: If you can’t or don’t want to edit your script to fall under page requirements and you’re right at the cusp, try utilizing your screenwriting software to do it for you. In Final Draft, you can go to “Page Layout” and change the settings to “Loose,” “Normal,” “Tight,” “Very Tight,” etc. This often makes a three- to four-page difference, if not more. You can also slightly adjusts margins as well to make a further difference.
3. Make sure you proofread your script endlessly.
While this is obvious to most, the most common mistakes that the powers that be come across, from novice screenwriters especially, are grammar and spelling mistakes. These are also infuriating to script readers.
So read that script line-by-line a few times. Don’t try to experience the story or characters. Just make sure that each line is as it should be. Give the script to a trusted family member, friend or peer and let them know that you’re not looking for feedback, you’re simply looking for those typos.
Tip: Pay specific attention to homophone and homonym errors: “your” and “you’re.” “New” and “knew.” “To” and “too.” “Their” and “they’re.” “Its” and “it’s.” “Then” and “than.” “Effect” and “affect.” “Cache” and “cachet.” “Break” and “brake.” “Principle” and “principal.” “Breath” and “breathe.” “Rain,” “reign” and “rein.” “There,” “their” and “they’re.” “By,” “buy” and “bye.” Know the differences!
The best thing you can do for that polished rewrite is to CTRL + F (search) those above words and make sure that they have the proper usage.
4. Make sure your script is in the correct and desired format before you send it out.
Most powers that be, as well as contests, competitions and fellowships, want PDFs only. It’s highly undesirable for them to receive Word files or even Final Draft, Celtex and Movie Magic files. Even when such options are offered, know that readers themselves prefer PDFs because that format is virtually universal and much easier to read.
Most screenwriting software programs, as well as Word programs or Mac equivalents, allow you to simply “Save As” a PDF file. If there’s not a specific “Save As PDF” button, go to “File,” “Save As,” and then select the proper PDF format in the drop box.
If your software does not allow for that, you can try to “Export To…” and then select PDF or Adobe Acrobat.
If your software doesn’t offer that option, or you are having difficulty finding it, you can always go to WriterDuet’s Screenplay Conversion Tool.
Most screenwriting software programs now compress PDFs to the desired “Under 1MB” requirements. However, if you’re working with dated software or have older PDFs that are too large, you can either utilize Adobe Acrobat Pro software or, better yet, take advantage of Free Online PDF Compressors.
5. Make sure your title page is within the desirable requirements and guidelines.
Different contests, competitions and fellowships have different requirements and guidelines. Some don’t want any identifying information (name, contact information), others don’t mind. Just be sure to know that everyone has different policies in that respect, so double check.
With agents, managers, production companies, studios and talent, there are usually general guidelines to follow. These also apply for most contests, competitions and fellowships.
There’s no need or purpose for any registration or copyright numbers. There’s no need for any character breakdowns, loglines, synopses, treatments, conceptual art, etc. Your script will speak for itself.
And make sure there is a title page as well. Often, when screenwriters save to PDF, they forget to create a title page. In most screenwriting software packages, there will be an option to create one. When you do, simply close it and go back to the script, as opposed to saving a single title page separately. When you save the script as a whole, the title page is often saved with it. However, if you save the title page separate, it won’t be attached when you save to PDF. Consult your software support to find software-specific directives.
6. Make sure you don’t submit scripts that have stories, characters and overall adaptations that you don’t own the rights to.
This is a very common error. If you’ve written an adaptation of a book, play, television series or any studio-owned property (franchises, sequels, etc.), you cannot lay claim to it, thus you cannot reap any benefits from it either.
The one exception may be for certain contests, competitions and fellowships that are running a television series script contest and ask you to submit a teleplay of an episode from an existing show.
Beyond that, make sure you’re the sole rights holder of anything you submit.
7. Make sure you write an excellently polished draft before submitting.
Too many screenwriters rush to submit a script once they finish. Yes, it’s exciting to finish a script. Yes, we know you’re excited and want to release it onto the world. However, this is your first and last impression to make. If your script is 125 pages long, but could easily be 115 with a good rewrite, go for it. Kill your darlings. Delete any unnecessary fat, no matter how much you like certain scenes or characters.
So, well before the deadline, take the time to read through the script over and over and over, ready, willing and wanting to cut things down. This goes for scenes, scene descriptions, dialogue, etc. Less is more. Embrace that wholeheartedly.
Take out all scene numbers, highlighted text, camera directions, unnecessary transitions (please take out all “CUT TOs!”), etc.
First impressions are so important in the film and television industry. The script you are submitting is you. plain and simple. That script is representative of your writing, your potential, your experience and even your reliability.
The worst thing that you could do is rush to get your script done for whatever deadline, submitting whatever you have available at that time. Avoid even marketing a script before its ready. There’s no point in doing so because, thanks to Murphy’s Law, if you market too early expecting rejection, someone may bite and request the script. And that script is likely not ready to send out… or at least not as ready as it should be.
So here’s your seven-point checklist to check off before you submit anything to anyone. Utilize it, add to it and never forget it. MM
This post originally appeared on the blog ScreenCraft. ScreenCraft is dedicated to helping screenwriters and filmmakers succeed through educational events, screenwriting competitions and the annual ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship program, connecting screenwriters with agents, managers and Hollywood producers. Follow ScreenCraft on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.