A Case Study of Successfully Selling a Script
Our thanks to Anne Lower for introducing us to guest blogger Alejandro Seri. Alejandro and his partners, Johnny Silver and Stephen Scarlata, have their feature Final Girl about to begin production. There’s a lot to learn from how they worked to sell their script:
In early 2009, Johnny Silver, Stephen Scarlata, and I take a close look at our screenplays and realize that it is time to diversify the slate from the quality character-driven festival fare and high-budget action scripts we had written up to then. In order to jumpstart our writing careers, we decide to go for a logistically simple, low-budget genre film with a hook.
We start developing the female-driven Thriller, Final Girl. Drawing from his music video career, Johnny is to produce while I am attached to helm. Having already directed a festival-winning feature film, I am experienced in low-budget, short-schedule feature productions. At the time, I was still working as the Marketing Director at Final Draft.
Some months later, Final Girl was accepted into the 2009 NALIP Latino Producers Academy. Johnny Silver attended solo since I was homebound, expecting the birth of my son. Film is important to me, but family trumps all!
Johnny receives mentoring from Film Specific’s Stacey Parks at the NALIP LPA in New Mexico. These suggestions include marketing advice and possible distribution strategies. What also comes to light at this lab is making a more realistic adjustment of the budget considering the possible distribution returns in today’s marketplace. Stacey hammers home the idea of approaching the business of producing Final Girl with innovative marketing strategies in mind.
Johnny, Stephen, and I rewrite the script so we can execute it as a contained film for a $250K budget. Johnny and I are still attached to produce & direct, respectively.
Heeding Stacey’s advice, we create our marketing & distribution plan. I enlist Maria Banos to create a poster and artwork. I utilize my background in entertainment marketing to create copy for the one sheet. We develop a bible for a web series called The Seeds which would follow Final Girl‘s characters in their early years and show how each developed into the archetypes they would become in the feature film. We also developed some social media marketing schemes. The plan is to begin pre-marketing the project before the feature is even shot.
Johnny and I are accepted into the NALIP Latino Media Market to pitch Final Girl to development execs, agents, and managers. We take the conference by storm, armed with a full-size poster, lobby cards, and enough cash to buy plenty of drinks at the hotel bar! We tackle each pitch starting from a business discussion. We lay out our marketing plan first, then distribution expectations. The execs eat it up, commenting on how refreshing it is to meet with screenwriters who think like businessmen. The marketing plan leaves such a great impression that even when the execs are not looking for material like Final Girl, they want to develop relationships in order to find other projects to work with us on. After the pitch sessions, Johnny and I block off a corner at the bar and start the real networking. Many of these executives, producers, and managers remain part of our growing “sphere of influence” today. That conference was the tipping point. It was the moment we knew we were going to make Final Girl and kick-start our screenwriting careers.
At around the same time, Stephen’s solo project, Jodorowsky’s Dune, gets announced at Cannes and in the Hollywood Reporter. The Sci-Fi doc focuses on the story of cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s attempts to film Frank Herbert‘s novel Dune in the 1970s, one of cinema’s great “films that never were.” This documentary starts getting attention, which helps our efforts for Final Girl.
I then submit my award-winning drama, Grain, to the Sundance Producers Lab. Grain is an Adolescent Rite of Passage screenplay set against the backdrop of Mexico’s minor league bullfighting circuit. The Latino-themed writing sample has been instrumental in opening many doors for me, winning me prizes, table readings, and fellowships. Johnny and I worked with the Showbiz Software Store, Logliners.com, Script magazine and CAA to put together an impressive industry table read for Grain. This effort helps to buildup our Rolodex.
The Grain screenplay catches the attention of producer Marco Torres, a former MGM exec. Impressed with the entire package for Grain, Marco stays in touch and promises to do what he can to help get our careers off the ground.
True to his word, Marco calls some months later to see if we have any low-budget Thriller scripts. We send Final Girl over and it gets a rave the next day. We meet with Marco and repeat our marketing pitch. A few days later, Marco options Final Girl.
A few months later, Marco goes to work as a development exec for producer Rob Carliner (Crazy Heart) at Prospect Park (Royal Pains, Wilfred). Final Girl gets leaked to ICM, where agents have been looking for the right project for celebrity fashion photographer-turned-director, Tyler Shields. He reads it and expresses interest. Prospect Park presents us with the opportunity to sell the script, but with Tyler directing and Marco and Prospect Park producing. Johnny and I decide to step down from these positions, but stay on with Stephen as writers.
Within a matter of weeks, the producers find financing through a partnership with Studio City Pictures. ICM negotiates the deal for Tyler and us and in early December, 2011, the project launch gets announced in Variety. Since the Final Girl script has made the rounds in town and we want to keep the twist fresh, we end up doing a rewrite.
The producers are now in Vancouver prepping the film — and our phones have been ringing ever since the announcement in Variety. We have kicked off 2012 by working on getting our other Thrillers, Action-Adventures and Dramas set up. We are also developing several graphic novel & motion comic projects, which we hope to unveil at this year’s ITV/Pop Con fest. Most exciting of all: we are in discussions for a writing gig on a Horror cable show which is in development.
While following the advice of mentors such as Stacey Parks, Pen Densham, and Marvin Acuna did not lead us to the exact scenario we originally imagined for ourselves (producing & directing), we are now getting Final Girl made by the producers of award-winning films at a much bigger budget. The promotional opportunities that will come from making a film with such seasoned vets are incomparable.
We stepped out of the box of only being writers and in doing so, we garnered some industry attention:
*We were able to show execs that we are fiscally responsible filmmakers and artists.
*Turning over every rock and submitting to various labs and fellowships helped us grow our network.
*Having a great writing sample (Grain) helped open the doors for our other projects.
All of these efforts taught us a valuable lesson: a filmmaker must use all resources at his/her disposal to make the miracle of film happen.
Alejandro Seri: http://highnoonmoon.com/video/video-sub-page-3/
Johnny T. Silver: http://idealionaire.tumblr.com/
Stephen Scarlata: http://highnoonmoon.com/about/about-sub-page-2/
- Alejandro Seri
Thanks! Having partners, especially when you still hold a day job, really helps a lot. Using a well-written drama to open doors for your other genre material can also work out nicely. Dramas can prove that you can handle characters, themes and dialogue. Unfortunately, the dramas rarely get produced these days, so you need to expand your arsenal with genre material. You should do well shopping a female thriller, especially if you can keep the budget under $1.5 million. They are shooting Final Girl in Vancouver, although I doubt we will be going up there. Our job is done at this point. Good luck!
I am So impressed with S,S,and S.
Did you use a phone book when you located your partners? I calculated the time it takes to do things and what the 3S partners accomplish like it’s nothing. I can only figure that your days are longer out there in California.
My sincere compliments to you.
- Alejandro Seri
That’s funny (3S partners). Stephen and I have known each other since film school, so we have that writing partner thing down. Johnny and I have known each other for about 4 years since working together at Final Draft, so we all can flow pretty well with writing. As far as the days being longer in Cali, I would have to argue against that. Traffic kills about 2-4 hours of each day!
Smart moves guys! Onwards and upwards!
- Lena Banks
Great run-down of events and two thumbs up (I’d put more thumbs up but I only have two) for kicking butt and realizing Hollywood is a business. I insist my writers learn to write low-budget first (or back up and do it) to get their foot in the door – so you’ve really supplied info to be taken as good advice. There is plenty of time down the road to write the bigger budget stuff – and from low-budget you can go up from there. Again – congrats! To your continued passion and success, Lena Banks
- Alejandro Seri
ABIGAIL BRESLIN (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, ZOMBIELAND) will be playing the lead in our FINAL GIRL film:
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Very inspiring – what this also shows is that it makes a huge difference when you are not alone. The other thing is using one screenplay to promote another – excellent strategy. I have a good female thriller that I’m sending out – and have almost finished an action script. Guess it’s time to get out there and meet some people. I’m in Vancouver so if you guys happen to be here some time, I would love to say hello.