Randall Jahnson is a screenwriter known for writing Dudes, The Doors, The Mask of Zorro, Sunset Strip, and episodes from HBO’s Tales from the Crypt. We talk about how he got into screenwriting, how technology has driven changes in the industry, making a living as a writer, getting a movie made, and more! I hope you’ll enjoy!
We jumped around in the episode the the question, “If you had a finished script in hand, what things would you do to get it made into a movie (or at least monetized), and in what order would you do them?” , but Randall was gracious enough to give a written response.
Randall: “It’s a complicated process so there’s no set of rules or correct answer to this question.
For me, already being an established screenwriter with representation, it’s pretty straightforward – I give the finished script (called a “spec”) to my agent and manager. Via them, it will be submitted to various producers, production companies, and/or studios we feel will respond positively to the material. It’s still a business of relationships, so that first round of submissions is usually aimed at individuals who either know me or are familiar with my work. After that, we go wider and circulate it among new faces who might be looking for a script like this one, especially if it’s specific genre like horror or comedy or action.
The process is going to be different for someone who is trying to break into the business.
Their first action is to register their script online with the Writers Guild of America. For $20, you can send them a PDF file of your screenplay, TV pilot, play, whatever – and it will be registered for 5 years. This is just an easy – but by no means – a guaranteed safety measure you can take to protect your work.
After that, the next step is to get the screenplay noticed. That means submitting it to online contests (Austin Film Festival, Blue Cat, Nicholls Fellowship are a few of the biggies) with the hope that it wins or places highly. Agents and managers are paying attention to these now; it’s a way for them to discover talent apart from the LA arena.
The other strategy, which can be done simultaneously with contest submissions, is to go directly to agents and managers. Very few agencies will read unsolicited scripts, but managers frequently do. What’s the difference between an agent and a manager? An agent is more focused on selling your script while a manager focuses on developing your talent. A manager will work with you with long range goals in mind if he or she feels you have the talent to go far.
How do you find a manager? Attend writers’ conferences and film festivals and make appointments to pitch to them – or simply be bold and corner them in an elevator or at the end of the bar – don’t give them an escape route! Seriously, they will be more inclined to listen if you are business-like, polite, and can communicate very briefly what your story is about. That’s it. Nothing more. Most likely, they will nod and hand you a card and say send me the script. But please respect their time and space.
Also, there are new ways you can pitch agents and managers. A website called Stage 32 regularly offers the chance to schedule a 10 or 15 minute pitch session via Skype with a professional agent, manager, or production company development executive. It costs something like $50.
Basically, do as much homework online as you can. The Writers Guild of America is a great resource website for screenwriters. You don’t have to be a guild member to access much of its information. IMDb Pro is also great because it lists contact info for managers and production companies. Inktip, too, is a place on the web where you can post a description of your work – and interested parties can access the full script.
Aspiring screenwriters today have to be very pro-active. They have to market themselves and be accessible to interested parties.
Bottom line: It’s about building contacts and relationships – but you have to have a dynamite script to start.”
How technological developments have transformed the film industry in the past
How to get from script to movie
Low barriers to entry in film today
How his son is learning by producing short films, and the new expectation for pitches
The role of agents in Hollywood
Owning IP as a writer
Teaching, and paying forward the generosity of Ray Bradbury and others
You can find Randall at https://randalljahnson.com J-A-H-N-S-O-N. His movie, Dudes is having a DVD release soon, so check it out and help him get those sweet writer’s royalties.
Music for this episode is by Cambrian Explosion, whose drummer once punched a Brontosaurus in the head so hard that it caused a mass extinction event. Find more about this group of dino-slayers at cepdx.bandcamp.com and on Apple Itunes and Spotify.
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