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How to Sell Your Screenplay

This post was written by Chelsea

Ever thought about writing YOUR screenplay? Entertainment lawyer Lisa Callif — who’s core practice is representing independent filmmakers in all aspects of movie-making including financing, production and distribution, and live theater – answered Breezy Mama’s questions on the steps to making movie magic and the money you can expect to make.

Once I write my amazing must-see movie (ahem), what are the first steps to take in order to see it come to fruition?

Well, if you talk to ten different lawyers, they’ll give you ten different answers to this. My advice is to get your product out there however you can. Get people interested in your film by utilizing the resources you have, rather than those you think you need. Lets say you really think you need an agent, but you don’t have one and don’t know of any who will meet with you. Don’t sit around waiting for an agent or spend all your resources on trying to find one. Meet with people, network, talk about your script at parties, get advice from those who have been there before, join filmmaking organizations like Film Independent. Call filmmakers who have similar projects and ask them how they got started. If you have the resources, create a teaser trailer so people can really get the look and feel of your film and don’t need to invest two hours in reading your script. Just keep creating and be willing to take risks.

Do you review scripts and make your decision on who’ll you’ll represent? Or at what stage in the process are you hired and who hires you?

Our core clientele is independent filmmakers. We typically get involved in the financing or pre-production stage. We help prepare and negotiate financing documents, do the production legal work (negotiating with directors, actors, writers, etc.) and also help negotiate distribution deals. Because we work with independent filmmakers the process is much different than studio films, and much more flexible.

How much money approximately can Breezy Mamas expect to be paid for the script they’re selling?

The most likely scenario is that a Breezy Mama’s script would be optioned for a period of time (an option is a producer’s right to buy the script — they “option” it for a small amount of money and then pay the big bucks if the film is made). For an indie film, options range from free to $50,000 or so. Most typically we see something in the $5-10,000 range. Then if the film is made the writer will typically get 2.5% of the budget of the film, plus approximately 5% of the profits. We also like to get the writer a bonus if the producer receives money to develop the project.

What sort of scripts are more likely to get financed?

Good ones. Seriously! People spend so much time trying to figure out demographics and historical figures, etc., etc., but the truth of the matter is, if it’s a great script, people will be interested regardless what it’s about. If someone pitched me about an edgy teenager who gets pregnant, decides to put it up for adoption in the PennySaver, I would’ve guessed that was a movie that would never be made. Yet, Juno was a huge box office success and to prove my point, Diablo Cody, the writer, won an Oscar for best screenplay in 2007.

What is one of your favorite movies that you have helped hit the big screen?

I can’t pick favorites among my clients!

Any favorite celebrities?

So many! I love funny, so Tina Fey and Steve Carrell are very high on my list. I also love watching really cute guys on the big screen and after seeing New Moon (yes, I’m a Twilight fan) Taylor Lautner is now on my list. Also have to mention Brad Pitt, Denzel Washington, Natalie Portman, Luke Wilson, Penelope Cruz, Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin… Okay, I think that’s enough!

As a mom of a three year old son and partner in a practice, how do you manage your time?

I think Tina Fey once said something like, ‘It’s completely impossible, but you just keep doing it.’ However, I have to give credit (and thanks) to my [law] partner, Michael Donaldson, who raised three girls on his own. If anyone gets it, he does. It’s nice not to EVER get a raised eyebrow or a disapproving look when I have to work from home because my son is ill or when I get off a conference call at 5.15pm because I can’t be late to pick him up.

Can you tell us some career highlights?

When I started representing independent filmmakers. Being a lover of the arts, but not an artist, I finally found a way to contribute to the arts, in a meaningful way. I love that my clients rely on me and that I can make a difference in their journey. It also helps being a working mom when you love your job!

What about some “mommy” highlights?

Having an almost-3 year old there are highlights just about every day. Seeing how much he absorbs and learns is just amazing. This was the first holiday season when my son was really understanding and enjoying it and I was having so much fun lighting the menorah with him, listening to Christmas carols, opening gifts and showing him all of the holiday lights around the city.

Anything else to share with moms hoping to make a movie?

Just go for it! With the ability to reach so many people so quickly and to make movies inexpensively, don’t think of all the reasons why you can’t get something done. Several months ago one of my clients was conducting a Q&A after a screening of her documentary film and when an audience member asked her why the subjects of the film chose her to do a film about them, she said that they had been asked many times by different filmmakers to make a film and they always said, yes — to everyone. The other, more experienced, filmmakers went out and looked for financing that did not come through. My client was first time filmmaker with very little experience so she just showed up with a camera at their apartment one day. Now she has a film that has been featured at festivals around the country, had a theatrical and television release, and is now available on DVD — it’s a good thing she didn’t know any better! (The film is called Herb & Dorothy and the filmmaker is Megumi Sasaki –to watch a clip, click here!)

About Lisa
As part of her practice as an entertainment attorney for Donaldson+Callif, Lisa does a significant amount of clearance work for documentaries. Lisa has worked on such films as “This Film is Not Yet Rated,” Haskell Wexler’s “Who Needs Sleep,” “I.O.U.S.A.,” “Bigger, Stronger, Faster – The Side Effects of Being American” (all of which have premiered at the Sundance Film Festival), “The Art of the Steal,” and “Most Dangerous Man In America: The Dan Ellsberg Story” (which is on the documentary shortlist for an Academy Award). Lisa is currently working with Oliver Stone, Lawrence Bender, David Guggenheim and Lesley Chilcott on their documentary projects.