How to Write and Sell a Screenplay
It isn’t impossible to pitch and be paid for a screenplay (I’ve done it). Whether you are an professional writer, a first-time writer, or a producer, director or performer seeking to create your own vehicle, just follow the four smart and simple steps below (the “Budget Prep” step is for all you indie producers!).
|Feedback from 1-3-5 Screenwriters|
|“It gave me real tools to use to shape my screenplay and the responses I’m now getting from story analysts prove it works.”
-Art B, Writer
|The 1-3-5 method is the simplest, most concise method I have seen
for story and character development.”
-John Paizis, Founder/Director, Performing Arts Studio West
- What is story structure and why do I need it?
- What is the process of drafting a script?
- Do I need an agent, and how do I get one?
- How do I work with a writing partner?
- How do I turn my life into a screenplay?
- And much more!
The 1-3-5 Story Structure Made Simple System
As a former story analyst at a major production company. I used to stand between your screenplay and a sale. Now I’m on your side.
THIS IS MY PROMISE TO YOU. You are closer to a sellable screenplay than you realize or have been led to believe. How do I know? Because if real estate is all about “location, location, location,” then Hollywood’s motto is “story, story, story.” And story structure is SIMPLE. It’s not a one-, two- or four-year degree away. It’s not even one weekend away in a crowded hotel or lecture hall. It’s just one day, one class, one system away. I call it “The 1-3-5.” You’re going to call it a miracle.
The 1-3-5 Story Structure Made Simple System: The Nine Essential Elements of a Sellable Screenplay details the step-by-step process of crafting a sellable screenplay and preparing to shop it, including:
I wrote this book with an emphasis on first-time submissionsâ€”because in Hollywood, if you think initial meetings are hard to set up, try getting a second chance if you don’t impress with script number one. With this book, whether you’re writing your first script on your umpteenth rewrite, you finally will have an extraordinarily simple process for writing and pitching work you can be proud of. And if you are evaluating and developing script submissions yourself, the 1-3-5 gives you a simple framework to analyze scripts and FIX them.
Professional Writers – It’s important to respect the difference between writing a novel or stage play and crafting a movie script. Screenplays are driven by active choices that define the internal character arc, which is expertly intertwined with an external mission. We break this down in detail in the book.
First-Time Writers - If it has been suggested to you that writing a screenplay is a way to instant millions, then you were, unfortunately, misled. While it is typical to be “paid to leave” for a first script, getting a pitch meeting, much less a sale, is a Herculean task that can be more work than writing the script in the first place! Your writing schedule should include time and money to effectively shop your script with and without representation, which we address in the blog and the book. And if you need detailed feedback and fixes on a draft, we offer the exceptional 1-3-5 story analysis notes – it is our number one consulting request!
Producers, Directors, Performers – If you are industry talent seeking a vehicle to promote your own career, you may be considering writing your own screenplay to produce. Digital media has radically changed access to the indie film world! It is absolutely feasible to craft and shoot your own project; but we encourage you to be unyielding in developing a structurally sound story so funding and attachments will be simpler. We address this in the blog, the book and our Movie in a Box seminars, which we currently are updating for the Web.
To get started writing your screenplay, please immediately read and subscribe to our “Faster, Simpler, Smarter Blog.” It’s FREE, detailed advice from experienced professionals in our industry and me. If you already have a script idea, get the book. It has sold to screenwriters and development execs around the world and taught in screenwriting programs from UCLA to Columbia College Hollywood. Read it, take notes all over it and follow the system. And if you need or want more help from there, our story analysts are here for you.
All the best, DMA
Faster, Simpler, Smarter Tips for Writing Your Screenplay
The Planet DMA Blog began nearly three years ago as the “Break into the Biz Blog,” with tips for industry newcomers. Since then, we have come to serve industry professionals quite extensively, and it was time to reflect that in the title and ongoing “faster, simpler, smarter” tone of the blog.
I am proud of our detailed tips because they respond to tough questions that people trust me to answer thoroughly and honestly. They also offer solutions I wish I’d had when I was working my way up the entertainment ladder. Decades since I walked down my first runway, wrote my first songs, was paid for my first screenplay then produced my first show, I now am a proud member of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, the Producers Guild of America, BMI, Showbiz Mensans and Stanford in Entertainment. I have a quite a bit to say about careers in entertainment, and I hope any or all of it helps you get where you are going with as much excitement as I have had.
Have a question you’d like added to the list? I get dozens a week, so I can’t answer them all, unfortunately. But please feel free to submit yours via the “Contact Us” link, and we’ll see what we can do! And if you need private assistance with a script, don’t hesitate to let us know.
- #109 If I accept a low fee, can I leverage a scripted project for other deals?
- #68: How are exteriors shot for sitcoms?
- #53: How do I prepare a casting tape?
- #52: What is a beat sheet?
- #37: Can I use a corporate trademark in my screenplay or TV show?
- #36: Can I use a commercial company name in my script?
- #27: How do I retain the rights to my project?
- #25: When should I just shoot a project myself?
- #24: Are screenwriting seminars really necessary?
- #23: How do I make new media work for me?
- #22: How do I translate the entertainment trades into project sales?
- #20: What materials do I need to market myself in the entertainment industry?
- #19: How do I get a job as a story analyst/script reader?
- #16: Should I read the trades?
- #15: Who should I pay to get paid?
- #14: How do I sell my new screenplay?
- #12: Do you know anyone who's hiring?
- #11: So what attitude am I supposed to have to succeed in Hollywood?
- #10: How can I get someone to help me break in?
- #09: How do I start making money inside Hollywood?
- #08: How have you dealt with your own failures in the industry?
- #07: What's the easiest way to get ahead in Hollywood?
- #06: Why do some people fail in the entertainment industry?
- #05: What's the biggest barrier to entry in entertainment?
- #04: What do I need to know to make it in entertainment?
- #03: How do I break into Hollywood?
- #02: Why should I listen to you?
- #01: Should I start my own blog?
Show Starter Scheduling & Budgeting Plus
Quick tip – if you are posting online for writers to do your script for free, or executive producers to raise money for your movie for free, or for anyone else to do anything else for your project for free, STOP. You absolutely cannot make money without spending/investing your own money at the beginning of your career in Hollywood! You wouldn’t expect to do successful open heart surgery without going to med school, and you simply cannot effectively produce a film, even one you wrote and/or plan to produce/direct/star in, without learning the demanding and difficult world of production. That is why we offer Movie in a Box production seminars to help you learn the process of making a film, including how to prep a schedule and budget so you can effectively plan for the costs.
The single biggest challenge of getting a film made is the funding, and at some point, you want to understand how those witty lines translate into gritty line items. Even as I was teaching story structure at UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, I was attending a course of film production down the hall. The basics I learned in that course have served me throughout my career as a television and, now, new media producer. I learned how to break down a script and find the money on each page to create a schedule then a budget and weekly cash flow.
As straightforward as that process sounds, it took at least three software programs and a couple of weeks to complete! Last year, I set out to find faster, simpler, smarter application to do all of it at once. And when I couldn’t find it, I created it. Show Starter Scheduling & Budgeting Plus finally lets you create a production calendar and generate a fully synched budget and cash flow at the SAME TIME. We even built in industry contacts so users can access speedy, professional quotes. By the time we were done, our industry testers were finishing up their pre-production documents in just a few hours instead of days or weeks. And updates took minutes, since all of the docs talk to each other!
1-3-5 Story Analysis & Development Services
If you believe your screenplay or documentary could go much further with professional assistance, Planet DMA offers our 1-3-5 services to get the job done. Whether you’re creating a project from page one or reworking a project from…page one, The 1-3-5 will give you the precise understanding, focus and steps you’ll need to complete sellable projects.
Are you ready to experience story structure made SIMPLE? To schedule any of the below sessions, please click Contact Us, and select the “Consulting” option.
• Seminars & Webinars
My team and I host and participate in year-round screenwriting and production presentations, panels, workshops and seminars. Click on “Upcoming Events” to the right to join us online or in your area.
“I’d like to thank you for the wonderful seminar that you did… It was probably the most informative seminar I’ve been to about the industry. I purchased two copies of your book one for myself, and for my writer friend.” -Russell K., Producer.
• Private Intensives
My team and I frequently consult one-on-one with writers and other professionals as they write and develop their screenplays and documentaries. We consult on an hourly basis and also offer two 1-3-5 packages for a flat fee:
Private step-by-step guidance through the rules of story structure (for scripted and non-fiction).
$295.00/two hours, individuals-10% Guild/Academy discount
$595.00/two hours, groups up to 10
- Theme. How to identify and incorporate theme.
- Character Arc. The critical stages of character development, and how they relate to theme and influence the spine of your script.
- Story Spine. The required elements of a external journey and how major and supporting characters interact to advance story.
“Easy to read. Easy to understand… It gave me real tools to use to shape my screenplay and the responses I’m now getting from story analysts prove it works.” -Arthur B., Writer
• Project Development
Detailed analysis of your treatment, script, reel, or completed screener with suggested fixes and development notes prepared following the 1-3-5 format.
You will almost never get to see the notes from your submission to a studio or production companyâ€”get an inside advantage with this extensive and straightforward feedback.
$195.00/treatment (up to 10 pages)-10% Guild/Academy discount
$395.00/reel (up to 20 minutes)-10% Guild/Academy discount
$595.00/script (up to 150 pages)-10% Guild/Academy discount
$995.00/film (up to 2 hours)-10% Guild/Academy discount
During my years as a story analyst, I tackled stacks of weekend scripts but ultimately recommended maybe two for further consideration. I have reviewed dozens of reels for professional awards and programs but rarely find a project to forward. Just in case you’re wondering why your “It’s as good as it’s gonna get” screenplay never landed on the desk of a dealmaker.
“Good enough” isn’t. “Sellable” is possible, if you respect the rules of story and don’t fight to reinvent the filmmaking wheel!
If you have completed work…and you are seeking a full professional analysis…and you are excited to hear some hard-hitting facts about your structural elements, character arc, presentation and general “wow” factor…it’s time for 1-3-5 analysis, including:
- Character Analysis.
- Evaluation of Structural Elements.
- Story Notes.
- Project and Writer Development Recommendations.
For treatment and reel analyses, you will receive a one-sheet addressing these elements. For full script and film analyses, you will receive a full development note package.
1-3-5 Writing Services
We are proud now to offer screenplay work-for-hire, script collaboration and script doctoring services, with credited screenwriters from our team.
$20,000 and up
Show Starter Success Stories
Feedback from our readers – The 1-3-5 Story Structure Made Simple System
|“To the point, simple and right on! It helped in rethinking my rewrite.”
â€”Effie Brown, Producer, Real Women Have Curves
|“Easy to read. Easy to understand… It gave me real tools to use to shape my screenplay and the responses I’m now getting from story analysts prove it works.”
â€”Art B, Writer
|“One of the clearest explanations of the main tension, midpoint, 3rd act tension concepts ever (including USC film school!)… I smell another rewrite. Damn you…”
â€”Tyler O., Student
|“Love your book. Succinct. Straight-to-the-point. Belongs right next to “Inside Story” by Dara Marks, Blake Snyder’s “Save the Cat”; and Vogler’s “Writer’s Journey.”
â€”Stephen W. , Writer
|“I read the book in one sitting. It’s fantastic! Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!!!”
â€”Bernard T. , Writer
|“The 1-3-5 system is brilliant. I have never seen a method so simple, yet so effective when digging for the gold in your story.”
â€”Rick B., Ph.D., Professor and Writer
|“Over the past three years I’ve bought 18 screenwriting books, gone to five seminars and 3 workshops… In one simple, direct book you’ve done what no other has done.”
â€”George C., ‘A no longer confused screenwriter’
|“It turns any idea into a viable script possibility. And it’s applicable to every form of storytelling, from reality, documentary to narrative. Pretty good therapy, too, when applied to your personal life.”
â€”John K., Director and Producer
|“I love your book! It’s brilliant!…Your book is SO CLEAR, SO EASY TO FOLLOW!… I’m already RE-WRITING!”
â€”Cassandra S., Screenwriter
|“I have had the pleasure to read your book…and it is a little gem! It’s concise, and it covers enough information to guide you through the process of creating a great story that gets attention. I am confident now that my screenplays will SELL, and that I can compete with MAJOR PLAYERS in the industry. The 1-3-5 Story Structure System definitely gets a ‘Recommend’ from me!”
â€”Yvette T. , Writer
|“I met you at a ScreenPlay Lab presentation you made, and bought your ’1 3 5′ book. You’ve got it down to a science, and it really helped my students clean up their scripts.”
â€” Evie H., Writer
|“1-3-5. What a revelation.”
â€”Robert A., Student
Feedback from our attendees – The 1-3-5 Story Structure Seminars
|“Your workshop was fabulous, both for our actors and budding writers. The 1-3-5 method is the simplest, most concise method I have seen for story and character development.”
â€”John Paizis, Founder/Director, Performing Arts Studio West
|“I’m a writer and have taken a lot of screenwriting structure lectures and read every book, so I didn’t expect to hear anything new that day. I don’t know whether it was what you said or the passion with which you presented it, but I really did come away with some fresh insights that I’m using in my rewrite RIGHT NOW!”
â€”Lisa R., Student
|“This course is a MUST for the writer-director-producer. Anderson outduels McKee, Fields, and the rest.”
â€”Jon S., Writer
|“GREAT! It was GREAT! It was a “working” session – it was so inspiring…the minds were actually working in the room! It was GREAT! Three long time members actually walked in with the book – positioned themselves on the far wall with notepads on the table and wrote feverishly during the session! It was GREAT!”
â€”Sheila H., Author
|“I can hardly imagine a better source to turn to for understanding how a great screenplay works, how a middling screenplay can be fixed or for learning more about writing, rewriting or analyzing a screenplay.”
â€”Clyde Derrick, Development Executive/Writer, formerly of Kennedy/Marshall Productions
|“Just wanted to thank you again for the chance to attend your seminar… My friends and I are still buzzed from the experience. It was exactly what we needed.”
â€”David A. Student
|“You won’t find a more passionate, energetic screenplay structure expert. Step-by-step, Anderson will guide you from simple idea to tightly structured screenplay.”
â€”Charlie Jordan, Director, Something to Sing About
|“The key to great storytelling begins with the script. You must have passion for storytelling or study with someone who has that passion. Anderson is just that, an insightful teacher who loves story, structure and detail.”
â€”Robert Townsend, Producer/Director/Writer/Actor, The Five Heartbeats
|“I found the class stimulating and Anderson brilliant at story structure.”
â€”Larry C., Writer