You have written short films, feature films and pilots. You have spent the past three years submitting scripts to competitions and festivals. You’ve scoured the web for agents who don’t have a closed door policy for submissions. And you’re not getting anywhere.
Maybe it’s time to find an independent producer. It will look a lot like online dating. That will take time. But it can work. Last year, I was alone. This year, I’m collaborating with American and British producers on two optional projects. Here’s how it can be done.
1. Respect their time
Independent producers have zero hours during the day. They are busy supporting their current writers and directors, seeking investment, working on pre-production, showing up on set, or selling films in markets. Many of them have a second job. Read any report from Dear producer and you will understand the challenges they face. So when you decide to contact an independent producer, make sure you’ve done your homework. Don’t waste their time.
2. Build a portfolio of screenwriters in a few key areas
You should have high-quality samples that show your strengths in a few key genres (e.g. horror, family, action, thriller, sci-fi, etc.) and/or categories (e.g. strong female roles, period, etc). It will also help you narrow down your search for producers in your area of play.
To bring your scripts to the strongest stage, they can be:
- Ask friends who work in theatre, TV or film for honest reviews.
- Only submit to script competitions that have a reputation for providing meaningful feedback.
- Apply to respected screenwriting labs that include industry mentors.
If you need inspiration, Lauri Donahue has compiled a reflection List of screenwriting scholarships, labs and competitions with deadlines.
3. Identify your quality markers
Whether you’re a recent graduate or a mid-career mover, you’ll have valuable skills to bring to the table. Before approaching an independent producer, consider your:
- Education: Relevant degrees, industry certifications, university extension courses (e.g. UCLA), etc
- Awards and congratulations: Placements in scriptwriting competitions, participation in writing labs, etc.
- Creative projects: Books published, plays produced, music and dance performances, etc.
- Self-produced film projects: High quality social videos, short films, etc.
- Skills in the workplace: You may have acquired them in the world of film and television (eg, team experience, sound jobs, etc.) or outside (eg, marketing, project management, public relations, accounting, sales, etc).
- Single background: Geographic location, languages, world experiences, community involvement, etc.
You can highlight many of these quality markers on your website and LinkedIn profile. You’ll also have relevant talking points when a producer starts asking about your background.
4. Refine your online presence
When you include websites and social links in your email signature, a freelance producer will verify them to learn more about you. Give your online presence a personality.
For example, if you write cutting-edge horror and essay films, highlight your favorite films, post about underrated directors, share photos and clips that inspire you, and seek out other people on social media doing the same. You will build your reputation in the industry and your community at the same time.
5. Join film and television organizations
You don’t need an agent or manager to become a member of an organization like Women in Film and Television (WIFT). There are dozens of helpful networking groups that welcome up-and-coming screenwriters. They host both in-person and virtual events. They send newsletters with links to writing opportunities. And they are full of independent producers who are ready to chat with other members. I’ve compiled a list of startup ideas in Over 100 resources from independent filmmakers.
6. Network at regional events, festivals and markets
Because I was living near Boston in 2020, I started out dating WIFVNE events and year Massachusetts Production Coalition Meet. I did not meet my producers there. But I met an amazing woman who knew everyone in the New England film industry.
When the pandemic hit, I switched to virtual events. I met my British producer, Daniel Kenney of New Colony Film, at a Makers Pop-Up 2021 organized by TO CONCENTRATE. We started out curious – I was intrigued to hear about his 18th century British period project and he was interested in learning more about my WWI/Edwardian television pilot. Five months later, we are in development on London sparrow.
So introduce yourself politely, explain what you like to write about, talk to everyone, and keep the “six degrees of separation” rule in your head. The independent world is united. If you have a strong portfolio and quality markers, someone will recommend you.
7. Network at large-scale festivals and markets
Don’t live near a big city? Running low on funds for a flight to Sundance? Go virtual. Many film festivals and markets were hybrid this year. I hope they continue to be, as it has leveled the playing field for emerging creatives from diverse backgrounds. I’ve seen composers and screenwriters get jobs on the spot at AFM Virtual Networking Pavilion.
8. Look for producers who perform in your field
If you’re watching an indie movie you love, check out the Cast & Crew section of IMDB. It will list all the producers who have worked on the project. You can then visit their company websites to learn more about their upcoming roster, mission, social presence, and contact information.
Before sending an email asking producers for a 15-minute virtual coffee, research their background thoroughly. The scripts in your portfolio should match those in their company:
- Budget range
- Gender Categories
- Manufacturing values
There is a reason for this targeted approach. Even if an independent producer doesn’t want to work with you, they will understand your creative goals. They will have practical advice. And they can know someone who knows someone.
9. Invite Producers to Workshops/Readings
This is how I met my American producer. I was looking for an experienced producer from Massachusetts who could provide professional input on a complex period piece called dill. I found Nerissa Williams Scott from TCGT Entertainment through the WIFVNE member directory and invited her to attend a private reading/workshop.
- She attended the first virtual workshop, where all cast and attendees were paid for their time.
- She stayed in touch while I worked on the edits.
- She read the next iteration.
- She submitted the script to Roxbury International Film Festival for its Daily Reads event.
- And she officially joined the project after hearing feedback from the cast.
Find the people who are ready to defend your voice and promote your growth.
10. Discuss shared values
A writer/producer relationship is like a marriage. It’s a long-term commitment that involves trust, mutual collaboration and a healthy sense of humor.
So don’t start with a hard sell. When starting those initial conversations, ask independent producers what their long-term goals are. Be curious about their mission. Find out what they aspire to create. Then you can decide if you are the right person.
Did you know?
Elinor Teele is a HarperCollins screenwriter and author with a Ph.D. in Old English Literature from the University of Cambridge. Her mid-level debut novel, “The Mechanical Mind of John Coggin,” received a star from Kirkus. His second, “The Treasure of Mad Doc Magee”, was a Junior Library Guild selection. For “The Seafarer,” a true survival saga of a 19th-century Gloucester fisherman, Elinor was chosen as a Final Draft Fellowship semi-finalist. She also created and directed “Studs Terkel’s American Century,” an interactive theatrical production featuring verbatim interviews with 20th-century Americans. Elinor is currently working on “Dill,” a Revolutionary War drama with a strong black woman that was picked up by TCGT Entertainment, and “London Sparrow,” a WWI/Edwardian HETV series that was picked up by New Colony Film. ½ Brit and ½ Yankee, Elinor is a member of WIFT and currently lives in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Learn more about his films: elinorteele.com/films.