Can your First Script Sell? Getting Your Foot In the Door

You’ve finished your first script!

Now what?

First Script: Getting Your Foot In The DoorAccrding to Wikipedia, Foot-In-The-Door isn’t just a moniker applied to pushy salesmen and census canvassers; it’s an actual behavioral phenomenon.

“FITD technique is a compliance tactic that involves getting a person to agree to a large request by first setting them up by having that person agree to a modest request.”

“FITD works by first getting a small ‘yes’ and then getting an even bigger ‘yes.’”

Once a person has agreed to the small request, they’re more likely to go along with even larger requests.


Here’s how:

Aim low.

Hunt for people who are hungry. They need you! They’re looking for you. They’re starving for that great idea or talented new writer. Be the needle in a haystack Grasshopper.

You have the best shot with assistants eager to be promoted to development execs and newly minted development execs, as well as agency assistants hoping to become agents and the brand spanking new Young Turks. They have the most to gain from “discovering” your project.

Target your query letters to them. Aim carefully. Know what their boss/company likes – whether from reading about their projects, sales, online interviews or job announcements – and pitch that to them. Do your homework!

“The best way to get an agent is for someone in the business to recommend you to an agent” seems like a vicious conundrum for aspiring writers. If you find the hungry exec at a production company where the company principal, aka 3000 lb. Gorilla, might be interested in your project, they are THE perfect person to get you an agent. Asking the right person to read your script can lead to asking them – or them offering – to get you an agent. FITD!

Young Exec gets points for finding a potential project and a promising writer. Since she has been busily building relationships with new agents who are moving up the ranks side-by-side with her, she knows Eager Agent who needs clients. Young Exec offers him a known quantity, not a script that was just “thrown over the transom.” She’s pitching the agent a writer she thinks is talented, possibly with a project that’s already getting some traction.

It’s the film industry version of matchmaking.

If Eager Agent and Aspiring Writer “hook up,” Young Exec is everyone’s darling. She will likely get a little special consideration: an early look at Aspiring Writer’s next project, and will be “on the list” when Eager Agent goes out with Aspiring Writer’s next spec. It’s a win-win-win. This is how career-long industry relationships are cemented.

I was fortunate enough to work as a development exec for writer-producers Bruce Evans and Raynold Gideon (Starman, Stand by Me, Mr. Brooks) early in my career. They landed their first agent when she was a young agency assistant. They stayed with her for decades while she became a mega agent at CAA until she left to run a production company for a 3000 lb. Gorilla.

Hire yourself to be your own agent.

The agency business is all about information. That’s why those folks are going out to breakfast, lunch, drinks and dinner, sometimes all in one day, not to mention “running the lot” – heading to a studio and meeting with everyone they can. They’re building relationships and gathering info on who is looking to buy what so they can sell it to them, as well as open assignments they can fill with the agency’s clients. That’s what agents do, hunt and gather info, then use it to make money.

As your own agent, think of yourself like a relentless shark gathering info on who wants to buy what. Never has information been so readily available as it is now via the Internet. What (and who) did well at the box office last weekend? That’s what the studios are looking for.

Whether you’re reading Variety, The Hollywood Reporter or Deadline Hollywood, take note of the genres that are selling and who is buying. Just like an agent, pay attention to the announcement of new studio deals. The studio is highly motivated to buy for a new company whether it is producer, star or director-driven. The studio made the deal because they felt it would lead to making movies that, based on the producer/director/star’s track record, would make money. If the company and the studio don’t start developing projects together, then there’s zero chance of the studio making money and they’re already spending money to fund the production company. Likewise, at the end of a deal – typically anywhere from 18 months to as long as five years – the studio is less motivated to buy.

The late Tom Jankiewicz was a substitute schoolteacher when he wrote Gross Pointe Blank. He was probably the gentlest and tallest person I have ever met. He described to me how he read the trades religiously, using the information he gathered to send out countless queries. When he read that an actor,  Kiefer Sutherland,  had a deal and studios were buying things for him, he sent a query to his company. Kiefer was attached for a time and, even though he ultimately wasn’t involved with the movie, it got the ball rolling and Tom got his movie made. FITD at work!

STOP thinking about selling the script; think about the script selling you.

Selling a first script off of a query letter is an extreme long shot. Nearly impossible. What’s NOT impossible is having a terrific script launch your career.

Think of your script as a description in an online dating service. You like long walks on the beach at sunset, your genre is high-concept comedies, and you write distinctive, dimensional characters. Your script introduces you to us.

According to Shane Black, one of the most successful spec script writers of all time, “It’s a difficult spec market. Practically nonexistent. But my advice would still be, if you’re going to get in, get in with a spec script – and this is my experience, said Shane in a recent interview in anticipation of the opening of Iron Man 3 which he co-wrote and directed. “The first script most people write probably isn’t going to sell – mine didn’t! People might be interested in it, they might like the writing, and that encourages them to hire you for something else. They might say, ‘Yeah, he’s pretty good. Let’s get him in to do the next draft of our film that’s in production.’”

If I read your script, even if I don’t want to produce your script, if I think you’re a talented writer with marketable ideas, it’s in my best interest to build a relationship with you. We all need material. You create material. We need to know talented new writers. Hopefully that’s you. It’s in my best interest to get to know you and to find out about what you’re writing next. That might well be something I am excited about producing.

That script doesn’t have to sell to move you forward.

One of the most amazing FITD stories I know is from Glenn Gers, writer of Fracture and Mad Money. Glenn wrote his first script in 1984. It got him an agent right away. “People liked it. No one would make it, but they liked it,” says Glenn. “They offered me jobs writing other scripts.” Five years later, it was optioned by a major producer for a year. Five years after that, it was optioned by a studio for A-list stars. “I was then fired off it,” explains Glenn. “Three years later I got it back. More stars and directors have wanted to do it since; one got a company to finance it but then the company went out of business.” Here’s what blows my mind, according to Glenn, “A producer and director I think are great are currently trying to cast and finance an indie production.”

The Energizer Bunny of FITD scripts! Almost 30 years and still going.The script that kept going and going and going!

Wikipedia has one more piece of advice for people trying to get a “yes.” The reverse approach – “making a deliberately outlandish opening demand so that a subsequent, milder request will be accepted – is known as the door-in-the-face technique.”

I don’t recommend it as that’s exactly the position you’re likely to find yourself in!

Screenwriting Elevated Online Seminar

Excited to announce our 2022-2023 Monthly Online Series Screenwriting Elevated:

Saturday October 15 through April 15, 7 Monthly Sessions
3rd Saturdays from 10am to 1:30pm Pacific


You have Successfully Subscribed!