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Film Marketing: E-Publish Your Screenplay

Sample script page from Avatar

Just as the Internet has opened up new avenues for filmmakers to get their movies distributed and seen online, writers also now have the opportunity to upload their manuscripts and have them beamed directly onto computer hard drives and into mobile devices.

Indie filmmakers who script their movies prior to shooting can now take advantage of both Internet booms: After releasing a film on DVD or just online, filmmakers can also publish their screenplays for Kindle and Nook e-book readers, as well as for various print-on-demand services. Ambitious, writerly filmmakers can also publish their production diaries and include behind-the-scenes photographs.

Screenplays aren’t normally thought of as publishable entities unless they’ve been written by high-profile writers like William Goldman or the Coen brothers. But with cheap electronic publishing options today, who’s to say that there isn’t a market for curious indie film fans willing to buy a quick read about a film that they’ve loved and enjoyed.

While this is a new frontier open for filmmakers today, there are examples from the past of filmmakers who built part of their reputation by selling their screenplays in printed form. The most significant example of this is Spike Lee, whose relentless self-promotion early in his career included a published production journal and screenplay for each of his films. If you’re an indie film fan or maker and you haven’t read one of Spike’s books like Uplift the Race, By Any Means Necessary or Do the Right Thing, you’re really missing out on some fascinating, entertaining reading.

(Personally, I’ve always thought that reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X, then seeing Spike’s Malcolm X, then reading By Any Means Necessary makes for an indispensable film education.)

Dark Matter Heart book cover

However, modern filmmakers don’t need to look so far in the past to get ideas on how to take advantage of the e-book publishing boom. Inspiration for this article came from news that indie filmmaker Nathan Wrann turned one of his screenplays into a novel called Dark Matter Heart that he has published for the Kindle, Nook and a CreateSpace print-on-demand version.

Wrann is also planning to e-publish a future special edition of Dark Matter Heart that will include the original screenplay that the novel is based on.

It should also be noted that one doesn’t necessarily need a Kindle or a Nook to read an electronically published book, for those worried that the Kindle market for scripts might be too small. E-readers continue to gain in popularity and any kind of book published electronically can be read on all kinds of computers and mobile devices. Kindle and Nook also exist as apps that can be used on iPhones and iPads, for example.

Granted, it’s difficult enough for indie and underground filmmakers to drum up audience interest in their actual films, so publishing a screenplay for a movie hardly anybody is going to see may seem like an adventure into futility. But, on the other hand, there’s not much to lose other than mostly the time it takes to put such an item together. Well, that and the risk of the emotional toll a publishing let-down may have on the psyche.

It might be worth a shot, no?


Underground Film Feedback (5 comments)

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  • Mike,

    It’s definitely worth a shot! One just has to remember that e-books are forever. There’s no shelf space and no inventory to maintain. And, readers seem to discover their material differently than film audiences which means that it MAY be easier (or “more likely”. In truth nothing about the film or book discovery process is easy) for a filmmaker to find readers of their screenplay than it is to find viewers of their film, with doing little promotion. Plus if your film is on Amazon for sale as DVD and/or VOD, why not have a companion piece, the screenplay, also available? That’s potentially 2 points (or 3 if you also do Print On Demand through Createspace.com) of sale instead of just one.

    One thing to point out is that because of the fluid text fitting and resizing it is far easier to format a novel with traditional indents and chapter breaks, than it is to format a screenplay (in screenplay format) for an e-reader. Maybe this is a feature that can (or already is) or should be incorporated into future version of final draft, celtx etc.

    You mentioned that I novelized my screenplay for Dark Matter Heart (which was originally titled “Nice”). I’ll also be novelizing my film “Hunting Season” as well as a few other unproduced screenplays that I have laying around. All of these will have some sort of “special edition” that includes the screenplay. By the end of 2012 I expect to have at least 6 different novels for sale (Dark Matter Heart, Dark Matter Heart 2, Hunting Season, Hunting Season 2, The Rising Tide, Europa). Include the special editions and it increases to 9 (DMH +DMH Spec ed, Hunting Season + HS Spec Ed, The Rising Tide + TRT Spec Ed, Europa, DMH 2, HS 2). Then if I also put the screenplays out there by themselves that’s an additional 3 titles, plus I might put the Burning Inside screenplay up too. Which means that within a year and a half I will have 13 “books” available on Amazon. That makes for a pretty big shelf which increases the findability (“see more by this author”), not only for my books, but for my films as well.

    • Thanks for sharing all of your future e-publishing plans! I know we’ve discussed some of these privately, but I didn’t know the full extent.

      I think you have a great, ambitious plan. I’ve read several articles recently about how having a strong presence on Amazon like you’re planning has been beneficial to different kinds of individual businesses. But, since they were not film related, I didn’t want to get into them in this article for fear my ideas would be dismissed as “Well, film is different.”

      So, it’s good to hear at least one filmmaker pursuing an aggressive filmmaking/publishing plan.

      Plus, it seems to make more sense for an Amazon customer to make an impulse e-book purchase than an impulse film purchase since e-books are typically priced cheaper. Thus, the hope is for a screenplay/production journal e-book to be a “gateway” to the films.

      • “Gateway to the films” is exactly right.

        I’m not sure that e-books are necessarily priced cheaper. Right now “Dark Matter Heart” is priced at $2.99 for the e-book ($9.99 for print). My film BURNING INSIDE is priced at $2.99 for VOD rental ($9.99 for DVD). However, I think that how readers approach what they buy, compared with how film audiences approach what they buy is completely different. How are they different? That’s the million-dollar question that I don’t have an answer to. But I believe it has something to do with the fact that there is a specific device (kindle, nook or other e-reader) that is designed to do one thing: find, buy and read books. There is no device like this that levels the playing field for indie filmmakers. Cable VOD is the big VOD market, indie filmmakers have trouble A) breaking in to cable VOD. and B) Getting noticed on Cable VOD. I have a Blu-Ray player that I can play Amazon VOD on. It’s almost easier to create world peace than to discover, buy and watch an indie film on my TV via Amazon VOD. (note: I don’t watch movies on my computer). Ask any successful e-book publisher what the market would be like without the dedicated e-readers and they’ll readily admit that they wouldn’t be publishing.

        So it’s an uphill battle to begin with, then, add to that the fact that there is tens to hundreds to millions of dollars sunk into an indie film and it makes it hard to fathom selling it individually for .99 to $2.99.

        • Thanks for clarifying. I had it in my head that VOD was the same price as DVD.

          I particularly agree with you regarding your world peace statement. Even though the options are available, discovery is next to impossible.

  • mary wagner says:

    I have written a screenplay and just want to e-publish it myself. How do I go about doing that – and what about the cover of the screenplay?

    Thank you.