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David Carradine's Advice on Scripts and Networking


This month, we asked for random question submissions from our amateur writer clients. We then asked a pro writer to respond to the chosen submissions. This issue’s answers are given by Actor and Screenwriter, DAVID CARRADINE!

QUESTION (1): What some of the best avenues to get my material seen by professionals in hope of selling it?

David: Most avenues for unsolicited material are dead ends. Generally, you can forget studios, distribution companies and agents. Even for known entities, spec scripts are not likely to be read by principals, but by readers, whose main functions are to screen and reject. Your best bets in The Industry are the companies owned by individual stars, which are listed in the trade directories. They are eager for character-driven material, and are more open, less insulated. Sometimes they even answer their own phones. Most independent films are financed privately, by fellow amateurs. Personal contacts are always helpful. Don’t shotgun your script. Properties that have been shopped around become jokes. Mailing your script to a prospect without an invitation will probably be a waste of trees. Take a meeting, if you can get one. In many cases, a live pitch can get a movie made, while a script may never get read.

QUESTION (2): There are many writing methods. Which of these methods work best for you? Please also discuss the merits of each.


A. an outline and then fill in the details This is the method most systems teach. I’ve never developed material that way on anything: Not on scripts, not on my four published books, though I’ve tried. I don’t know if I could ever make it work for me.

B. clear outcome then work backwards An interesting idea. I should try it.

C. start at the beginning and write on

This is how I do it. I’ll get an idea, an inspiration really, sometimes in a dream, which may be very simple, just a hook. I’ll think about it for a while, and then I’ll write the first scene. There will be many blocks along the way, but I’ll continue doggedly in a straight line, until I finish a draft. Then I will do dozens of rewrites, large and small. Adding, removing, combining, moving whole sequences around. I never really stop doing that until it’s in the can. Even then, I add scenes. I don’t give up until it’s in release.

D. develop your characters and let the story tell itself

I think this happens automatically with the unfolding of the plot. An idea always begins with a character in a situation. The two questions are: how do the characters react, and how do you want the characters to react. Then, as you go along, the story and the characters both adapt themselves to fit each other. Structure is the last thing I think about. I never know how the story ends until I get there.

QUESTION (3): How important is it for a novice writer to enter screenwriting competitions?

David: They have been proven to work. SUNDANCE set a precedent that has spread wide. They can get your movie made and make it successful. They can be expensive, and heartbreaking. Producers, investors, distributors and exhibitors flock to these things. So do fakers and liars. Take a grain of salt with you.

Question (4) Is it better to learn more about the screenwriting craft via books or workshops/seminars?

David: Both. You should definitely have a text for the basics, but you need exercise and live input to develop your technique. Your first script is likely to be a disaster. Unless you have time to waste, you need to get into a dialogue with someone. You should read as many scripts as you can get your hands on. Get the form down. Poor formatting is the first thing a pro will notice. Non-standard fonts or spacing, typos, etc. can cause a script to be rejected before it’s read.

Question (5) How do you build industry contacts and network?

David: However you can. Make phone calls. Write letters. Take meetings. Attend events. Accept invitations. Use The Internet. Become informed. People like to work with people they know, so get to know people. The area where most of us fall down is in follow through. You can’t assume because you’ve left a message, that your work is done. Relationships have to be nurtured, stroked and fed, like puppies, or they’ll wander off.