All motion pictures begin at the same starting point: an idea that is developed into a script, in the form of an original screenplay, adaptation of a stage play or a book. Once a screenplay is written, it is ‘shopped’. This term, most often used in the United States, refers to the process of submitting the script to production companies and studios, in the hopes someone will be interested in purchasing it for production. Shopping can be performed by anyone with a vested interest in the script, including the writer, director, actors, or the agents for any of these people.
The goal is to convince someone to pay the writer for either the purchase of the screenplay from the writer or at least the rights to the screenplay, which allows another entity or individual the right to make the film should financing be arranged for the production. Producers, directors, actors, agents, managers and production company executives can also ‘shop’ or ‘sell’ screenplays.
Shopping is achieved by ‘pitching’ the screenplay, an effort to sell it to someone who can help to get it produced. A pitch is an explanation of the story, in as concise a manner as possible, intended to invoke a passionate response from the listener. The pitch is usually verbal, but can also be written.
In many cases, production companies and studios will purchase an option on the script (or a treatment if the story is only in outline form) allowing them the right to ‘develop’ the screenplay into a strong enough story to either obtain a greenlight for production from a studio or to raise sufficient financing to begin production. The development process can take as little as a few months or as long as 10 years.
There’s no guarantee that a screenplay in the development phase will ever be produced, but it does provide a number of people employment opportunities. Someone has to supervise the development process, so quite often production companies or studio creative executives, writers, directors and producers are employed to develop the screenplay. This often involves meetings to discuss script improvements, which can result in re-writes of the screenplay. And don’t believe that just one re-write will solve the script problems. It is not uncommon for a screenplay to be rewritten four or five times by multiple writers.
As a film commissioner, you may be contacted from time to time with requests to assist writers during the development process. A production company executive, studio executive or producer may contact you asking for your assistance with arranging inexpensive hotel accommodations for a writer who may be coming to your city, region state or country to research a topic pertinent to the screenplay they are writing or rewriting. While there is no guarantee that the film will get made in your community, it is in your best interest to help them in any way you can. It may encourage the team to shoot this, or future projects, in your area!