How to sell a screenplay

By Sheila Duane

The death of Halyna Hutchins and the injury to Joel Souza are terrible tragedies. Everyone at Mad Wife Productions is heartbroken and sends condolences to Halyna’s family. 

Since the recent accidental shooting on the film set of RUST in New Mexico, people in the industry, as well as those outside, are asking questions about the safety standards that are followed (or not followed) on film sets and how this could happen, AGAIN! The media was quick to remind that this is not the first shooting death on a film set: Brandon Lee was killed in an accidental shooting on a film set in 1993. 

The takeaway from the investigation of Brandon Lee’s death was that a fragment of a blank remained in the barrel of a prop gun and was propelled by another blank shot. The death was due to tragedy and negligence. 

While the preliminary information in the investigation of the RUST-set shooting also indicates negligence, the involvement of a live round could also mean that criminal charges may be filed.

On set shootings do not happen often but they should not happen at all. The industry has established precautionary procedures that should have prevented it. The Actors Equity Association has established the following safety procedures for the use of firearms:

  • Use simulated or dummy weapons whenever possible.
  • Treat all guns as if they are loaded and deadly.
  • Unless you are actually performing or rehearsing, the property master must secure all firearms.
  • The property master or armorer should carefully train you in the safe use of any firearm you must handle. Be honest if you have no knowledge about guns. Do not overstate your qualifications.
  • Follow all instructions given by the qualified instructor.
  • Never engage in horseplay with any firearms or other weapons. Do not let others handle the gun for any reason.
  • All loading of firearms must be done by the property master, armorer or experienced persons working under their direct supervision.
  • Never point a firearm at anyone including yourself. Always cheat the shot by aiming to the right or left of the target character. If asked to point and shoot directly at a living target, consult with the property master or armorer for the prescribed safety procedures.
  • If you are the intended target of a gunshot, make sure that the person firing at you has followed all these safety procedures.
  • If you are required to wear exploding blood squibs, make sure there is a bulletproof vest or other solid protection between you and the blast packet.
  • Use protective shields for all off stage cast within close proximity to any shots fired.
  • Appropriate ear protection should be offered to the cast members and stage managers.
  • Check the firearm every time you take possession of it. Before each use, make sure the gun has been test-fired off stage and then ask to test fire it yourself. Watch the prop master check the cylinders and barrel to be sure no foreign object or dummy bullet has become lodged inside.
  • Blanks are extremely dangerous. Even though they do not fire bullets out of the gun barrel, they still have a powerful blast than can maim or kill.
  • Never attempt to adjust, modify or repair a firearm yourself. If a weapon jams or malfunctions, corrections shall be made only by a qualified person.
  • When a scene is completed, the property master shall unload the firearms. All weapons must be cleaned, checked and inventoried after each performance.
  • Live ammunition may not be brought into the theatre.
  • If you are in a production where shots are to be fired and there is no qualified property master, go to the nearest phone and call Actors’ Equity Association. A union representative will make sure proper procedures are followed.
  • State and federal safety laws must be honored at all times.
  • If any of the above safety tips conflict with the instructions given by a qualified instructor, abide by the instructions from the qualified instructor. If you are still not sure, contact your Equity Business Representative.


Whether these guidelines were followed remains to be seen. However, nothing changes the fact that Halyna Hutchins is dead. Her family, friends, and colleagues mourn her loss. Brandon Lee is also gone, and his family still mourns. Michael Massee, the actor who accidentally shot Brandon Lee, suffered emotional distress and guilt for the rest of his life even though he had no responsibility in the event. Alec Baldwin may experience the same kind of distress even though he has no responsibility in this event. In fact, everyone on the set may be traumatized.

Accidents do happen, but it should be the goal of every film set to set safety standards that will prevent injuries from happening – no one should die on film sets from accidents that were preventable!  

When Playwrights Become Screenwriters

Screenplay Copyright

by Sheila Duane

Mary Quinn is a visual/graphic artist with her roots in the learning disability community in the west of Ireland. She’s been in the United States with her daughter since her retirement in 2015. She was planning her first one person show, The Autistic Learner, in March of 2020. Needless to say, that event was cancelled. No video or online option has been offered to Ms. Quinn.

Playwrights are in a similar situation because of Covid 19… but we have options. Playwrights can become screenwriters, but it’s not easy. 

The Establishing Shot: According to the Columbia Film Language Glossary, “An establishing shot is a long shot at the start of a scene (or sequence) that shows things from a distance. Often an aerial shot, it is intended to help identify and orient the location or time for the scene and action that follow.” The establishing shot makes sense in film. The audience is in a movie theater or in a classroom or at home… the film begins. We are in Los Angeles… or we are in Seattle… then we move into the office or apartment or grocery store with the full context of that universe. We know that this Seattle office is near the Space Needle or the Public Market or in LA near LAX. That establishing shot expands the universe and takes the audience into a world of certain possibilities. And the audience expects to be oriented. 

Playwrights don’t think in terms of expansive orientation. The stage is the stage. Although the universe of the play isn’t limited to the space of the black box theater or proscenium or thrust stage, often the ‘beyond’ is not as important as the ‘within.’ The audience expects a very different orientation. Further, stages are often simply decorated: a park bench, a kitchen table, a single dying tree. How do playwrights orient their audiences? Certainly not the way filmmakers do. 

This is where screenwriting and playwrighting diverge. And this may be one of the reasons it’s difficult for the playwright to become a successful screenwriter. Difficult but possible. 

Screenwriting requires a different imagining of story… the expansive universe is the context of story in film (unless that universe is magically and cinematically restrained.) The audience climbs into the world with a willingness to populate that world. Screenwriting, the power of the cinematic takes place in the cosmos of human context, but the visual possibilities are endless. 

Playwrighting, on the other hand, dances on the principle that the more specific, the smaller, the less expansive, the more universal. Try for one moment to imagine a film version of Waiting for Godot. It’s not possible. Interestingly, it is the lack of orientation in that play that makes it so personal and heartbreaking. The audience isn’t drawn into the story, the story is forced into the heart and psyche of each member of the audience. It can only be the human presence on stage that ‘establishes’ a human context. 

There are individuals who prefer stage to screen. But most playwrights and screenwriters are storytellers who want to tell their stories. The majority of playwrights fall into that category. And unlike Mary Quinn the visual artist, playwrights have the luxury of learning to, either temporarily or permanently, readjust our thinking about how we orient the audience, how we imagine stories being told, turn off the ghost light and turn on the camera obscura. But it’s a change in our vision of storytelling, our vision of ourselves. 

One example I can offer is a stage play I wrote about a woman in a kind of witness protection program. Because of the encouragement of audience members, I ‘adapted’ it into a screenplay. However, I wanted to maintain the cage-like characteristics of the small apartment wherein the character was in protection. According to many people in the film industry, the screenplay failed as a screenplay. The universe wasn’t expansive. The spartan, cage-like setting was limiting, and telling the story through the experience of the witness was not enough to grab and hold the attention of a film audience. 

In a Covid 19 world, playwrights don’t have many choices. We can continue to write stage plays and hope the world stops spinning off its axis one of these days … or we can start writing cookbooks and making TikTok videos… or we can learn about telling cinematic stories. I don’t know what’s right. But I’m trying to adjust my second-generation American way of envisioning storytelling so that I can keep telling stories. 

And I hope Mary Quinn finds a way to tell stories too.

Sheila Duane was born in New Mexico and currently lives in New Jersey. She teaches writing at a community college. Most recently, her play “The Loom” was produced in NYC as part of the 2021 Downtown Urban Arts Festival. Several of her other plays have been read or produced locally. On a personal note, Sheila loves Andy Warhol and has written a five minute film about a woman’s obsession with him.  

Screenplay: The Loom

Logline: Two women find themselves tangled in a web of police corruption, the uncertainty caused by PTSD, and the competing definitions of what constitutes ‘incitement.’ 

Ten Reasons Why I Recommend Screenwriting Contests


by Pamela PerryGoulardt

Breaking into the business side of screenwriting can be challenging. However, entering Screenwriting Contests is an option for advancement and credibility. Here’s why:

  1. Screenwriting Contests help you to Focus. They are a highly charged energy 24/7 business force streaming information. Contests are a way to locate and connect with the people that sync with your energy and are interested in your story.
  1. Screenwriting Contests are opportunities for honest feedback. Feedback provides a perspective on how a reader is reacting to your story. It’s a window into how your writing is perceived. Feedback is for finding what is and isn’t working so you can rewrite improvements. They will always tell you what is working and what needs improvement. I have never received critical feedback that didn’t offer a suggestion that would elevate my story.
  1. Screenwriting Contests are Global. One of my first ‘Wins’ was a short story I entered into a contest in Rome. It was about a single woman who comes home to find an Alien in her apartment on New Year’s Eve. They said I captured the loneliness people often feel. Somebody finally got what I was striving to achieve! After that, I felt encouraged to enter contests from Spain, India, Paris, Hong Kong, Vancouver, London, Moscow, even Bali. Fifty percent of my website views are from the Global Market!
  1. Screenwriting Contests are motivational. They’re a ticking clock with a Final Deadline! If you’re working on a Thriller and you see a contest just for Thrillers with a final deadline in two weeks, you will mark it on your calendar and finish that story!
  1. Screenwriting Contests help you define your voice and develop your brand. I had the chance to interview Angelo Pizzo (RUDY) for an article I was doing. Angelo writes Sports Movies. If a college is famous for a sport and has a ‘true story’ they want to produce, they contact him directly. But how do you choose your brand if you don’t know what genre is the best career platform for your talent? Write what inspires you, enter the story in a contest. You will begin to see a pattern emerge of what stories resonate with people, what gets positive feedback, and what wins laurels!
  1. Screenwriting Contests are socially active and support each other. The best way for a contest to advertise is through you! You become a conduit of energy that sparks imaginations and encourages others. If you announce you have entered or placed in a contest and post it on social media other writers and filmmakers will ‘like’ your post and share it. Your name gets out there. Doors begin to open. You connect with actors, producers, musicians, location scouts, cinematographers. You build your tribe!
  1. Screenwriting Contests are often part of Movie Festivals. Independent Film thrives in the Festival Circuit. They are usually part of a community that looks forward to attending the yearly event. They are social, as well as business events, traditionally hosted by Movie Stars. If your screenplay Wins or Places, people will talk about it. The Judges might select your script for a Table Read. Festival runners have contacted me about my story and invited me to participate in their festival. Sometimes they provide a passcode to bypass the entry fee! Your story gains traction in production circles. You begin to move off the bench and onto the playing field!
  1. Screenwriting Contests offer prizes. Contests can open doors for valuable benefits and sometimes offer prizes beyond the prestige and the Laurel, such as: promoting your logline to producers and filmmakers in their monthly mailer, website, and social media platforms. In addition, your script may be selected for a Podcast of a Table Read or chosen for a ‘Proof of Concept’ trailer.
  1. Screenwriting Contests can open doors. Filmmakers and Producers often sponsor Screenwriting Contests seeking specific ‘expanded’ Genres, meaning they may want an Action/Adventure that has ‘Underwater’ action, or perhaps they are only interested in LGBTQ stories. If social media announces you have such a story, they will contact you with a substantial discount coupon to enter their competition. As a result, your expenses begin to go down. In addition, you connect with the people you need to move forward into production.
  1. Screenwriting Contests build confidence! Confidence is key! Once you start getting positive feedback, confidence soars, the magic awakens! You write with authority without holding back, and your characters become truly unique, sharing your voice with the world.

Pamela PerryGoulardt is a produced screenwriter and head writer for FlyingCloudStudios.com

Calamity Jane: Queen of Spades

Biopic Adventure.

Logline: After Frontierswoman and Sharpshooter Martha Jane Cannary loses both parents on the trail west, she becomes a scout in the US Army, finds a new reputation as the legendary outlaw Calamity Jane, and falls in love with Wild Bill Hickock.