You always loved writing, or maybe it’s a new passion you’ve discovered while in quarantine these past two years. Writing is your escape from reality or perhaps your way of leaving a mark on this world. And you now realize that you might actually be able to make a career out of this. But how? It can be overwhelming at first, but you will find here all the tools that will help you start your screenwriting career.
The best way to get started is to write a killer screenplay. Finding a mentor, as well as networking with peers should also be on top of your list. You should also shoot a small scene and learn how to pitch it.
The killer screenplay you should write is one that no one in their right mind would say no to. Okay, this is the short answer, but without a truly great screenplay, your chances of making it as a screenwriter drastically diminish.
To help you become the next Quentin Tarantino, we have compiled a list of steps you can take:
1. Write a screenplay
This is the most important step of it all. You cannot be a screenwriter without a screenplay, like you cannot be a biker without a bike or a surfer without a surf.
Today, film school isn’t necessary anymore to make it in Hollywood. A simple Google search will give you all information you need to find how one writes a screenplay, the hero’s journey, the 3 act structure, and so on.
Educate yourself as much as you can on the structure of a script, and while reading books on screenwriting is an excellent way to learn, the very best way to learn is to read screenplays. Not only will it teach you the structure, it will make you more comfortable with the format and storytelling since it differs a lot from books.
You can find screenplays with a simple Google search. For example, “When Harry Met Sally Screenplay PDF” will send you to Daily Script, which has a phenomenal library of screenplays.
While reading a produced screenplay is a great tool to learn how to write a script, we always recommend reading unproduced screenplays as well. This is because produced screenplays go through a wide range of rewrites from usually more than one writer. Meanwhile, unproduced scripts are what you are aiming for since they are a final draft from a single writer. Every year The BlackList posts the list of the best-unproduced screenplays in Hollywood. You can easily get access to that list with a Google search.
Once you are comfortable with format and structure, you will want to use a screenwriting software. While we always recommend Final Draft for being the go-to for most people in the industry, you can also use free software such as Fade in, Celtx, or WriterDuet.
Once you have the software and the knowledge, get typing. And remember that writing is rewriting. You will most likely do a few rewrites before you are comfortable moving to the next step.
2. Find a Mentor
If you don’t go to film school, looking for a mentor in the industry is a great way to learn and grow as a writer. Many successful screenwriters are open to becoming a new writer’s mentor as long as you show that you are here to learn and that you don’t demand anything more from them than to simply teaching you what they know.
Don’t push them to read your script, don’t ask them to give you notes or to bring your script to their network. Instead, simply ask questions about them and their career and take notes. Learning from others is the best way to grow and avoid mistakes.
How to find those precious mentors, you ask? Social media. Many established screenwriters use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Linkedin. Send them a quick message to introduce yourself, explain that you are new and would love to pick their brain around coffee (coffee’s on you!)
3. Network with your peers
The most considerable value of going to film school isn’t necessarily what you are being taught but the network you benefit from. Today, with the internet, you can easily reach out to other filmmakers out there.
Most of the time, writers making it in this industry get their first job through someone they know. We always say that being a screenwriter is 50% writing and 50% networking. You need to become a master at networking. You don’t need to live in Los Angeles to get access to plenty of fantastic platforms online or social media groups for screenwriters, producers, directors, etc. Network with people at your level that share similar interests.
Chances are, when they get their big break, they’ll think of you and want to recommend you for a job as well. And remember, if you get your first break first, make sure you think about them as well.
4. Shoot a scene
We always advise writers out there to get their work made, even if it’s for little to no budget.
Today, it’s easy to shoot a scene from your screenplay with an iPhone and some actors that, while talented, aren’t working actors (yet).
Make a short film, shoot a scene of your script as a proof of concept, and get your work made. It will not only be great to show that you are a produced writer, but you can use what you shot as proof of concept when you pitch your story. Additionally, being on set will teach you an incredible amount of things that no books ever will.
5. Learn how to pitch
Most people will want to hear more before they read your script. They’ll want to know at least what the logline is. Prepare a short sentence or two of what the story is.
The way to make your logline the most impactful is to clearly convey what the story is about, including your main character, the goal, the central conflict and what force goes against your character.
When you pitch, always add a couple of successful comps. For example, if you pitch a movie, let the person you pitch know what movies yours is similar to. Likewise, if you pitch a TV show, do the same with two successful TV shows you can compare your show to.
Additionally, your pitch should give some information about the world, the why this story matters now, and who you are as a writer and more importantly, as a person.
6. Use online resources
There are some incredible resources online for new writers. We highly recommend you create an IMDBPro profile early in your career. This will be an excellent tool for research. With this account, you can look up production companies and even find emails of producers to query with your project.
Many production companies do not read unsolicited material, but plenty out there do, and if the project resonates with them, they will request it. However, querying production companies is a long process that most of the time will lead to no response (since legally, it isn’t easy for them to read unsolicited material).
Thankfully, many other websites can help you reach out to production companies, managers and agents. One of the most successful resources is Roadmap Writers. A website that will help you perfect your pitching skills and send you on virtual roundtables where you get to pitch your project to big producers, managers and agents. It’s a great tool to not only create a network, but also get better at pitching and presenting yourself as a professional writer.
While there are many pitch festivals out there, Roadmap Writers is a tool that will not only help you get into virtual rooms with valuable producers, they will help you master the art of pitching and will provide a platform for you to find support from other writers as well.
Another tool that can be valuable once you have mastered the art of pitching is Virtual Pitch Fest. Virtual Pitch Fest is a website that lets you message production companies, managers or agents with a short written pitch. You get a response from the person you queried within three days. It’s a great way to build a network since once you get a request, you are going off the platform and will email directly with that producer/agent/manager.
7. Be open minded
Many times you will hear the word “no.” Learn how to push through and continue despite that. Focus on what your bigger goals are and have a clear vision.
Many times, we meet writers who want to get their work produced at all costs. We like to suggest you see your screenplays as samples more than pieces that need to be made. You want to be known as a screenwriter, not be known for a single story only.
See yourself as a story-making machine. This way, people will want to work with you and not just buy your story to find another writer to rewrite it.
While getting your own work produced can be the end goal and the dream, by presenting your work as memorable samples, you set yourself in a good place to be hired for OWA’s (open writing assignments). An open writing assignment is a situation where a producer hires a screenwriter to perform screenwriting work made for hire.
This is a fantastic way to make it as a writer since you will gain experience, build a more extensive network, make money writing and put yourself in a good place to be hired to get your own work produced.
Using your screenplay as a sample is also great when you want to work in television since the showrunner will read your script to determine your skills, the way you tell a story and your uniqueness to come to write on their show.
8. Find a manager
Ultimately, with excellent writing samples (features, TV pilots, etc), great pitching skills, and a growing network, you will find yourself in a great position to meet a manager.
Signing with a manager is difficult, and great managers are highly in-demand. However, they will hop on board if they see something special in you. A manager is a great person to have by your side in this industry.
They will read your work, give you advice and open doors that you cannot open without representation. However, if you want to have a successful relationship with your manager, remember to treat the relationship as 80/20.
Meaning, you bring in 80% and they bring the other 20%. Don’t dump everything on your manager and hope they’ll do everything for you. Don’t think that once you have a manager, you can just sit back and relax. On the contrary, you are now entering a new league and need to give it your everything. So, yes you still need to write amazing content, but not only that, you still need to find opportunities to bring to the table as well.
In most cases, a successful relationship with a manager happens when the writer is very proactive in their career. Continue to build a network, look for opportunities and when you find them, ask your manager to help open the door for you, which they will gladly do. This is how you create a strong, lasting team.
While many people will tell you that the odds are against you when you want to become a screenwriter, if you keep a high work ethic, write a lot, network and stay open-minded, you have every chance to make it in this industry.
Of course, it takes time and dedication, but if every screenwriter stopped when someone told them the odds were against them, some of the most amazing shows and movies out there wouldn’t have been made.
So to you dreamers out there, keep pushing.
Article by Lena Murisier