It’s always been your dream to work as a professional screenwriter. You’ve poured hundreds if not thousands of hours into your craft, and you’re continually seeking ways to improve your writing even more. Now, the bright lights of Hollywood are calling to you. You want to answer, but how do you get a job in screenwriting?
How do screenwriters get hired? Screenwriters get hired when an agent, manager or producer pitches the writer’s script to a prospective film company then which they option from the screenwriter.
As needed the film company will normally hire the same writer to make changes including rewrites or polishes to the story for additional payment.
But there are several other ways to get hired as a screenwriter. Also, there are things you can do to increase your chances of getting hired as a writer. Check those out below.
Screenwriters Hired for Rewrites
Rewriting is how most screenwriters get hired nowadays. According to professional screenwriter Mark Sanderson he sometimes lives off rewrite work.
They might have a script that was developed in house or by another perspective writer. For some reason, the writer on the project was fired and then another writer or several were then brought in to fix the screenplay.
This is why you sometimes see multiple credits to different writers on one project. Check out our article on residuals for more information on shared credit in screenwriting.
In house Ideas
A Lot of companies have their own executives that study the market and decide what would be good based on their past success. Sometimes they have ideas for what would work. These decisions might be based on money but they bring in a creative writer or a team of writers to take their idea further.
In these cases, writers can get hired to create outlines, treatments, and drafts
Screenwriters Hired to Write Adaptations
The name of the game is adaptions with Netflix and Hollywood rolling out its billions to obtain books, comics and short stories that have pre-built audiences.
And as the spec market for writers is dwindling. Once the rights to one of these intellectual properties are gained they then look through a pool of writers to find the best fit to write this story.
This is why relationships are so important in the film industry. Once they know you and your skill you become one of those prospective writers with a chance to write that next adaptation. For more on adaptations click here
Once a writer has a good relationship with a company or gets a chance to pitch in a meeting with their representation. The producers might ask the writer what else they are working on or have written. This is a good opportunity for the writer to pitch the company on one of there other projects.
After a good pitch, they might ask for a written synopsis and if that goes well. They could again option that script from the writer again.
How do TV Screenwriters get Hired?
Screenwriters for TV might have a slightly different process for getting hired.
A while ago a TV writer would write an episode of a current show on TV they would like to write for. If the writing was good enough they might get hired as a writer’s assistant or even an official staff member of the show.
In order to get to what we’ve been talking about above, you first have to gain relationships with people in the industry as well as ongoing knowledge on improving your writing ability. We’ve put together a list for that below.
To increase your chances of being hired as a screenwriter, do the following:
- Be where the action is (live in Hollywood or another major city)
- Take a masterclass on writing
- Apply for fellowships
- Find a mentor
- Learn and finesse your writing in your own time
- Be prepared for rejection
- Network often
- Join a screenwriting group
- Read other screenplays
- Don’t stop writing
- Build a portfolio
- Keep at it
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll go through each of the above steps in more detail, explaining exactly what you have to do to further your pro screenwriting dreams. While there are no guarantees, you will be able to give your career aspirations a fair shake.
Steps to Take That May Get You Hired as a Screenwriter
As we wrote about in another blog post, Script Magazine says the chances of you being hired as a pro screenwriter are five to 20 percent. That stat came from the mouths of real writers, managers, and screenwriting agents.
That’s not to dissuade you from chasing your goals. You just have to know that the screenwriting world is a cutthroat one with not a lot of room for openings. If you want to be one of the lucky few to get in, make sure you go through this list and begin doing more of it.
Move to Hollywood (or Another Major Film/TV City)
Sure, you can spend all day emailing Hollywood agents, movie production companies, and TV studios from the other side of the country, but this often feels like it’s to no avail. You’re never sure if these people are getting your messages or if they’re falling into the Internet black hole.
Plus, when you only have the option to email, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. Those who are in Los Angeles might know local phone numbers to call and certainly can come across more Hollywood types in person at parties and other events.
If you want to be a pro screenwriter, then you’re going to have to relocate anyway. Why do something later when you can take care of it now?
Although Hollywood will always be the hub for all things movies and television, it’s not the only place you can go. We recently wrote a great post on where to live as a screenwriter. Other popular cities to consider living in include:
- Chicago, Illinois
- Atlanta, Georgia
- London, England
- Mumbai, India
- Hong Kong, China
- Tokyo, Japan
- Toronto or Vancouver, Canada
You may already call one of these major cities home, or you’re quite close in proximity. In that case, there’s little need to plan a major move. While these places aren’t as beloved as Hollywood for films and television, that’s not always a bad thing. In fact, with a somewhat smaller market, it may be easier for you to break in as a screenwriter.
The ways in which people tell a story is always changing. For example, today, you can use screenwriting software to organize and finesse your script. That wasn’t something we had 20 years ago. Another two decades from now, who knows how screenwriting will evolve?
You may have studied screenwriting or filmmaking at a four-year university, but you always want to brush up on your skills. To that end, a screenwriting class is a great way to make sure you’re current on all the latest in the industry. A few classes on your resume can also impress potential employers.
You may sign up for a class at a local college or even spend nights and weekends engaged with an online course. Here’s a list of courses in screenwriting currently offered by learning resource Udemy. These are anything but beginner’s classes.
Some of the available courses include “Inspirational Screenwriting,” “Screenwriting Toolkit: The Dialogue Writing Masterclass,” “Pitching Your Screenplay or Novel in 60 Seconds,” “The Business of Screenwriting Masterclass,” and “Creating the Bulletproof One-Hour TV Pilot.”
Yes, that’s right, you can take a class on how to pitch your screenplay, something that will come in handy soon enough.
The above courses are just those from Udemy, but they’re a good sampling of what you can hope to learn in a screenwriting class.
Apply for Fellowships
Having taken a class has reignited your passion for screenwriting, and your writing is at a fever pitch right now. While you’re in such high spirits, why not apply for a fellowship? If you’re not familiar, a fellowship is a competition that’s offered in a variety of industries, screenwriting included. You send in a sample of your screenplay or your other writing work. Then, a winner gets chosen.
Here’s our post on fellowships if you missed it. We recommend you go back and check it out, as we provided a link to many fellowships. These include major names in film and TV and some smaller ones, but all would be a good opportunity for you, the aspiring screenwriter looking for a job.
The fellowships are available at different times of the year. They have strict submission guidelines, so you want to triple-check the instructions before sending in your application. After all, you’d hate to disqualify yourself before anyone even reads your screenplay.
Another thing of note is that not all the fellowships are free to apply to. Many have fees of $30 to $60 to enter, so space out your applications.
Should you win, you may get all sorts of one-of-a-kind opportunities. Some fellowships offer access to exclusive masterclasses with real screenwriters, directors, producers, and agents. Others give you the chance to finesse your screenplay with the pros so it has a higher chance of selling. You could even land a job at a movie or TV studio with one of these fellowships.
Find a Mentor
Now that you’re living in a major hub of film and TV production, it’s worth your time to seek out a mentor. This is someone who’s willing to help you, often for free. Your mentor should have expertise, such as having once worked in the industry themselves.
How do you even begin to find someone of this nature? It sounds like you’re looking for a unicorn, and that’s never easy. Script Magazine, in a different article than the link above, wrote an informative piece about doing just that.
The key is passion and persistence. If you have a passion for what you’re doing as a screenwriter, even if you’re not making major bank yet, then that passion becomes contagious. It will rub off on other people you meet. All you need is one person who shares that same passion for your screenplay. Then, once they feel as strongly as you do, they should want your screenplay to get out into the world and help however they can.
The other half of the equation, persistence, will come into play quite a bit. You can’t expect to meet this passionate unicorn of a person the first day you’re in LA. That’s not very probable. Instead, you’ll have to go out, get introduced to many people, shake a lot of hands, and talk about your script all the time.
There’s also an art to trying to find a mentor. If you have your screenplay in your back pocket or loaded onto your phone, ready to shove at everyone you meet, no one will want to mentor you. You have to make a genuine connection with the person before you even broach the idea of them looking at your screenplay.
Never Stop Learning
You may have taken a class or several, and perhaps you even won a screenwriting fellowship and got to sit in on a masterclass. Even still, when you get time at home, make sure you continue your education in all things screenwriting. You may sign up for a magazine subscription, join a newsletter, take more online classes, and the like. We’ll also have a few more ideas later in this post, so keep reading.
You want to dedicate several hours each week of your own personal time to furthering your screenwriting knowledge. By always staying abreast of news and trends in the industry, you’re never caught off guard. Plus, who knows, your vast wealth of knowledge could help you get hired.
Know That Rejection Is Part of the Process
You excitedly apply for a fellowship only to get a rejection email (or letter) a month or so later. Perhaps you send out an application for a screenwriting job that seems perfect for you, only to never hear anything back.
This happens, and it’s going to happen quite a bit. Remember that figure we quoted at the beginning from Script Magazine? Your chances of getting into the industry as a screenwriter are between five and 20 percent. Even if you’re someone who looks on the sunnier side of things, a 20-percent success rate means there’s an 80 percent chance you’ll get turned down.
Rejection hurts. In fact, a 2015 article from Psychology Today states that being rejected hurts us physically as well as emotionally. That’s because the sensation of rejection triggers our anterior insula and dorsal anterior cingulate in the brain, both areas that relate to feeling physical pain.
That said, if you let every rejection in screenwriting get to you, you wouldn’t want to drag yourself out of bed in the morning. That’s just not an option, especially if you’re actively chasing your dreams.
It will take time, but you have to find a way to let rejection roll off you. Yes, it will always hurt, but at least it won’t derail your day, your week, or longer. The more you believe in yourself, the easier it is to shake off rejection.
It’s also a good idea to learn the art of reframing, which is looking at the situation more objectively. For example, you might choose to take a rejection as a learning opportunity or a chance to work more closely on your screenplay rather than focusing on the pain.
Network, Network, Network
Another major component that could drive the success of your quest to become a hired screenwriter is networking. A lot of networking. You might even feel like networking has become your second job, but that’s okay.
If you’re uncomfortable with small talk or you don’t love the idea of peddling your screenplay to strangers, those are two things that will have to change, as you’ll do them both often. That class on perfecting your elevator pitch might be worth taking as you prepare to attend events, parties, and other social gatherings with the intent of networking.
Who are you looking to meet? Anyone in the industry, really. A fellow screenwriter could offer tips and advice, and they may be willing to introduce you to someone who can help you get your foot in the door. Screenwriting agents are others you want to meet, as are mentors, directors, and producers.
Now, like we mentioned in the section about searching for a mentor, you don’t want to shove your screenplay into the face of this stranger and hope they accept it. Instead, you have to talk to the person a little bit and see if they vibe with your type of work. If they do, then you might pitch your screenplay at that time, but it shouldn’t be the first thing you do.
You have to anticipate that not everyone will be interested, maybe not even most people. You’re not the only one out there networking after all, and Hollywood types can get jaded and tired of the same old spiel. Thus, even if there’s a great screenplay right in front of them, such as yours, they may sometimes miss the opportunity to jump at it.
This is a good time to remember the section about rejection and how you must learn to overcome it. Shake the person’s hand, thank them for their time, and move on with your day or evening.
Join a Screenwriting Group
As we said, you’re not the only screenwriter out there trying to make it big, so why not find your compatriots? Whether you meet these people by chance, at a class, or even on a Facebook group, the sense of camaraderie you will feel can make those tough days a little easier to get through.
Not only can a screenwriting group offer friendship, but countless learning opportunities as well. Your fellow screenwriters may share tips and advice on what they know, and you can do the same. As you tap into the wealth of knowledge of others, you could be turned onto new opportunities or people that may have otherwise alluded you.
Read Other Screenplays
Another useful aspect of being a part of a screenwriting group is the opportunity to read the screenplays of others. We wouldn’t recommend sharing your screenplay publicly as part of an online group or even emailing it to someone you don’t know well (you would hate for someone else to take undue credit for your work), but in-person exchanges are always a great idea.
Even outside of the group, you want to read as many screenplays as you can. Pour over the screenplays of professional writers whose work has gone on to become a major Hollywood blockbuster. Look at smaller-scale screenplays without as much success, too.
There’s a lot to take from each screenplay you read, such as what to do with your own writing and what not to do as well. Just make sure you’re not copying ideas and concepts that belong to others and you can get a lot of use reading screenplays.
Don’t Stop Writing
Between networking, participating in screenwriting groups, taking classes, and brushing up on screenwriting reading in your spare time, you can almost forget to do what brought you to the dance in the first place: writing!
Make sure that above all else, you’re taking time regularly to sit down and work on your screenplay. On some days, the words may pour right out of you, and on other days, you might struggle, but something is always better than nothing. If you’re feeling a particularly gnarly case of writer’s block, why not focus on editing instead? You can also step back and give yourself a break for a day or even a week.
By then, you should feel refreshed and ready to tackle work on your screenplay again.
Build a Strong Portfolio
If your screenplay is mostly written, it’s easy to feel like you have to keep picking at it forever. Since it’s not in the hands of any Hollywood executive yet, you can always make more changes to it. Thus, you’re never totally finished with it.
This isn’t the best attitude to have. The longer you work on something like a screenplay, the more flaws you might see with it, even if these are only perceived flaws. It’s sort of like staring at a picture of yourself for too long in that regard.
If you feel like your screenplay is in a mostly good place, then set it aside. This isn’t forever, by the way, just for now. You need a few pieces of written work to make your portfolio, so you must diversify your writing energy and resources.
It’s okay to go back to that original screenplay later. In fact, by the time you return to it, you may have learned a lot more that you can use to make the screenplay even better.
Keep at It
The quest to become a professional screenwriter is not an easy one. It’s a path fraught with rejection, difficulty, and doubt. The lows feel really low, but the highs are the best thing ever. If you find a mentor, you’ll be soaring on cloud nine for like a week. Should you win a fellowship, that positive energy will sustain you for months.
Still, there are going to be times when you’ll want to quit. You’ll feel frustrated and insecure and dejected. You’ll wonder is screenwriting is really the right career path for you.
If this is something that you know you want in your heart of hearts, then you have to let these moments pass. Every great screenwriter has experienced what you’re going through, but the difference between them and everyone else is they didn’t let a bit of rejection get them down for too long.
With the tips and advice presented to you in this guide, you now have a much better idea of what it takes to potentially get hired in Hollywood as a screenwriter. It certainly won’t be easy, but if you make it, it will be worth it. Best of luck!