You want to learn how to become a screenwriter, but every resource you find on screenwriting covers the same ground or is oddly confusing.

We’ve put together a complete step-by-step guide to screenwriting that teaches you how to become a screenwriter, how to find entertainment writer jobs in LA (and elsewhere), and how to sell your screenplay.

We also provide videos and resource posts on specific topics so that you gain deep knowledge and clarity on each concept. Let’s do it.

1

Getting Started

HOW TO BECOME A SCREENWRITER

Ch 1     How to Become a Screenwriter      Getting Started

1. What does a screenwriter do?

Your plan is to set out on the grand journey of becoming a successful screenwriter. The first thing you need to do is understand the career.

So what exactly does a screenwriter do?

SCREENWRITER DEFINITION

What does a screenwriter do?

A screenwriter is someone who writes content for a visual medium. This could be for feature films, television, documentaries, commercials, video games, music videos, online content, and educational material.

A screenwriter is paid to write scripts, screenplays, teleplays, AV scripts, and treatments that include strong concepts, coherent themes, well structured plots, and dynamic characters.

The main thing to remember is that the world is changing, and while film and television writing is the standard for professional screenwriters, many signs point toward other avenues that still need good screenwriting skills.

That doesn’t mean movies are dead, or that you should stab out your eyes lest you see yet another writing credit that does not belong to you.

Don't give up… we’re just getting started.

Ch 1     Getting Started      Study Scripts

2. Study other screenplays

The next thing you need to do is to read scripts. Study how your favorite screenwriters wrote your favorite produced scripts.

This is absolutely non-negotiable.

Watching movies will help you too, but screenwriting and directing are very different crafts, and while they are very much connected and inform one another, you have to start by hitting some balls off the tee.

If you want to read some great scripts, check out any of these posts below where we provide analysis and a free script PDF download for each:

How to Write Non-Linear: Pulp Fiction Analysis & Download →
How to Write Musicals: La Land Script Analysis & Download →
How to Write Animation: Shrek Script Analysis & Download →
How to Write Sitcoms: Seinfeld Script Analysis & Download →


Ch 1     Getting Started      Reading List

3. Read screenwriting books

To be a good screenwriter, it helps to be a relentless reader. This doesn’t mean you can’t have success with a lot of ambition, life experience, and perspective — but at the very least you need to read screenwriting books.

But don’t pick one book and follow it as gospel — mix and match.

You wouldn’t watch only Tarantino films to learn how to become a director, or only watch Lebron James to become a basketball player, right?

The best screenwriters understand filmmaking in general, and while it takes a different skill set to be a screenwriter versus a director, you will only benefit from having a holistic approach to filmmaking.

Wondering which screenwriting books are must-reads?

We’ve got you covered. The following screenwriting books will absolutely fast-track your progress as a screenwriter:

15 Best Screenwriting Books to Read in 2019 →
10 Best Filmmaking Books to Read in 2019 →
 

Ch 1     Getting Started      Script Formatting

4. Learn screenwriting format

This is a funny one. A lot of screenwriting guides have this step way too far down the list. I think this is a phenomenon unique to screenwriting.

No one tells you to start drilling for oil before you do a proper survey.

No one tells you to develop a prototype before you learn to code.

No one tells you to perform a few surgeries before you go to med school.

So why in God’s green earth would you start writing your scripts before you understand how to properly format a screenplay?

Screenwriting format explained

Screenplay formatting is relatively simple to learn. Once you understand the relationship between action lines, characters, dialogue, and scene headings you will have a much easier time writing your scripts.

What if you’re writing a music video, or a commercial, or some other form of screenwriting that will be hindered by narrative screenplay format?

That’s when you use an AV script template.

What’s an AV script?

This is where you create a document with a table — two columns — one for your audio, and one for the corresponding video. Hence ‘AV’ script.

AV scripts can be used for YouTube videos, political ads, anything really.

If you have yet to decide on a professional screenwriting software, why not try out StudioBinder’s free screenplay and AV script feature.

Our software guides you through the writing process and displays helpful formatting icons at the top of the script. These buttons will help you apply the appropriate margin and alignment for each line of text.

Click on the image below to read the full sample script:

Collaborate with your writing partners wherever, and whenever you like.

One key aspect of StudioBinder is it’s built-in pre-production tools.

If you plan on producing or directing a script, you can segue into production planning to create script breakdowns, schedules, shot lists, storyboards and call sheets.

If you want to learn how to professionally format screenplays and AV scripts, make sure to check out our screenwriting posts below (which also provide free templates to get started):

How to Format Professional Screenplays →
How to Create an AV Script [FREE AV Script Template] →
Sign Up for StudioBinder’s Free Screenwriting Software →
7 Best Script Writing Software for Professional Screenwriters →

2

Learn The Craft

HOW TO BECOME A SCREENWRITER

Ch 2     How to Become a Screenwriter      Learn the Craft

Learning the craft of screenwriting

You’ve learned how to format your script, which is great, because now you’ll be prepared to get your ideas down on the page in a professional manner that helps to sell your screenplays or various scripts.

Now it’s time to learn the scientific side of screenwriting, which is to say the proven elements that come together to make a piece of entertainment.

Let’s go through each step and use an original example along the way.

Ch 2     Learn the Craft      Concept

1. How to create a concept?

It feels good to get out of the frying pan and into the fire, so let’s move on to an important step in learning how to become a screenwriter...

Creating a story concept.

A big part of this is finding something you’re passionate about, and this can be as simple as analyzing films, shows, and any other form of entertainment that you love, and can’t wait to share with friends and peers.

Now start thinking about your similar ideas.

Free Video Master Class: How to Make a TV Show

You’ll notice how very few filmmakers and screenwriters jump from genre to genre, partly because they have established their career tone…

But also because they simply enjoy writing about a particular topic.

If you’re just building out your portfolio, mastery through repetition is the key. Every concept doesn’t need to become a 110 page screenplay.  

In fact, it may be better for you to start out with sketches or short films. They each require their own unique approach, but if you’re thinking about getting into running… you might not start off with a marathon.

If you want to learn how to become a screenwriter, write a ten page short film that has a strong concept that supports the medium of filmmaking.

I whipped up a mock screenplay to walk you through the process. 

Here’s the logline.

Screenwriting Concept Example

AFRAID OF THE DARK

A young boy, who is afraid of the dark, loses his favorite ball when it slips from his hand… and rolls into the basement.

This concept is a relatively strong short film.

Why?

  1. We have a ‘flawed’ character — the boy is afraid of the dark.
  2. He has a clear motivation — his favorite ball.
  3. There’s opportunity for change — overcoming his fear of the dark.

This concept intertwines both our plot and character arcs.

Click the image below to open up the full mock screenplay so that you can follow along with our examples as I walk you through action line and dialogue:

So if you need help developing your idea, drop everything and check out this essential Master Class on Developing a TV Series.

Even if your concept isn’t a TV series, these are universal takeaways that’ll help you build any concept for a piece of modern entertainment.

So check out the FREE 7 episode TV development masterclass to develop a compelling television show concept that can sell in Hollywood:  

Free TV Writing and Development Masterclass →

Ch 2     Learn the Craft      Themes

2. How do I establish theme?

Establishing the theme for your story concept is important because it keeps your content connected to a deeper message.

Every great story has at least one strong theme that is supported by the events, characters, locations, costumes, and every other story elements you introduce on the page. Agents and managers know this as well.

Remember our concept for our sample short, Afraid of the Dark?

Here is a refresher:

Screenwriting Concept Example

AFRAID OF THE DARK

A young boy, who is afraid of the dark, loses his favorite ball when it slips from his hand… and rolls into the basement.

What would be a good theme for this story?

How about courage? Bravery?

So our events, our character, our costumes — all of these things should somehow support our theme of bravery.

So how do you do it in your script?

With visual motifs:

Visual Motif in Film | StudioBinder

A motif is a recurring element that supports a project’s theme. Like how the roses in American Beauty represent lust.

So how do we create a motif around bravery?

Maybe the young boy wears a Knight costume while he plays.

Now the viewer understands that, while the boy is afraid of the basement, he values bravery so much that he dresses up like a Knight. This both motivates his character, but supports the overall theme.

Motifs add important layers of depth to any story. If you want to learn more about how to identify potential motifs and themes, check out this post:

What is a Motif in Film? Visual Motif Definition and Examples → 

Ch 2     Learn the Craft      Plot

3. Build plot and structure

Your script plot and structure are often directly tied to one another. Structure is important because it helps your story maintain a pace that allows you to tell a rich, full story that is also engaging.

Structure gets a bad rap, because people will often blame classic story structure for unoriginal plots and familiar storytelling.

You can always use Dan Harmon’s story circle:

Dan Harmon Story Circle | StudioBinder

Harmon’s story circle is actually rooted in a more classical framework. Joseph Campbell's “The Hero's Journey.” It is essential, so make sure to check it out.

The simple fact is that studios, producers, directors, agents — all of these professionals know that story structure is necessary for a script to sell.

3 Mistakes Screenwriter Make with Structure

To make sure your story has the right structure, you can use a story beat sheet, which will let you know when certain events should take place in your story, and to do this you can use a beat sheet template.

When an experienced producer opens a script for the first time, they will first flip to the last page. They are checking for the length of your script.

They will then flip to page 1, then to page 12-13, then flip to page 25, then to page 70, and then finally they will glance at the last few pages… 100-110.

And if they have gotten this far, the chances are they will read your script.

They are checking for structure, and if they find an area that has problems or is missing key story beats, they will cast judgment on your writing.

Now, what about your screenplay plot?

Screenwriting Plot Structure Masterclass

A plot is very simply the chain of events that occur in your story. A good example of a classic plot is the action film Die Hard.

People have sold entire script ideas as “Die Hard at ⎽⎽⎽⎽⎽⎽⎽⎽”.

They keep the strong plot of Die Hard, but they switch  up the settings, characters, and maybe even the theme to build a ‘new’ story.

If you need a FREE beat sheet template, or want to read more about Dan Harmon’s story circle and plots, check out these posts below:

How to Create the Perfect Beat Sheet [FREE Beat Sheet Template] →
How to Build a Story Using Dan Harmon’s Story Circle →
How to Build a Great Plot in Your Screenplay →

Ch 2     Learn the Craft      Characters

4. How do I develop characters?

Good characters make writing so much easier, and developing your characters will develop their traits, their trends, and their decisions.

Think of your favorite television character…

How would they respond if I were to call them an idiot?

You may love Jon Snow from Game of Thrones, or Frank Reynolds from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia — it doesn’t matter who you prefer.

You could probably write their response, because they are such well developed characters that you can almost predict their decisions.

Jon Snow would be humble, polite, and maybe a bit self righteous.

Frank Reynolds would draw his gun and tell me to ‘suck on this dirt bag!’

A Common Mistake When Developing Characters

When you develop a rich character, it makes writing fun. With each new line you write you build a new layer to the character.

What if you’re not sure which character to build in your script?

There are some classic character types that are great to call upon.

These are called character archetypes.

Character Archetypes | StudioBinder

What if you have a good character, but you need help building logical conflict that will take us on a journey with your characters?

One great technique is developing internal and external conflict.

For this, let’s look to our story example, Afraid of the Dark.

Our character, the young boy, loves to play with his favorite ball and fantasizes about being a Knight on a quest… but then he drops his ball.

There is external conflict — because he has lost his ball.

There is internal conflict — because he is afraid to retrieve it.

We want him to find his ball, but we also want him to overcome his fear, and the conflict in our character supports our theme of bravery.

If you need help developing characters, building conflict, and deciding on character archetypes, check out these posts on each subject:

8 Character Archetypes: Complete List & Examples →
Character Development [FREE Character Worksheet] →
How Internal and External Conflict Can Energize Your Story →

Ch 2     Learn the Craft      Action Lines

5. How do I write action lines?

Action lines are more important than dialogue.

How much?

I’d say somewhere around a 75/25 divide.

What occurs on screen is 75% of your story, whereas what your characters say to one another should normally be around 25% of your story.

Actions speak louder than words.

Your action lines should be in a descriptive, present tense:

The young boy runs around the corner, bumps into the wall. His favorite ball slips from his hand, tumbles down into the basement. He stares into the abyss. Sweat runs down his face. Mouth agape. Hands clenched.

You want to keep the reader engaged in the story while writing action lines that are clear and concise. You want to avoid ending verbs in ‘ing’.

“The young boy is running down the hall, bumping into the wall”.

It’s not that this is super confusing, but it makes it more difficult to jump from idea to idea. If you can write a clear action line in as few words as possible, you’re beginning to understand the concept of screenwriting.

Young boy turns the corner, bumps the wall. The ball slips, tumbles into the basement. Sweat drips down his face. Mouth agape. Hands clenched.

Does this mean you can’t write rich description and emotion in your actions? Not really… but this is the most debated concept in screenwriting.

What if you like Quentin Tarantino’s writing style?

If you want to see my take on Tarantino action lines using our sample scene from Afraid of the Dark, take a look at this screenplay below:

Is this better screenwriting when compared to our first example?

Meh… this is where you need to decide on your writing style.

If you want to learn more about writing exposition in your screenplays make sure to check out each of the fantastic resource posts below:

Christopher Nolan Screenwriting Tips and Strategies →
Coen Brothers Screenwriting Tips and Strategies →
How to Write Exposition in Your Screenplays →

Ch 2     Learn the Craft      Dialogue

6. How do I write dialogue?

As I said in the section above, dialogue should be one of the last things your put into your screenplays, and the best films are proof of this point.

You shouldn’t write a single line of dialogue until you’ve developed your concept, theme, characters, plot, settings, action lines, and story structure.

Let’s jump back to our example:

Our action is clear enough, we don’t need the young boy to say ‘my ball!’

We need dialogue that adds emotions, and some style to our story. In the last line of dialogue in this scene, the young boy references his desires.

We know he wants to be brave, but he is afraid of the dark, and the dialogue helps to support our theme.

I wrote a similar post to this one all about writing dialogue, and you can go through step-by-step and  audit the dialogue in your screenplay:

22 Essential Screenwriting Tips for Writing Better Movie Dialogue →

Ch 2     Learn the Craft      Scene Types

7. How do I write scene types?

There are big scenes in movies and shows that stump new screenwriters, and for good reason. They require good pacing but an understanding of the process the production team will have to go through to film them.

Some of these scenes include:

  • Montage
  • Fight Scenes
  • Chase Scenes
  • News Casts
  • Telephone 

These scenes are sometimes easy to write, but difficult to produce.

Every time you write a new scene heading, that is a location that you have to find and pay for. Crew parking, gear rentals, actors to pay, gas to buy, etc.

What about fight scenes?

How descriptive do they need to be?

How to Write Fight Scenes | StudioBinder

You also want these scenes to be fun to read, but clear enough that the reader (producer, agent, actor, director) can track the action.

You also want to make sure to build a story with your fight scene, so that the viewer can not only track the action, but also track the story.

How to Write Fight Scenes | StudioBinder

This is how you keep both a reader, and a viewer engaged.

If you want to learn even more, take a look at each of these posts that help to explain how to write a montage, a fight scene, and a car chase:

How to Write an Epic Fight Scene →
How to Write a Montage Like the Pros →
How to Write a Car Chase in a Screenplay →

3

BUILD Your Portfolio

HOW TO BECOME A SCREENWRITER

Ch 3    Create Your Portfolio      Preface

Create some work for your portfolio

School is out. No more theory. No more learning.

Now it is time to build your story, and to build it right. Make sure you do each of these steps in order. I wrote the first draft of a 110 page screenplay in two weeks because I followed these steps… in order.

Ch 3    Create Your Portfolio      Writing Schedule

1. Create a writing schedule

You want to write scripts and screenplays, but more than anything you want to write something that will actually be produced. Spending hours on a script that has no clear future seems like a hopeless errand.

Great… I have a 110 page story idea that I can show my dog.

What good is that?

There is a remedy to this feeling, and funny enough the solution is this screenwriting guide. I will never advise you to ‘just write’ as so many others will, because that is silly advice — unless writing is therapeutic.

Christine Conradt has been a professional screenwriter for nearly 20 years, and she has been a writer on over 60 produced projects.  

Professional Writing Schedule

Truly, you should write with a purpose toward a cohesive story, and you should create a writing schedule that helps your ideas progress.

Professional athletes go to the gym most days. They practice 5 days a week with their team or with a trainer. They relentlessly work on their craft.

If you want to be an olympic runner, you can’t ‘just run’ around the block.

You need to practice the events you hope to win, you need to build your game plan, improve your starting time off the blocks, lean forward when you finish, and pace yourself for long distance events.

Screenwriting is a career, so you will want to treat it as such if you want to gain success in the shortest amount of time — but don’t ‘just write’.

That will exhaust your creative energy, and it won’t help you become a more complete writer — it will only improve your typing skills.

If you ‘just write’ the time you spend staring at a blank page will balloon.

Write with a purpose, toward a good story, toward a screenwriting career.  

Now let’s listen to Quentin Tarantino talk about his process:

Quentin Tarantino on Screenwriting Process

Tarantino is a filmmaker, and because of that he isn’t thinking in terms or screenwriting for a career, he is rather thinking about building films.

He has an encyclopedic knowledge of films and techniques, so he’s done his homework, and when he writes he does so with a story in mind.

Tarantino writes so much the characters are part ‘in his blood’.

Not because he ‘just wrote’.

Check out this post on how to cure writer’s block:
How to Cure Writer’s Block: 23 Proven Ideas that Actually Work →

Ch 3    Create Your Portfolio      Logline

2. Write a logline

A logline is a 1-2 sentence long description of your story, and if often goes in the order of character, setting, plot, and maybe some style.

Remember our logline:

Screenwriting Concept Example

AFRAID OF THE DARK

A young boy, who is afraid of the dark, loses his favorite ball when it slips from his hand… and rolls into the basement.

This logline tells us everything we need to know about the script, and it does so in a way that gets us excited to see the story play out.

How to Write a Logline | StudioBinder

Need help writing your own logline? Check out this post below:

How to Write a Logline Producers Won’t Pass On [with Examples] →

Ch 3    Create Your Portfolio      Synopsis

3. Write a synopsis

A synopsis is an abridged description of the events in your story. A good synopsis is there to give a producer a clear idea on how the events in your script play out without them having to read through each line.

Writing compelling loglines and synopses are one of the ways you get your scripts past professional script readers, and into the hands of the decision makers. Your synopsis should fit onto a single page for a 110 page script.

Check out this post on how to write a synopsis:

Write a Movie Synopsis that Makes Readers Salivate →

Ch 3    Create Your Portfolio      Outlines

4. Write script outlines

A script outline is not really for producers, studios, and agents.

It’s for you… and the director, which may end up being you.

Script outlines are basically like beat sheets. They create a game plan for your writing and for your story. You know how each scene will inform the next, and because of this you can write a more complete story.

This may be the time when you decide on some important screenwriting devices, one of which is called ‘breaking the fourth wall’.

How to Break the Fourth Wall | StudioBinder

Check out this post on how to write a script outline:

How to Write a Script Outline for Film and TV [FREE Template] →

Ch 3    Create Your Portfolio      Treatment

5. Write a treatment

So, you know how you just created a script outline?

Now you need to build another one, but this one will be for producers, agents, studio executives, and others that may ‘buy’ an idea.

This is a called a treatment.

If a producer reads your logline, and your synopsis — they’re interested.

Now they want to see the complete game plan, but they don’t need every detail that will be important to you as a filmmaker or screenwriter.

So take the really important details, and build a treatment.

Check out this post on how to write a film treatment:

How to Write a Film Treatment Like the Pros [FREE Template] →

Ch 3    Create Your Portfolio      Spec Script

6. Write an original spec script

A speculative script is a story that you write with no commitment toward the eventual production of said script. This means that you are writing an original idea that you hope will sell to a production company or studio.

Spec scripts are important because they show your ability to complete an entire idea, and to show that you can be creative without a safety net.

Inside the Spec Script Market

The spec market has slowed over the past few decades, because studios and production companies have found statistics that suggest that IP (intellectual property) with built in fan bases have a higher success rate.

That’s why Sonic the Hedgehog and The Playmobil Movie are some of the ideas being produced today versus the best spec scripts.

Check out this post on how to write a spec script:

How to Write a Spec Script: The Complete Guide to Writing on Spec →

Ch 3    Create Your Portfolio      Sample Script

7. Write a sample spec script

A sample spec script is when you write a script for a show or property that already exists, which will allow a producer or representative to see if you have the ability to join a writer’s room for a television show.

6 Tips For Writing a Spec Script

Rarely will your sample script ever be produced, but it proves something that your original scripts will be unable to do. It proves that you can write on top of a story that already exists, and thus continue the collective vision.

Often, you will want to write a show that has aired in the last year-to-date, and this will allow you to use your sample script to apply to writing fellowships around Los Angeles and other entertainment hubs.

If you hope to submit to these fellowships, you will need to have at least two sample spec scripts of shows that ran in the last year-to-date.

Ch 3    Create Your Portfolio      Portfolio

8. Build a work portfolio

Now that you have written a few scripts, it’s time to build your portfolio.

What goes in your screenwriting portfolio?

Well… everything you just built during the steps up above. You should have an original spec script with a logline, synopsis, and a killer treatment.

Make sure to copyright your screenplay as well.

You should have two sample spec scripts with a logline, synopsis, and a treatment for each — along with some other important documents.

Build a cover letter that gives a brief look into your history, no more than a page or two, and it should be easy to read and pleasing to the eye.

If you have any professional connections in the film industry, you should buy them a bottle of wine or a gift card or something and ask them for a letter of recommendation as a screenwriter.

What if you don’t know anyone in the industry?

That’s okay — you will soon enough, but for now just gather all of the hard work you’ve done so far, and assemble it in a single, organized package.

Build a digital portfolio as well, and label your script files and folders in a clean, easy to read manner so that the recipients enjoy browsing through.

Check out this post on how to copyright your script:

How to Copyright a Script and Protect Your Screenplay →

Ch 3    Create Your Portfolio      Short Film

9. Produce a short film

Okay, so you’ve written a bunch of scripts and treatments and loglines and read screenwriting books and learned formatting, and yet you are no closer to your goals than you were when you started this guide.

Wrong… but that’s okay. Everyone lashes out a bit, but the fact that you are growing restless is good. It means you care about success.

Now it is time to get your hands dirty.

Go make a film. Make a short film. Rent a camera. Find a director and DP. Find actors in class or at a playhouse. Go make a short film, even if it’s bad.

Figure out how it feels to actually write, produce, and direct a film so that you can see how your script translates on screen.

This will make you a better screenwriter, but it will also give you the right amount of perspective and hopefully energize you into creating more.

Your best bet is to write and produce a short film.

Take a look at how StudioBinder makes production better:

Welcome to StudioBinder

You can take it to festivals and meet people, you can throw it up on YouTube. You can send it in your portfolio — especially if it is a proof of concept for an idea you’ve been writing and hope to sell.

Are you worried about your project’s budget? Are you unable to organize funds for your project? Financing a piece of entertainment is a pretty big risk, and it is almost always the things that slows or scuttles a project.

Need help writing a short film or finding money for your projects?

Check out this post on the best film grants:

The Ultimate Film Grants List for Every Filmmaker in 2019 →
How to Write a Short Film That Gets Noticed →

4

Commit To Your Career

HOW TO BECOME A SCREENWRITER

Ch 4    Commit To Your Career      Preface

Time to commit to something

You’ve done the leg work. You have a portfolio and you’ve read the books, done the research, you’ve maybe even made a short film.

Let’s go already.

Ch 4    Commit To Your Career      Writing School

1. Go to school for writing

Do you need to go to film school?

No… you don’t.

I went to film school, and I found great value in the experience, the instructors, the other students, and the opportunities that have come from my degree.

I’m not your accountant or financial advisor...

I won’t tell you to go to school or not to go to school, but the vast majority of successful filmmakers and writers went to some form of college.

They didn’t all go to film school, but many of them went to some form of higher education. They had ‘some form’ of film school.

I know literally hundreds of people who work in production and make really good money who never stepped foot in a film school.

More often these cats are grips, electricians, and assistant camera operators. 

Again, there are exceptions to the rule, and when you research popular filmmakers like Fincher and Tarantino who didn’t go to film school, you quickly realize they were still immersed in the filmmaking community. 

Check out this post on the best film schools:

21 Best Film Schools Every Filmmaker Needs to Look At →

Ch 4    Commit To Your Career      Major Market

2. Move to a major market

You may be here in the states. You may be in the UK. Maybe you live in France, or Canada, or India. The entertainment industry is not just in LA and New York, but most of the time it is in a big city or major market.

I grew up in the western United States, so I moved to LA. If you live in Racine, maybe move to Chicago. If you live in Buffalo, maybe move to New York City. If you live in Staines, maybe move to London.

Just move to a place where other people are thinking about film.

$53 Flights to Los Angeles, California (LAX) - TripAdvisor →

Ch 4    Commit To Your Career      Film Industry Jobs

3. Get a job in the film industry

When you research David Fincher, who technically isn’t a screenwriter, you will find that he worked in a dark room before getting a job at ILM.

Having a job in the film industry is the quickest and best way to meet professional filmmakers, screenwriters, and talent representatives.

It also is the best way to learn the craft of filmmaking.

You may be able to get a job as a script reader, which means you will need to understand how to perform proper script coverage.

Or you can be a PA on set, or in the production office:

Essential PA Duties | StudioBinder

Industry jobs aren’t there to train you to become a professional screenwriter, they are there to support the current productions.

This means that you will be putting in long hours on someone else’s creative vision, and often you will go home exhausted.

You may not have enough energy to keep up with your writing schedule.

Anger, jealousy, and doubt will reach deafening levels in your head.

But... you have to just keep going, keep working, keep to your schedule, make more films, and focus on your overall career goals.

Can you at least get low budget paid work as a screenwriter?

Yes, you can. You can write for digital channels or for companies doing industrial work or e-commerce. Change with the craft of screenwriting.

Check out this post on screenwriter salary:

Guide To Understanding Script Coverage (Free Template) →
Screenwriter Salary: How Much Do Screenwriters Make? →

Ch 4    Commit To Your Career      Writing Groups

4. Join a writing group

This is one of my favorite steps, because it is the most fun. You will want to find a serious group of screenwriters who are at a similar stage.

Join a group of people who are at a similar stage.

Screenwriting groups should be free, so if you find some random writers group on craigslist asking for an entry fee or something… skip it.

These groups should be a small, no more than a dozen people that get together twice a month (at least) to swap scripts so that you can give each other script notes, and collaborate when the occasion calls for it.

Here is an important point that people tend to neglect…

Learn to take script notes with grace.

Screenwriter Note Mistakes | Film Courage

People will give you bad notes, good notes, rude notes, sycophantic notes, useless notes, and notes that completely transform your ideas.

If you have a trustworthy writing group, most of the notes you will get will be, at the very least, honest. Regardless, you will want to develop the ability to listen to notes carefully, and write them down for later use.

Don’t interrupt notes to explain things, don’t get offended if someone doesn’t understand something, don’t trip out over an opinion.

Just listen, write them down, and then come back when you’re ready to look at your script with a calm, collected demeanor.

Check out this post on screenplay notes:

How Script Notes Can Improve Your Screenplay [With Example] →

Ch 4    Commit To Your Career      Rewrite Scripts

5. Rewrite your scripts

You have scripts you wrote a month ago, or maybe ever years ago. The ideas were always solid, because you know what makes a good story.

Look to add things to your story that support the medium of film:

Match Cuts | StudioBinder

Now you have new information, new notes, new techniques that you’ve learned. Go apply them to the script you have already written.

Screenwriters don’t make a living with first drafts…

They make a living with rewrites.

Ch 4    Commit To Your Career      Career Mentors

6. Find career mentors

If you’ve worked a few jobs in the entertainment industry or went to film school, you will probably know at least one person with a successful career in film production. Offer to take them out to dinner or drinks.

Show them that you’re interested.

Don’t ask for favors...

Ask them questions. Ask about their scripts or their projects. Listen to their stories, chat about film, have some opinions, but most of all just listen.

Listening is the most powerful tool for a career screenwriter.

Ch 4    Commit To Your Career      Stay Informed

7. Stay industry informed

This is one of those steps that some people really love, and others could do without. A lot of this comes down to strategy, but knowledge is never bad.

A big part of the entertainment industry is ‘the game’.

When you go to bars, parties, festivals, or dinners you will want to know a bit about the production companies and studios. You will want to know important names, and faces. You will want to stay informed.

Some of this will help you with your personal relationships.

Some of this will make you a stronger screenwriter.

Check out all of these posts on staying informed:

What is a Script Doctor? How to Become a Script Consultant in 2019 →
How to Find Award-Worthy Script Ideas from The Public Domain →
Teleplay vs Screenplay vs Script: Hacking the Hollywood Lingo →
The 12 Best Filmmaking and Screenwriting Podcasts of 2019 →
The 75 Best Movie Tagline Examples And Why They Work →
12 Best Screenwriting Websites to Level Up Your Writing →

Ch 4    Commit To Your Career      Network

8. Never eat alone

Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi is basically a self-help book on steroids that explains marketing strategies and tips for professional relationships.

The book is titled, Never Eat Alone because its core message is that you should focus on building strong personal relationships at all times.

Keith Ferazzi | Never Eat Alone

The reason that so many whack movies and shows are produced every year is because people with very little shame and perspective also happen to be the most extroverted, and this leads to them taking more chances.

They build personal relationships rather than hone their craft, so what you get is a professionally made film that looks okay… but has a terrible story.

Be a craftsman who also accrues social skills.

Try and split the difference.

5

Put Yourself Out There

HOW TO BECOME A SCREENWRITER

Ch 5    Put Yourself Out There      Screenwriting Contests

1. Submit to screenwriting contests

Alright, we’re in the final rounds of how to become a screenwriter.

Maybe you’ve taken one or two on the chin.

Maybe you’re down a few points.

Start swinging dawg.

How do you go about this?

Submit to The Blacklist

The Blacklist is a list of the best unproduced scripts. You can host your script on their website for around $25 a month, and pay for professional readers to review your script and give them a numerical rating.

If you get enough good ratings, your script will go up on The Blacklist.

Submit to Fellowships

Fellowships are screenwriting programs that certain networks and studios created to find talented writers so that they can groom them for later years.

These are highly competitive, and most require you to have an original spec script, two sample spec scripts, and a few recommendation letters.

Submit to Contests & Festivals

Screenwriting contests and festivals are often judged by agents, producers, and other professionals in the world of filmmaking.

Most have an entry fee, so my advice to you would be to research the scripts that won in the previous years.

If you wrote a romantic comedy, and the contest you want to enter gave last year’s first prize to a sci-fi thriller, you may want to submit elsewhere.

Need a list of screenwriting contests?

Check out this post on screenwriting contests:

12 Best Screenwriting Contests You Need to Enter Now →

Ch 5    Put Yourself Out There      Submit Scripts

2. Send your script out strategically

If you think your script is ready to be seen by actors, directors, producers, and others in the entertainment industry — send it out.

Avoid gimmicks or long emails asking for a chance or a break.

One way to do this is to find production companies that accept unsolicited material, meaning you don’t need a reference to send your script.

How to Get a Script Read

The biggest companies and agencies don’t accept unsolicited material, partly for legal reasons, but also because they would be inundated with a tsunami of bad scripts and screenwriters looking for a ‘break’.

There is will power. There is hard work. There is even nepotism.

There is no such thing as a ‘break’ in screenwriting.

Breaks are for Kit-Kat bars.

Ch 5    Put Yourself Out There      Agents and Managers

3. Secure an agent and manager

You may be wondering why this step didn’t come earlier.

Agents are helpful for professional screenwriters, but until you have a script with momentum and some established value inside the entertainment industry  — they won’t be able to help you all that much.

When submitting, you will also want to prepare a submission release form that, if you can, is looked at by an attorney. Protect yourself and others legally with well prepared documents that can be enforceable.

Managers are a bit more helpful toward building careers, but the most important thing to remember is that managers have a list of clients.

Submitting a Screenplay

They have two dozen writers to worry about, whereas you only have yourself to worry about. Don’t be the person who thinks that all you need is a good rep for your life to change, because that is not the answer.

Make some short films. Write screenplays. Make a manager come to you.

You can send screenplays to managers that accept unsolicited material, and even send to ones that you’re unsure about — but the most powerful tool to finding a working talent rep is by having established momentum.

Ch 5    Put Yourself Out There      Sell a Screenplay

4. How to sell a screenplay

We’ve made it to the final step of this guide, and by far the most vexing.

Fact is that people sell screenplays all the time, and some will even sell dozens of screenplays across their careers… maybe even hundreds.

The best path to green-light a script is to attach a name. This could be an actor, or a director, or even a social media influencer. Try to build a unique aura around your script, and make it more marketable.

Writing a Marketable Screenplay

You want to sell your screenplay right?

It is fair to assume you want ‘money people’ to buy or finance your story, so start speaking their language. The language of marketing and finances.

You don’t have to become a banker, but try to find why your script will make money for the investors, and really lean on that point.

How to Pitch a TV Idea | StudioBinder

Even if you get someone to attach their name to a project, and then they drop out, that means you were able to generate momentum.

If you have a manager or agent, bring them your marketing ideas.

Tag team the script selling process.

Be active.

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