How Screenwriters Can Work In The Film Business
I was recently asked for advice on how screenwriters can break into the entertainment industry. My experience has mostly been in Los Angeles, but I believe that the following tips can be applied to wherever you are located. The notes will especially focus on screenwriting and producing, which are my background and experience.
Firstly and important to any endeavor in life: Know what you want.
Writer, producer, actor, director, etc. Then work out a path towards that. Ignore the doubters and naysayers. They know less than they think. And especially ignore any dark whispers within yourself. Embrace the uncertainty because all you know is that you’ll never reach your career destination in a straight line
Understand that you are at the bottom.
People don’t need you. You haven’t developed any great skills, have little experience. Most people in the industry will be nice to you, but you have to prove yourself and give good service and value to players in the business. Make them like, respect and need you. Earn it. But first, you need to get in the door to get experience, to prove yourself and to make contacts.
Get into the film biz.
At the bottom is often the best place to start because you can learn so much. Be a script reader, runner, assistant, PA, coffee maker, driver; whatever it takes to get in and that can lead to where you want to go. Perhaps you’ve done a course in the field you want to enter. Say, a course on script analysis, so that when you apply for work as a screenplay reader you will have script coverage samples to show and “experience” to brag of.
Hit on all your friends, family, and contacts to get in the door.
Cold call or write to production companies. To develop contacts in the biz, a good way is to ask players for advice. Help the people in the film and TV biz who you want to help you. Offer your services before you ask them for theirs.
Work for free.
Yes, working for free at the start is fine and a great way to get work that will teach you skills and maybe even get you credits. Look for and do internships. If you are good, you will be noticed and may earn a full-time job. I stress: Internships are a great way to get in, perhaps the best after a personal recommendation from a player. When you get in, make contacts, impress people, work damn hard, do the hard or boring jobs, ask people how you can help them. Be a mensch. Don’t talk politics or trash. Always be positive about the product you are helping to create. Be passionate.
Learn all aspects of the biz.
Knowledge is confidence, power and skill building, and it will make you look a pro who can be trusted. You have to learn the talk, know your stuff. *Study thy craft. There are books and articles to read, old timers to quiz. Shoots to watch.
Write knock out stories.
As a writer, read classic plays and novels. Classic storytellers are so much better writers than the screenwriters of today. Study the true classics. Have you read Hugo, Ibsen, Rattigan, Dumas, Sabatini, Fleming, and other master storytellers? I think the best book on fiction writing is Ayn Rand’s The Art of Fiction, especially the chapter on Plot-Theme.
Get a great editor to story edit your movie scripts.
No new writer can be objective; get help from a pro.
Selling your scripts, you have two main options:
Get an agent, manager or lawyer to represent you and your work or go directly to companies/broadcasters and pitch yourself. It’s hard, but you will have to learn the business end of things. But first, get the story/script finished! Then develop your pitching materials such as your bio, pitch letter, one-page synopsis, and a brilliant logline (1-2 sentences only) and go at it to production companies, etc. But do NOT submit unless your script is FINISHED, as judged by experts, not yourself. (I repeat: It’s very hard to be objective about your own writing!)
For who to pitch your scripts to, search IMDB pro and the internet for the best companies for your type of stories.
Then send them a knockout pitch letter (never the script itself). Be patient in silence, gracious in failure, thankful in success. (You can often find agents online, to get their email addresses, but the best way to get an agent is by a referral from a pro or through some success like a possible sale or contest win.)
Build a resume. Have a page on IMDB. Look out for amateurs and bs artists. Check their credits or writings. And beware of some “experts.” Develop your own philosophy and style but keep an open (active) mind to the ideas of others.
Don’t forget the people who helped you and build a network of good people.
Stay in touch. Don’t just hit on people then run if they don’t help you. If you say you are gonna do something, do it. Be trustworthy and respectful. Good people notice good people. And always remember that pros are very busy.
It’s a tough biz but a great one that respects and wants talent. Believe in yourself and that your work and life are important. Take pride in your work and character. Most people won’t care but you must! Reputation counts. When discouraged, read a good story and study Kipling’s poem If. When successful, remember that once you weren’t but do enjoy your work and achievement. May you have a long, satisfying and productive career in the film and TV business.