Home Industry 10 Essential Tips for Landing a Job in Screenwriting

10 Essential Tips for Landing a Job in Screenwriting

by Natasha Ferguson

You’ve decided that screenwriting is your calling.

You may have written a script or two, and had positive feedback on your work. But now you want more, to further accelerate your career. You are eager to become a professional screenwriter, right?

But how do you make that happen? Is it hard to get a job in screenwriting? How do you get your foot in the door? Well, let’s dive in with our ten top tips on how to get a screenwriting job!

1. Learn Your Craft

Scriptwriting is a balance between creativity and format. In order to become a master at screenwriting, you’ll need to hone both elements. So how do you do that?

Screenwriting books can be a great resource for writers who are just starting out and those more experienced. Some great examples are Blake Synder’s “Save the Cat”, Syd Field’s “Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting” and Lajos Egri’s “The Art of Dramatic Writing”.

These books will outline the theoretical and structural aspects of writing a screenplay. They’ll even include suggestions and examples of famous scripts that have used particular writing techniques.

So, what exactly will these books talk about? From plot, character, structure, formatting, theme, tone and dialogue, some will cover a broad range of topics, whilst others will focus on just one. Think Robert McKee’s “Dialogue” for example.

A word of warning: there are a wealth of screenwriting books on the market. It will be impossible for you to absorb all the advice, so apply what makes sense to you as you go. Don’t follow just one screenwriting book, either. Take what you need from each one you read.

Another way to learn your craft is to read other screenplays and study the techniques and structures of each. Ask yourself what works and what doesn’t, and why! Watch movies and TV shows, but by reading the scripts, you’ll understand how it was written.

Each screenwriter has their own flair, so don’t be tempted to replicate someone else’s writing style completely. You’ll develop your own over time.

Correct formatting is a must when writing a screenplay. It’s a screenwriter’s bread and butter, and it is crucial that you learn the basics of how to format a script early on. This includes ensuring your scene headings, action lines, characters and dialogue are in the correct place.

Why is formatting so important? Essentially, when you write a screenplay, it’s the blueprint for a film or television show. Many other people within the film industry will be creatively working to bring the vision of the script to life, from directors to editors, sound engineers and costume designers.

It’s vital they all can understand what is going on in the script, so the collective vision of the project can truly be realized on screen.

Need to brush up on your formatting skills? Take a look at our article, “How to Format a Script”!

2. Know the Business

Like all industries, film is a business.

We’ve already discussed how it’s also a collaborative business with many people’s interests in one project. Unlike novels, short stories and poetry, screenplays are not written by one person and then published.

Until you have networked and found a producer or agent to help you push your script to the next level, you’ll need to take action yourself to familiarize yourself with the industry. Now, this doesn’t have to necessarily be the film industry in Hollywood, but wherever you live.

Read trade publications, which are so much more readily available nowadays online. Make sure you know who the key players are in your area, and know how you can connect with them. You’ll need to learn to represent yourself the best you can when you communicate with executives.

Each production studio and company will have their own niches, so ensure you brush up on what these are. Of course, you won’t be able to research all of them, but work out which executives will be the best fit for your projects. These will be the people to talk to. It is vital to understand that your scripts won’t suit everyone in the industry, and that’s ok!

Not all interactions will have a positive outcome, but be consistent and professional. The more likeable and passionate you are, the more the industry will open up to you.

3. Develop A Portfolio

Just one script is not going to help you break into the industry. Make sure you have at least two to three completed projects that are ready to go.

When it comes to sending out your scripts, you won’t be able to send the entire thing. Executives are sent hundreds, if not thousands, of scripts every year. So, it is important to catch their attention with supporting documents.

A logline, short synopsis, and a treatment are the three main documents you’ll need, alongside a brief cover letter detailing your writing experience.

Make sure this set of documents is updated regularly, so you can send it at a moment’s notice with little fuss.

An online portfolio is also a great way for people to see your work. There are many free websites you can use to do this or create your own!

4. Build Connections

Networking will be a key aspect of your growing screenwriting career. Growing a circle of other writers around you, as well as people from all areas of the film industry, will help you not only find colleagues but potentially find your way into having your script produced.

Finding people with the same passions and goals as you is always refreshing, but when you can truly support each other’s careers and endeavours, that is where the real magic happens.

5. Take Classes

Over the past few years, the number of courses and classes on screenwriting has completely exploded. So, you should research thoroughly if you are looking to take a screenwriting class of any kind. Look for the content, testimonials, and statistics.

It isn’t essential for writers to have a graduate degree in screenwriting, but it certainly can be beneficial. You’d usually apply to film school for such a course. Check out our article on whether film school is worth it here.

However, no matter how you learn about the intricacies of screenwriting, never stop learning! You will be honing your skills for the rest of your writing life, so start strong.

6. Be in the Center of the Action

There are several meanings to this tip. One is to move to where the action is. For example, if you’re in the US, move to Los Angeles, the heart of America’s film industry.

Alternatively, if this isn’t feasible for you, social media can be your best friend. Join online screenwriter groups, and engage with your fellow writers and filmmakers on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or even on forums.

The more you put yourself out there and have a voice within the community, the more people in the industry you’ll connect with. From there, you never know what could happen: a writing partnership, collaboration, or a script option. The possibilities are endless.

7. Work in the Film Industry

At this point, we’re not necessarily looking at writing roles. Any role within the film industry can be a fantastic path toward your long-term goals.

Simply by showcasing a great attitude and aptitude in an assistant role can get you noticed by those more established. Again, it is also a networking opportunity to meet other writers and filmmakers in the same boat as you.

Remember, you don’t just want to connect with the top dogs, but with your peers.

8. Enter Competitions

Once you have your first script as perfect as possible (remember those rewrites), then it’s potentially time to consider entering it into a competition.

Screenwriting contests and competitions take place all year round and internationally, so there are bountiful opportunities for you to get your work seen all over the world.

There is a knack to entering these competitions that you’ll need to be aware of. Almost all of them will have varying entry fees attached, so make sure you do your research into them first to see which would be the best fit for your script.

Some competitions will be general ones, whilst others will be genre or even format specific, for example, Short Horror Films or Feature Films only.

But where do you find this exhaustive list of competitions? Set accounts up on both Film Freeway and Coverfly, both industry-standard platforms for screenwriters. Fill out both profiles as fully as you can and keep them updated; other writers and even executives can view them and your scripts.

9. Sell Your Screenplays

Screenplays are sold more often than you may think. If this is the route you are determined to go down and let’s face it, it is the ultimate end goal, then there are key steps you’ll need to take.

The ‘why’ of your script is an important consideration for any financiers or producers. Take some time to understand why they should buy not just the script, but the story. On the back of that, consider what is going to make the money for the investors.

Film is a business when it comes to it, so money is going to be foremost in any executive’s mind. Will they make a profit?

Now, some may say that you need an agent or a manager to sell a screenplay, and this isn’t always the case. You are the one who knows your script inside out, so be the one in the know and the best at promoting it.

If you are determined to secure representation, then check out how to get a screenwriting agent the right way by reading our post here.

10. Gain Experience

Experience is your friend when it comes to forging a screenwriting career. Prepare yourself for a rollercoaster of more “no” rather than “yes”. Rejection comes with the territory, so be resilient. Overnight success is extremely rare, so expect to be plugging away for many years.

But it’s worth it!

Every experience you encounter, whether positive or negative, will help you in your own journey. Each writer’s journey is unique, so relish it, enjoy it, put yourself out there, and keep learning.

We hope these tips have given you a good idea of where you can begin in securing a job as a screenwriter. As you can see, there is no right way to go about it, with tons of routes to choose from.

We won’t pretend that it’ll be an easy ride, but it is certainly a rewarding one. Good luck!

Author

  • Natasha Ferguson

    Natasha is a UK-based freelance screenwriter and script editor with a love for sci-fi. In 2022 she recently placed in the Screenwriters' Network Short Film Screenplay Competition and the Golden Short Film Festivals. When not at her desk, you'll find her at the theater, or walking around the English countryside (even in the notorious British weather)

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