With the exponential rise in video content, movies, and TV shows being produced every year, it’s hardly surprising that a career in screenwriting has become more popular (and viable) over the years. Every year, hundreds of thousands of scripts are written by aspiring writers hoping to burst onto the scene.
But how do you make sure that your script doesn’t stay locked in a dusty drawer never to see the light of day? Is it really that hard to become a professional screenwriter?
With the rise of technology, accessibility of tools, and easier remote collaboration, becoming a professional screenwriter has become a more tangible reality for many would-be writers.
Thanks to the proliferation of creative technology and remote work, you no longer need to live in the heart of Hollywood or have an established agent or manager in order to turn your projects into realities.
But where do you start and how hard is it to follow the path to screenwriting success?
Let’s find out more:
But first, make sure you are writing your scripts in a professional, Hollywood standard format. You know what they say, fake it until you make it!
How Do I Become a Great Screenwriter?
Unfortunately there is no one, singular defining quality you need to become a great screenwriter. Rather, success is achieved through a combination of well-developed skillsets and communicating with like-minded folks within the industry. To up your game, here are some things you can do along the way to develop your skills as a writer and industry player:
1. Build Resilience
One thing you’re absolutely guaranteed to experience along the way is rejection, and like many of us, there will be a healthy dose of it on the road to success. Here’s the important thing to keep in mind: it’s not personal. Take each submission or conversation as an opportunity to grow and take any criticism constructively. Each and every failure helps us succeed when we use them as learning opportunities.
2. Know the Craft
Write write write. Practice practice practice. It’s no use writing a screenplay, then sending it out straight away. You need to hone your skills! Make sure you understand screenwriting fundamentals and the expectations surrounding formatting and story structure.
Rewriting is an organic part of the process, and you’ll need to grow comfortable with returning to your script over and over to polish them and improve them as much as possible before anyone with a checkbook reads it.
3. Stay Up-to-Date
The film and television industries are ever-evolving beasts; there’s no one-and-done curriculum. Ensure you keep up to date with film releases, studio deals, top podcast and newsletters, major industry events, and market trends so that you can stay firmly in-the-know and be part of the conversation.
4. Develop a Network
Screenwriting can be a lonely job, but entertainment (and more specifically script development and film production) are a peoples’ industry. An essentual part of your growth as both a writer and a member of the creative community is reaching out to other writers, producers, and directors to find or create your community.
This is different from trying to sell your script or rub elbows with the big-wigs; this is a collective of like-minded people to talk about movies with, share ideas, and hear about what people are working on.
Only through building strong relationships and friendships will you find opportunities and prospects. Maybe you’ll work with some of these people, or perhaps they’ll introduce you to a producer they know. The point is you don’t know where these connections might go, so foster as many meaningful relationships as you can.
Recommended Reading: 5 Key Differences Between a Producer and Director
The film and TV industries are filled with people wanting to help, but you need to work with them and collaborate. A rising tide lifts all boats in the movie business.
Can a Screenwriter Live Anywhere?
Modern technology is a wondrous thing; we can contact anyone, anywhere in the world via our computers or phones. Video calling, email, and even script collaboration tools have been made possible by hardware and software that is now more accessible than it’s ever been.
In other words, yes, a screenwriter can theoretically live anywhere and become a professional. As long as you have a working laptop, a good internet connection, and access to screenwriting software (preferably with strong collaboration capabilities like Celtx), you can get your script made from anywhere.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that Hollywood isn’t the only place you can sell your script to. You may be more interested in indie films, or if you live outside the US, contributing to your own country’s film or TV projects. Research, see what’s out there, and what makes you as a writer tick. Chances are there will be more opportunities closer to home than you realize!
Do Screenwriters Need Managers?
We’ve already discussed how important building your network is as a screenwriter. Once you have your circle of other creatives, don’t stop networking! Continue reaching out to others and expanding your reach since word-of-mouth is one of the surest paths to success.
That said, those with a natural knack for networking may not have to rely on the connections of a manager; after all, managers are not essential to selling or negotiating scripts so much as they can be very helpful in identifying the right connections and bridging those gap.
However if you struggle with networking, a manager may be just what you need! They can be an invaluable resource in getting your script exposed to the right people, especially since most serious companies will not read unsolicited scripts written by independent writers. With a manager on board, you immediately have your foot in the door at some of the biggest filmmaking companies around.
Hang on a second . . . are managers and agents the same thing? Not necessarily, even though they often have the same goals, the key difference is that agents are more focused on sales and selling your script is their main goal. A manager, on the other hand, tends to focus more on reading scripts and representing you as a writer, a longer-term investment in your career development.
It mostly depends on what you, personally, need most. Plus, agents tend to find you. If a producer is interested in your work, an agent is more likely to pop up on your radar. To begin with, a small literary manager can be very helpful in kickstarting your representation journey and supporting your network growth.
But don’t forget: before you even consider bringing a manager or agent on board, you must hone your writing skills. Writing first, manager or agent second.
Where Should I Start?
More and more opportunities arise for writers at every level every single year. Ensure you know what they are, where to find them, and which ones you are most interested in. For example, screenplay competitions, work experience in scripts and courses can give you a real insight into what’s happening within the industry and in screenwriting itself.
Social media is a fun and casual place to go to meet and chat with other writers and filmmakers. Join in the conversation, post your favorite film quotes, opinions, and snippets of your work.
Be heard but remember if you want to become a professional writer, be professional. Show your personality but be always mindful of what you’re posting and how you’re coming across.
Keep writing. Don’t stop polishing your work. Read screenwriting books and reputable articles to keep yourself up to date and learn from other writers and industry experts.
But most importantly, follow your own career path. After all, no two screenwriting careers are the same. Find your voice, use it, and keep developing it. Be heard and make sure to network and build relationships within the industry and the people around you; you never know what (or who) is around the corner.
Ready to try your hand at becoming a professional screenwriter? If so, sign up for a Celtx account now and you’ll get our Screenwriting Editor for free!