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10 Things Smart Writers Do To Build A Screenwriting Career

 

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August 25, 2014 8 comments
Screenwriting Career Hollywood

Building a successful screenwriting career is determined by two primary factors: perseverance and pure, dumb luck. As we have no control over the latter, let’s concentrate on the former, and how to best stack the deck in your favor. 

The following list is in no particular order…

1. The 10,000 Hour Rule

By this time, most people are familiar with sociologist/author Malcolm Gladwell’s theory of the 10,000 hour rule.

The 10,000 hour rule clearly states:

“In order for an individual to master anything, he or she must devote a minimum of 10,000 hours of practice, study and application to the discipline in question.”

What does this mean for you? It’s very simple: writers write. Every day.

If you want a screenwriting career, you have to start writing multiple screenplays. I won’t lie: your first few will be AWFUL. And we mean, so bad, you won’t even want to show your mother, much less Christopher Nolan. Let’s look at how to get yourself to that place where Mr. Nolan will be coming to YOU.

2. Move To LA

While it’s no longer an absolute necessity to live in Hollywood in order to forge a screenwriter career, it’s still highly recommended. But the long and short of it is — yes, you can start a screenwriting career from out of state or from abroad. But it is harder.

If you choose to stay away from Hollywood, (or are forced to) bear in mind that you will be required to travel to Los Angeles on a fairly frequent basis to take meetings with all those execs who want to meet you face to face.

Here are 4 bad reasons screenwriters give for not moving to LA (and why you should ignore them). Moving here, though, is hands-down one of the best things you could do to help your screenwriting career.

3. Break Down Movies. Relentlessly

screenwriting career

See as many films as you can. See them multiple times. Study them. Break them down. Analyze them. In short, learn how to write a screenplay. Learn what makes their scenes great, and then apply whatever it is to your own scenes.

There are dozens of screenwriting books that will help you with this and help you understand the relationship between character and plot, for example.

There is also the so-called “Spielberg List,” which contains the titles of all the films Steven Spielberg requires people to have seen before they can work with him (although Snopes has proven this fact to be more myth than truth.) Regardless, it’s an amazing list of some of cinema’s finest work. Google it.

4. Read, Read, Read Screenplays

In addition, forgive me for pointing out the obvious, but read screenplays people! Many of the greatest screenplays have been published, including the works of William Goldman, Robert Towne, and Quentin Tarantino. Also, many are available for download as PDFs on sites like Don Boose’s site Simply Scripts.

Again, Google is a very useful tool here, but we’ve made things easier for you by creating 50 of the best screenplays to download and read in every genre. We also recommend you read show biz biographies and autobiographies to become more familiar with the business and the people who helped shape it.

Best Screenplays To Read

5. Gain Representation

In show biz, you’re as good as your manager and/or agent. Period. The catch-22 of this is that many of these invaluable cheerleaders of you and your genius won’t represent you until you don’t actually need them (i.e., when you’ve already made it.)

Then again, it’s really tough to make it without them. That said, how do you get a representative with some juice in Hollywood to take an interest in you and your work? The days of finding representation via query letter are pretty much over, but some writers still find success through this route.

You could try make targeted inquiries to agents and managers and we have created the ultimate guide to getting an agent or manager which you should definitely check out. Most agents and managers, however, are secured via…

6. …That Dirty Word – “Networking”

screenwriting resources
Yes, screenwriters tend to be on the shy/introverted, downright anti-social side, but if this is you, you’re going to need to get over it. You’re going to have to go out there, press the flesh, smile, make nice and meet the right people to further your career.

By the “right people,” we mean people who have contacts and resources that you don’t. Without these, you will have a much harder time moving up the ladder in Hollywood.

Try to think of it more as “socializing” and “helping people out” rather than networking. Our screenwriting friend, Joseph Farruggia, has some great points on this in #7 below!

7. Enter 3 to 5 Screenwriting Contests

Another way to gain representation is via placing in the top 5 of some of the best screenwriting contests. Every year, it seems a different writing contest or film festival is born. Festivals often have screenwriting competitions associated with their film programs.

The best screenwriting contests have literally made some writers’ careers. The most famous of these is The Nicholl Fellowships, run by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. This is the best of the best and viewed as a ticket to the big-time for its winners. Also, Final Draft’s Big Break is another major contest that has made many a screenwriter career.

Some second tier contests include The Page Awards, The Creative World Awards, The Blue Cat Competition, and Scriptapalooza. Film festival competitions that carry some weight include: Slamdance, Austin Film Festival, Cinequest, and The Atlanta Film Festival.

Check out our screenwriters’ calendar to keep fully up to date with all the contests and fellowships out there during the year.

The bottom line: get your work read by as many people as possible and get it noticed.

best screenplays to read

8. Join Writing Groups

Another thing you should be doing in order to network is joining (or forming) a writer’s group. Gather a small group (5-10 people max) of smart, diverse-minded writers who meet weekly, bi-weekly or monthly to read and critique each other’s work.

Not only will this give you an objective eye, it will keep you disciplined to write regularly. Finding the right group with the right chemistry is important, however, so don’t settle for the first one you find if it’s not quite working for you.

9. (If You’re Under 30 & Have The Cash) Consider Going To Film School

screenwriting career

You don’t have to attend one of the 6 screenwriting courses we recommend to become a screenwriter and/or filmmaker. Some of the biggest names in Hollywood haven’t.

However, if you want to stack the deck in your favor, stamp yourself with a credential that will make you stand out from the pack, then film school is step one on your journey, particularly if you’re under 30. Brand name does matter. The top schools: USC, UCLA, NYU, AFI, UT Austin, Northwestern, and Columbia (to name a few) are brutally competitive to get into.

Most major colleges and universities now have some sort of film curriculum either as liberal arts studies or as outright majors. If you’re serious about screenwriting, study it. Seriously.

10. Never Give Up (Unless You’re Not Having Fun Anymore)

As we said in the beginning, success in show biz (and in most things, really) is a combination of perseverance and pure, dumb luck. If you want a successful screenwriting career you must keep swinging the bat and every pitch that’s thrown your way.

Odds are, not only will you eventually connect, but you might even hit a home run with bases loaded. Most screenwriters (and actors, directors, producers, etc.) spent decades trying to “make it” before getting their big break.

If you choose show business as your life, then you must give your life over to it, oftentimes sacrificing things that those sane people who’ve chosen “normal” professions take for granted. But for the strong of heart, mind and spirit, the rewards can not only be high, but limitless.

For some great info on all of this read Getting It Write by Lee Jessup, if you haven’t done so already.

Best Screenplays To Read

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Alex Simon is an award-winning screenwriter who has had seven screenplays produced and was Editor of Venice Magazine, LA’s oldest arts and entertainment publication, where he logged over 500 interviews with the biggest names in Hollywood. You can visit his website at www.thehollywoodinterview.com

What steps have you taken to further your screenwriter career? Are there any above you disagree with? Or think we’ve missed out? Leave your points in the comments section below! 

8 Comments
  1. Gregory says:

    I wish I was a writer but sadly have to face my music and reazile I’m just not that creative or articulate! So with pleasure I look forward to reading more about this festival and the world of a writer. Your world ultimately becomes ours, the reader, so for that I support you and your other writer friends and hope you do indeed support each other.

  2. Yusuf Umar says:

    I have been involved with students for over fifteen year’s, that is student’s studying both theatre, film and television production’s and I believe getting involve with your medium will enhance a lot of development when it comes to writing script for the screen. Here, I would like to suggest that, it would be of help if you can e-mailing to our boxes some of the script’s you think will be of importance to some of us who are involve with student’s. I highly much commend you for opening this medium.

    1. SRP says:

      Hey Yusuf, thanks for the kind words. Here’s a few great, underrated scripts to start with. http://www.scriptreaderpro.com/movie-scripts-2/

  3. John Carey says:

    I formed Screenwriting Tribe in Santa Monica last summer. It’s going good. Over 100 people have joined the MeetUp page. We have a workshop almost every Sunday evening with 7 to 15 people attending. People keep returning for more. It’s donation only ($1 to $5 suggested to cover expenses). The variety of scripts people are working on is impressive. We meet in the private back room of a coffee house. At each workshop we read out loud and give feedback on 12 pages from 4 different scripts written by people in attendance. Union actors are also welcome to attend and help read the pages – which gives actors the chance to practice cold-reading skills while also learning about screenwriting. Having a copy of “The Screenwriter’s Bible” is strongly encouraged, as is doing homework by reading a variety of screenwriting books, including “Your Screenplay Sucks,” watching YouTube videos about screenwriting, and reading articles about screenwriting. Yes, joining or forming a screenwriting group with a diverse group of people determined to improve their script writing is a good thing for a variety of reasons – including getting feedback, bouncing ideas, sharpening screenwriting skills, polishing scripts, getting used to discussing your scripts in front of people, hearing people read your scripts out loud, receiving some written notes on your script pages, networking with likeminded people, and not being an isolated screenwriter. People who repeatedly attend and do their homework absolutely improve their scripts, which is a good to experience, and one goal of the group. I started a FaceBook page for Screenwriting Tribe, which people are beginning to join.

    1. SRP says:

      Sounds great, John. THIS is what more aspiring screenwriters should be doing – getting out there, joining writing groups, meeting other writers and making things happen!

  4. me says:

    Why does a person has to be under 30 to go to school? Why is age such a matter? Thanks!

    1. SRP says:

      Hi, well age shouldn’t matter as you say, we were just pointing out the fact that it’s usually easier for writers under thirty as they’re less likely to be tied to a location, have kids, mortgage and so on.

  5. Scott Murphy says:

    It’s ironic that every comment posted here by readers has at least one grammatical error.

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