How to Start Your Career as a Screenwriter
We’ve all heard stories about writers propelling themselves to stardom by selling their first script. While bits and pieces of a screenwriter career have been glamorized, many aspects of starting out get omitted. This article will focus on ways you can create opportunities for yourself as an early-career screenwriter.
Best Festivals/Competitions to Enter
Film festivals and screenwriting competitions can give your script the legitimacy needed to attract attention from production companies and investors. Due to the massive volume of competitions out there, you have to be selective about which ones to enter. Here are our top five favourite competitions to kickstart your screenwriter career:
The Motion Picture Academy’s Nicholl Fellowship launches careers and pays a generous $30,000 to winning writers. The fellowship publicizes its quarter and semi-finalists as well, guaranteeing exposure to agencies, management, and production companies.
Known as the writer’s film festival, AFF features great opportunities for writers with independent sensibilities and killer genre scripts. If you’re looking to get attention for your heartfelt indie drama or bizarre horror comedy, head to Austin.
The coolest aspect of Screencraft is that it features a buffet of competitions for every genre and medium. Top-notch industry professionals judge your work for prizes that include access, cash, and production resources.
Final Draft’s competition lives up to its legacy as the industry leader for screenwriting software. The Big Break Contest offers momentum, access, and credibility to launch a screenwriter career.
This one is all about the money. The PAGE International Screenwriting Awards offers a $25,000 cash prize and loads of publicity. The competition’s wide network is a great resource for emerging talent.
Top Resources for Screenwriters
Maybe you’re not interested in waiting around for competition results. Finding resources and outlets for your work is a key element for any screenwriter. Here are some excellent resources and avenues to lay the groundwork for a screenwriter career:
While not a competition or festival, The Blacklist is the premier script hosting site for professional and aspiring screenwriters alike. The Blacklist offers a wealth of opportunities and fellowships for scripts, making the hosting fee worth the money.
BBC Writers Room offers an abundance of opportunities for new writers in the UK and around the world. Check out the submission periods for the Drama and Comedy Rooms as well as opportunities for traditional and emerging mediums.
Film Independent offers a wide variety of programs and events to help independent filmmakers connect with valuable resources. Their Screenwriting Lab provides individualized story and professional development for emerging screenwriters.
Simply put, the more people read your script, the better your chances of advancing your screenwriter career will be. Let’s say you did well in one of the competitions above. What are some things you could do to network?
Perhaps your script scored a 9 on the Blacklist. Agents, managers, and production companies would be interested in that! Take some time to query your script and get it in the right hands.
Rather than tweeting about your contest success, find agents, managers, and producers that could be interested in your script. It’s amazing how many people are interconnected on Twitter. Once you find who you’re looking for, don’t @ them right away. Find out the best way to contact them instead. It’s easier than you might think (some people even respond to DMs).
Maybe you want to go your own way. The independent filmmaking website Shooting People is a great place to connect with other filmmakers. Your hot contest script is bound to attract the creative team you’re looking for.
How to Promote Yourself
Like any other creative profession, a screenwriter career is 30% craft, 70% hustle. If you want people to see your work, you’ll have to find ways to keep your project moving forward. Networking and promotion thrive on momentum. No one will champion your script more than you!
Countless websites will pay good money for writers to give their thoughts on filmmaking (or just about anything else). You could write about your experiences with your script, your filmmaking goals, or even reviews. Every ounce of energy that you put towards your career in film adds up.
Don’t let your script just be words on a page. Find some actors (or even just some friends) and do a live reading of your script. Invite potential investors, friends, total strangers, anyone to pack a house and get a live audience experiencing your work. John Waters famously screened his short films in coffee shops across Baltimore to anyone who would watch them. Make an event out of your work!
Proof of Concept
Maybe a live read wouldn’t work for your very visual genre script. Why not try a proof of concept short? Proof of concept is a short film—maybe only a couple minutes long—that captures the essence of your script. Famous examples include the Coen brothers’ spec trailer for Blood Simple and David Michod’s Crossbow, which later became Animal Kingdom.
Mistakes to Avoid
It should come as no surprise that there are pitfalls to avoid when pursuing a screenwriter career. There are plenty of avenues to avoid along the way. Here are a few mistakes to beware:
- Too Many Festivals: As previously mentioned, there are tons of film festivals and screenwriting competitions out there. Unfortunately, many of them charge costly entry fees and aren’t worth it. All the money spent on contest fees can be put towards moving your film forward, like a proof of concept.
- Pitch Fest Frenzy: Another pay-for-play event to avoid is the pitch fest, where you pay to pitch your movie to execs. Most “execs” in attendance tend to be assistants (or interns), and many aren’t excited to be there. There are many positive ways to get your film off the ground that don’t involve paying a big fee.
- “Think of the Exposure!” Perhaps someone wants you to write a script and says “I can’t pay you, but you’ll get lots of exposure.” Run! Run and don’t look back. No matter how good their pitch might be, this opportunity will not worth your time. There are no guarantees in the film business. Let’s repeat that: There. Are. No. Guarantees. In. The. Film. Business. Writing a script is a time intensive and emotionally taxing enterprise. Don’t give it away for free!
Wrapping Up – Screenwriter Career
Remember that there are dozens of avenues for screenwriters. Even if it takes years to make your film, the skills your craft utilizes are desirable in almost any business. Every member of the network you create to make your film can lead to gigs both creative and commercial. The skills you hone starting out will help you throughout your entire screenwriter career. In closing, think of your screenwriter career as a tree that keeps giving you delicious fruit the bigger it grows!