How to Get Your Start as a Budding Screenwriter
The internet has enabled writers from all walks of life to forge careers that might have been beyond them otherwise, and none more so than screenwriters. Before the web, screenplays would be written, printed, posted out to agents and film companies and might never have been heard from again. If you were lucky, you might have been sent the script back in a stamped addressed envelope.
These days, screenwriters who are just starting out can enter competitions from all over the world, join community groups to chat with other writers and swap stories of experiences, achievements and heartbreaks, read countless blogs and articles from industry experts and insiders, and much more. There has never been a better time to get the help you need to improve and advance.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the best ways for budding screenwriters to get on the path to success:
Find Your Collaborators
Unless you’re a writer/director or writer/producer, you’re going to need a team of people around you to fill the roles that are going to make up your filmmaking teams. The reason for this is simple: It’s a lot easier for agents, producers and execs to get a feel for your writing when it is up on the screen than it is on the page.
If you surround yourself with good people – directors, camera operators, sound guys, and script editors – you can help each other out and start making short films, which can then be uploaded to YouTube and Vimeo, entered into festivals and competitions, and more importantly, you’ll gain experience and grow in confidence as a result.
You can find collaborators in a variety of different ways, including:
- Social Media
- Screenwriting and Filmmaking Forums
- Local networking events
- Colleges and Universities
Grow a Thick Skin ASAP
If you want to know exactly how NOT to react to honest industry feedback, read this incredible and cringe-inducing article from screenwriter Bob Saenz’s blog. It’s a painful read, but an important one, because it lays out in plain, honest English why it is essential that budding screenwriters grow a thick skin. If you are going to succeed at any level, you need to be able to take feedback on board, process it, and then make the changes necessary in order to improve your script (and your writing in general).
That isn’t to say that you should change everything based on the feedback you receive, and stop trusting your instincts. It just means being 100% honest with yourself and not allowing pride to get in the way of your potential. Every screenwriter has been rejected, hurt, battered and bruised on the way up. The ones that listened are the ones still doing it.
Seek Industry Feedback (But Only When It’s Ready)
Hooray! You’ve finished a script! Congratulations! Oh, wait, you’ve sent it off to get feedback after one completed draft? Oh dear. How’s that skin? Thick enough yet? It’s going to need to be.
Industry feedback is amazing, and budding screenwriters should definitely take advantage of it. There are experienced screenwriters and readers out there who will be happy to read your script and give honest feedback on it for a price, and this is another wonder of the digital age. One Google search will leave you lost for words with the number of helpful script readers waiting to get their red pens on your script.
The two key points to remember when it comes to getting feedback are: 1) Make sure that the reader has plenty of experience (read their Bios, check their social media accounts and IMDb pages), and 2) Make sure that your script is 100% ready. Readers should be giving feedback on a script that you has been through multiple drafts, and is covered in your blood, sweat and tears. Not literally, obviously. That would be gross.
One of the best places to get feedback on your screenplay is The Black List. You can upload your script here and pay $25 a month to have it hosted on the site, which is trafficked by agents, execs, directors, fellow writers and various other industry folk. If you have a great concept and logline, you might find that your script is downloaded and read by one of these lovely people.
If you don’t fancy crossing your fingers that this might happen, you can pay $30 (£20 approx.) or $50 (£30 approx.) for an evaluation of a TV pilot or feature film screenplay respectively. With this, a qualified reader will read your script and give you a full-page rundown of what works and what doesn’t in your script. Here is an evaluation that I received for a feature screenplay.
Keep an Eye Out for Opportunities
There are hundreds of competitions and screenwriting opportunities out there, and you should definitely take advantage of them. Some are straightforward competitions offering a cash prize, industry feedback or a consultation to the winner (and nothing but a generic “We’re sorry, but…” email if you don’t win or get shortlisted), whereas other opportunities encourage collaboration between writers and filmmakers, and can help beginning screenwriters to gain confidence and advice from those with more experience.
A great example of one of these opportunities is Create 50, which is run by Chris Jones (London Screenwriters Festival, The Guerrilla Filmmakers Handbook) and his team, and encourages writers to enter scripts and short stories based around an initial story. Once your work is uploaded, fellow writers can read them and give feedback on them. Writers can then take the feedback they’ve received and submit subsequent drafts.
At the end of the process, the best/most popular scripts will then be available for filmmakers to take and shoot their versions of the scripts, and a finished feature containing 50 of these films will then be released into the world. Collaboration at its finest, and an opportunity for screenwriters to get their work out there.