How does a young screenwriter go professional? The writing gurus suggest writing til’ you bleed out and to simply “keep at the craft.” That’s cute – and occasionally inspiring – but it doesn’t satisfy the curiosity beyond how to improve your writing quality. Nobody talks about what steps you need to take for a sustainable career. How do you get your stories out into the world without drooling like a dog for Hollywood to pay you some mind?
5 Career Defining Decisions for Screenwriters
1. Be tactical about your day job.
Get the job that has potential to lead you to connects for whichever field of writing you are in. Period. You won’t get an ideal dose of networking done on the average minimum wage job. The trick is picking a crossover field. Whether in the entertainment industry (accounting, law) or within the literary channels such as the publishing world or even a college English department. The point is to work strategically – get a job that will feed you, but will also come with fantastic networking perks for your career.
2. Accept that Hollywood is an overpopulated playground filled with snobby and rude brats.
Hollywood openly embraces an “anti-screenwriter” attitude that minimizes open and fair writer competition. Admittedly, there’s boatloads of god-awful writers to sort through. We get that. But why hasn’t Tinsel town been incentivized to launch more efficient campaigns to find good writers? Hollywood is still disinterested and slacking hard on recruitment efforts for quality work. In the new millennium, the adage of “It’s all about who you know” is constantly being challenged with the ever-evolving digital world. It’s wise to cross Tinsel town off as your first pit stop to an amazing screenwriting career. Because they’re not waiting or interested in your potential greatness just yet.
3. Embrace Indie power.
When’s the last time you got antsy and excited about an opening movie weekend? Yeah. Those nostalgic experiences faded out around the early 2000’s.
Where and how we watch our media has drastically changed. The spread of non-traditional viewing platforms and an upsurge of indie flicks has lent much creative control to the aspiring professional. First step is to think about where you watch most of your faves and start envisioning your content landing on there, too (i.e. Netflix, YouTube, Vimeo, Cable networks etc.) Next, find out who’s already producing what you want to produce and how they’re doing it. Research and probing entailed. The real mission here is understanding how to get your content produced on that same platform. With production control more available for the creative professional, it should behoove the aspiring screenwriter to plan for their content to share that same space.
4. Content Investment
Creatives commonly develop an attitude of being ‘special’ at a young age. With the promise of our potential greatness, we believe we’ll eventually get discovered. On the surface, its adorable! It shows self-esteem and lots of pride. But later in life, it can hinder a healthy development of learning when and how to invest reasonably into our artistry (outside of what our egos think is needed.)
Here are three investment truths for creative artists:
- Nobody is “looking” for talent anymore. (Thank YouTube a little for that)
Be your own agent and do the first necessary task of branding yourself. In our digital age, this is easier than ever. Writers are brands. Not creating one weakens your ability to gain loyal fans and other (real) investors.
- Nobody is going to invest in your dream – with money or faith.
Instead, invest in yourself first. Nobody cares about your ambitions and won’t until it’s crystal clear you do. So it’s important to understand the basic needs of your dream. Avoid being the guy who builds a studio in their basement yet never has a hit radio single. Be real about what’s actually needed for your success. Get and stay lean.
Sidebar Suggestion: Give away free content. It’s a brilliant marketing strategy and let’s be honest, consumers love free stuff. (Not too much free stuff though.) Give a little and get exposure. It will build your brand and gain you loyal fans.
- Invest your mula wisely.
Consult lots and lots of different people (that are smarter than you) before major monetary decisions. Invest only as necessary. Pen and paper are still low-cost items – so what more do you need? But being that’s it your dream, begging for monetary support can be futile. It’s an important first step to build your success by materializing your art into tangible content. Just be careful how you do that; invest wisely.
5. Pick your poison: the good writer and the god-awful.
No one really ever gives a satisfying explanation on why and how sooo many bad scripts get picked up and produced over and over and over again. For many writers, it’s these crappy stories that inspire them off the couch over to the keyboard to create a better story!
Unfortunately, this leads writers to a significant fork in the road: the choice to pursue the craft or pursue money. A fat chunk of money, might I add. Of course, we should all aim to write marketable scripts that will sell for millions but we must be careful about how we approach it. Money isn’t everything but not every story we write has got the goods either.
Writers should seek balance. Don’t get too lost in stories that you compromise whether there’ll even be audience for it. But also, don’t focus too much on the monetary gain of it all.
There’s an overlapping gray area but choosing just one road (instead of balancing them) is a heavy decision that should be made consciously. Whatever your prerogative, decide early on what your stakes are and chose a path you won’t regret.
In a nutshell…
- Work strategically and pimp out your day job to support your screenwriting career for the long haul.
- Avoid conforming to the Hollywood standard. Define your own path to success and embrace the new digital platforms available.
- Be brave, go indie & produce your own work. Invest in your own success before anyone else does!
- Define your writer brand. Comprise different strategies to build and keep a loyal following. Maintain a positive reputation to ensure high content exposure.
- Different writers have different writing careers. Choosing your desired path ahead of time makes your writing efforts more manageable and transparent.