The age-old question of how to become a screenwriter needn’t pose an important dilemma any more. Plenty of people want to step into this potentially high-paying profession hoping to be the next great Aaron Sorkin or Quentin Tarantino. Both of whom make in excess of a million dollars to write a film. We all look up to these iconic heavyweights in film but at the end of the day a screenwriter is just like you and me. They’re just normal human beings, who happens to write scripts for films, TV set serials, commercials, theaters, video clip games and podcasts.
In other words, we can be just like them through committed exertions, and perennial perseverance. Our steadfast resolute in achieving this lofty dream will prove as being the beacon of light which will guide you on how to become a screenwriter of fine reputation. Almost all profitable screenwriters have had to wrestle their way up.
Here are the key steps to help you become a screenwriter:
- Discover how to write with passion and tenacity, giving vent to the deep down creativeness lying dormant in you. In other words, it all starts by just doing. Saying and dreaming of something won’t get you what you want. Just like the Nike slogan – go out and DO IT!
Be proactive like these New York filmmakers who decided to make their first web series. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than 99% of the people out there who are stuck on paralysis analysis.
- Seek formal training inside of a film academy or school. Learn the intricacies of crafting an actual script. You will need to know the basic tenets of the three-act structure. You will need to know how to build compelling characters, and creating the three most important rules of writing in general: conflict, Conflict and more CONFLICT! Like the alpha and the omega, you’ll need to understand the ups and downs of telling a story. Here is a no nonsense demonstration of how to craft a story from one of the greatest storytellers of the 20th century:
- Attach your self to a well-known screenwriter. This can be a most profitable avenue where by you could get sensible, hands-on experience. If you can become an intern to someone who has gotten stuff produced — jump on the opportunity! He or she can teach you about formatting a screenplay and how to pick a trendy topic that will actually sell. If you’re lucky enough, perhaps he or she will co-write something with you and you’ll get your first writing credit! Writing credit is a big step towards legitimacy and a long, prosperous screenwriting career.
- Join a library. What? It can’t be that simple you’re saying to yourself. But it is. And you know what? It’s also free to join the library. Once you’re in like Flynn at the library, read as many tutorial textbooks on writing. Get hold of a copy of “Screenplay” by Syd Field, or perhaps “Save the Cat. Both screenwriting books are regarded as bibles for budding scriptwriters. Or read a great novel. Classics from Charles Dickens or Kurt Vonnegut can help you understand how to create interesting characters and interesting plot lines. Remember writing is all about entertainment. Whether or not the reader agrees with you is secondary. The primary importance is to keep the reader reading from page 1 to the very end. That is the goal of a writer: entertain, entertain, ENTERTAIN!
- Create a portfolio of sample scripts. Create compelling loglines for each and every script in your portfolio and be ready to pitch them at the right situations! By presenting several samples of spec scripts to eminent celebrities within the greater echelons of Hollywood, you will enhance your visibility in a very select group. Somebody may even make contact with you to do his script for him. Test your hand at different genres for example horror, comedy, romance or any that you’re self-confident about.
- Glance for any career in a studio or even a film co-op. This is better than point 2 from above. If you can get into a studio, you’ll likely get paid. As for co-ops, they may not get you paid gigs, but they are amazing for networking. In Hollywood, it’s usually not about what you know but who you know. So take advantage of every opportunity that allows you to grow your network. Both of these opportunities will strengthen your ability to write. You’ll have writing gigs and assignments to practice your craft, and moreover, you’ll meet like-minded people who can provide critical feedback of your work. You can then use this feedback to improve your existing scripts and perhaps, employ techniques that work for them. By learning different styles of professional writers, you might just discover your own style of writing that will stand out.
You will no longer need to ask yourself: How to become a screenwriter? If you put in the work, you will probably be very noticed and recognized as someone with expertise. If you do it properly, you’ll make powerful film connections and inner circles to draw upon. They can help you attract talent in the form of actors, directors or producers. As mentioned before, it’s not about what you know. It’s who you know. But it does help if you have a rudimentary understanding of how screenplays should look like.
These bullet points will get you on your way in terms of getting the right skills. However, this isn’t enough. You have to get social! You have to get on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snap and all the wonderful social sites out there.
It’s important to get on Facebook because it’s the most popular social site on the planet. There’s probably a billion people on Facebook, and there so many opportunities to network with the right people. Also, if you want to increase your chances of being discovered, you have to put your work out there. So you need to create posts about it in Facebook groups and start getting active!
Speaking of being active, you also need to start a blog. WordPress is a popular blog. Tumblr is a great blog as well. And of course, you’ve got Google’s Blogger platform. Whatever platform you use to write, you have to write! The best way to show off your stories and promote your flair with the pen (well keyboard) is to type and type about all kinds of interesting stuff. If you truly love writing, then write away in one of these blogging platforms.
Finally, there’s Twitter. Tweet about what you’re writing. Connect with actors, directors and other important people. Again, it’s all about who you know. There’s no point in making a career in screenwriting if there’s no one willing to buy. So show off your writing skills and get those screenplay buyers to start knocking on your door.
Then once you’re done socializing (procrastinating) – write your script! Put down the screenwriting books, open up Final Draft and start writing. Create your world. Test out amazing dialogue. Use three-act structure. Create conflict, upon conflict and more conflict on each and every page. It’s a long, hard battle, but plug away. Even 3 pages a day will result in a 90 page screenplay by the end of the month. As Stephen covey points out in his book for successful people, begin with the end in mind. Shut out the naysayers and the negativity and get that script finished and bounded!
Once you’ve done writing the script, it’s time for the real writing to begin or as writers call it – the re-write. It’s best to put down your script after you’ve completed it. Especially if it’s your first script, you’ve probably grown attached to it like your little baby puppy.
But don’t get too attached. We are all biased when it’s our script. We are even more biased if it’s our first script. You need to step away, and try to stay away from doing anything writing. This is the cool off period. Play basketball. Go to the gym. Travel to the Bahamas. Just don’t write and let your mind relax.
After this cool-off period, then it’s time to jump back to the re-write. You’ll soon find that what you wrote is crap (not all but a lot). Then you’ll go back and create even better conflict and even better dialogue that will make rottweiler puppies cry. I don’t know the science behind it, but taking a breather always helps the mind clear up. Then you start “tabula rosa” when you go back to the all-important re-write.
After you do a re-write, which usually takes a few weeks to iron out things, you might want to use the services of an independent script consultant. These guys or gals have gotten their scripts produced and often have multiple years of experience in Hollywood. By going to these guys or gals, you’ll ensure that you get professional attention for your script. You’ll get good advice and more importantly, objective advice on how to improve upon you little, baby script. And if they really like your script, they might even forward it to their writing agent who can connect you to producers, directors or actors. Then if they pick up your script, you’ll be on your way to the Oscars soon enough!
Most likely, they’ll give you a few more pointers on how to improve your script. It’s best to take note of these items and get back to the most important part of writing. Do you know what that is?
Correct! It’s more re-writing of the script. I can’t emphasize this enough. Writing is all about re-writing. This is why you have to LOVE, LOVE writing because you will be writing all day and all night, usually iterating the same concepts over and over until you perfect that scene or dialogue. Everything could use a little more conflict or the intro of a character could use a little more spice. There’s always something that needs to be re-written. But this is why you always have the end in mind. Because when you’re in the grind of re-writing something for the tenth time, you remind yourself that all you wanna do is be this guy:
And it can be you if you stick to it and remember what it takes. Writing is re-writing. Writing is re-writing. Writing is re-writing. Keep saying it over and over. Tap your heels three times and Toto will soon be gracing Hollywood.
After writing your epic masterpiece, never forget to register your screenplay with the Writers Guild of USA. Then write a spec letter and start sending out letters to Hollywood agents. Other avenues you can try to promote yourself is with screenwriting contests. The top screenwriting contests are:
- Academy Nicholl Fellowship
- Austin Screenwriting Competition
- Bluecat Screenplay Competition
- PAGE International Screenwriting Awards
- Script Pipeline Screenwriting Contest
- Slamdance Screenplay Competition
Finally, don’t neglect regional screenplay contests like the New York International Screenplay Awards. Although these smaller screenwriting contests don’t have the media and publicity as the Nicholl Fellowship, they are “easier” to win and get recognition. Notice how I put the word “easier” in quotation marks. This is because in this industry – nothing comes easy. Even in smaller festivals like the NYISA, you will still face a lot of competition. However, if you have a strong script and a compelling story, you stand a good chance at placing at these regional contests.
Placing in any one of these contests is hard because there is so much competition. If you do place in any of these contests, then congratulations! It will likely lead to an agent signing you or even a script sale. Either or these scenarios (or both!) will be a huge boon to your career and soon you will be like Quentin Tarantino.
Pay attention to all the wonderful advice in this article and start networking and writing! Soon you’ll be a person of authority, when a young aspiring writer walks up to you and asks… so, how do I become a screenwriter?