HOW TO BREAK INTO SCREENWRITING
One of the most common questions I’m asked by aspiring screenwriters is How do I break into the business?
What I’m going to suggest you do is actually fairly easy. But it does takes a degree of talent and a lot of persistence.
First of all, before you try to break in you’ve got to have a goal. And it’s a good idea to really focus on what that goal is. I’m assuming your basic goal is to break into live-action or animated feature or TV screenwriting. Doesn’t matter which. The process is the same.
But there is also a purpose that is driving your goal, and that’s important to know. Do you want to entertain? Enlighten? Make people laugh? Make lots of money??? Whatever you want, fix it in your mind and align what you do to that goal. You’ve got a much better chance of succeeding—and enjoying what you do—if you stay true to your purpose.
There’s one last thing you have to have in order to promote yourself. A sample script. You can tell people you’re a writer, but they’re going to ask you to prove it. That’s where your sample comes in. Ideally you should have a sample for any media or genre you intend to write for: film, TV, video games, action, comedy, drama, animation, live action, whatever. Write the best sample(s) you possibly can.
Once you’ve got all that you’re ready to break into the business. To do this there are only four steps you need to take: contact people, promote yourself to them, find out what they need, and write it. Everything you need to do to break into the business will fall under one of these four steps.
Now, before we get into these, there’s something to consider: Are you going to try to break into the business yourself? Or are you going to try to get an agent to do it for you? You can apply these steps to either one, or both. It’s up to you.
STEP #1—CONTACT PEOPLE
The questions are: Who? and How? That reminds me of the famous line in Hollywood, “It’s not WHAT you know, it’s WHO you know.” This is true in any business, but more so in Hollywood. People feel most comfortable hiring people they know and trust, or friends of these people. So the first thing you want to do is find out if you know anyone in the business, or know anyone who knows anyone. If you do, you’re lucky, so don’t be too proud to use the contact. Your friend’s gardener works for Ben Afflack? Contact him!
If you don’t happen to have a friend in the business—and even if you do—you’ve got to contact as many people as possible. To do this, I suggest you mine the rich ore of the Internet. Invest the $15.95 a month it costs to become a member of IMDb Pro . If you want be an animation writer, check out the Animation Industry Database . Call or email companies and ask them what projects they’ve got in production and the names of the producers and story editors. If they don’t have anything in production, ask them what they’re working on. Find out their needs and offer to fill them.
If you’re looking to get an agent check out Tinsel Town Literary and Talent Agencies  for contact info. But be careful! Pestering agents could get you a bad rep.
STEP #2—PROMOTE YOURSELF
You can try calling the producers and story editors (or agents) you found in Step #1, but hopefully (for them) they’re busy working on shows, and so may not have the time to talk. Here’s where your promotion comes in. You write them an email or letter, introduce yourself, and find out what they need in the way of writing. Be professional and keep it short and to the point. If you have any kind of writing credit or other relevant experience, mention it. But above all, be creative! Don’t forget you’re a writer. You need to stand out from the crowd. So don’t just write a dry résumé with facts and dates. Be funny! Be different!
STEP #3— FIND OUT WHAT THEY NEED
Now, there’s one small Catch-22 with regard to your sample script. Do you write one before you find out what’s needed or after? If you write one first, it may not be right for some producers and story editors. On the other hand, each producer may give you a different wish list, and you can’t write a sample for everybody.
One way to find out what production companies need is to do an informal survey—otherwise known as watching TV. By learning what’s in the marketplace, and what’s hot, you’ll get a pretty good idea of what might be best for your sample script.
I suggest you write a script for your favorite genre so it’s your best, most passionate work. Send it out and tell them it’s not your only genre, and that you’d love to write for their show as well. After they’re interested in you, then decide whether writing a spec script for their show would be wise.
The secret is to contact as many people as possible. Believe it or not, the key to success is simply persisting with your promotion. The more people you contact, the more letters and scripts you send out, the greater the chance of success.
STEP #4—WRITE IT!
Once you find out what they want, either in terms of a sample script, a story pitch or a job assignment, you write it. Can’t get simpler than that. But you can make one fatal mistake. You can write what YOU want instead of what THEY want. The secret to my success is that I have always given producers exactly what THEY want, not what I think they should have.
I constantly hear producers and story editors say there aren’t enough good writers or good screenplays are hard to find. So if you do Steps 1-4, your sample script is good, and you don’t give up, you should eventually hit pay dirt.
©Jeffrey Scott, All Rights Reserved