John sat in the back row of the dimly lit theater, his heartbeat palpitating as the opening credits began to roll. This was the first time seeing his words come to life on the big screen. Years of effort and rejection led to this moment, his first produced screenplay.
The dream of becoming a Hollywood screenwriter feels impossible for most aspiring writers. The industry seems like an impenetrable fortress reserved only for the elite few. In 2019, only 1,458 people had a screenwriting credit on the top 250 grossing films.
With such minuscule odds, is it even possible for anyone to break into the professional screenwriting ranks? How can an unknown writer without connections or pedigree even get their work read, let alone produced?
While “making it” as a screenwriter is extremely difficult, it is possible if you dedicate yourself to improving your craft and leverage every opportunity that comes your way. Even if you’re starting from zero, these strategies can help get your foot in the Hollywood door:
Develop Strong Screenwriting Skills Through Study and Practice
Like any craft, excellent screenwriting requires honing your skills through meticulous study and hands-on practice. Some of the key abilities needed include:
- Mastering screenplay format – Screenplays adhere to very specific formatting rules. Learn them inside and out.
- Structuring effective plots – Story structure is critical. Study plot diagrams and screenplay story arcs.
- Writing vivid scenes – Focus on immersive action, details, and effective scene transitions.
- Creating dimensional, authentic characters – Characters are the lifeblood of great scripts. Make yours jump off the page.
- Crafting riveting dialogue – Learn to write dialogue that reveals character and sounds natural.
- Executing genre conventions and tropes – Know the tropes and audience expectations of your chosen genre.
- Developing your unique voice and style – Don’t copy others. Cultivate your own screenwriting flare.
The best ways to build these skills are by reading produced screenplays, studying screenwriting books, watching films analytically, and of course, writing every single day. Joining a screenwriting class or workshop group can provide invaluable feedback on your scripts.
As you write, focus on developing three to five original pilots and features to have in your portfolio. Write stories with compelling high concepts that lend themselves to the visual film medium.
Understand How the Screenwriting Business Works
In addition to writing ability, you need an intimate understanding of the complex machinations of the Hollywood system and how to navigate them as a writer. This means learning how to:
- Pitch your stories verbally and in written treatments
- Find and attract quality representation such as a manager or agent
- Network with producers, executives, directors, and other writers
- Research which production companies accept unsolicited submissions
- Position your scripts to match what buyers are looking for
- Negotiate contracts and payments through guilds like the WGA
- Get your scripts into the right hands
Immersing yourself in trade magazines, online screenwriting communities, seminars, and informational interviews can provide insider knowledge. While talent is crucial, the business side is equally important.
Take Incremental Steps to Get Your Foot in the Door
For amateur writers starting from scratch, it’s tempting to immediately start firing off scripts to elite producers and studios. In reality, breaking in requires climbing the ladder slowly, rung by rung. Ways to get started include:
- Joining a writers’ group for feedback and support. Don’t be a lone wolf.
- Entering reputable screenwriting contests. Placement and feedback can open doors.
- Applying for film or TV production internships and assistant jobs. Make connections.
- Looking for entry-level positions in writers’ rooms. Learn from professionals.
- Attempting to obtain a literary agent or manager. Do your research to find a good fit.
- Leveraging any existing connections you have in the industry. Utilize your network.
- Seeking film jobs outside writing like directing, editing, acting, etc. Build a holistic career.
- Submitting to smaller indie production companies. Big studios are a longer shot.
While these kinds of opportunities seem minor compared to selling a script to Paramount, they allow you to get vital experience and grow your industry network.
Persist in the Face of Constant Rejection
Aspiring screenwriters have to come to terms with the inevitability of rejection. Even Oscar-winning writers still face frequent rejection. Coppola, Coen Brothers, and Tarantino scripts were passed on by studios at first.
On the long road to success, you’ll pitch stories that go nowhere, submit scripts that sit ignored in slush piles, and have dozens of meetings that lead to dead ends.
This rejection is guaranteed at every stage, which is why tenacity and a resilient mindset are key. The writers who make it are those who persist through waves of “no’s” while continually improving their work.
Rather than get discouraged, embrace rejection as part of the process. Let it motivate you to write more scripts, enter more contests, and attend more networking events. Success comes to those who aren’t deterred by failure and criticism.
Can Anyone Be a Screenwriter?
When you begin with nothing but passion and determination, is it actually possible to build a screenwriting career? The answer is yes. While the odds are overwhelmingly against you, building connections, mastering your craft, and persisting through all obstacles can open doors.
Screenwriting success requires sacrifice. You may have to work other jobs to support your writing habit for years. You’ll have to put in thousands of hours alone at your laptop. But going from outsider to professional is proven possible with the right strategies.
John grinned as the theater lights rose, his heart swelling with pride. The long journey here was arduous, but now his name was cemented on the silver screen.
Dreams can come true, even for an unknown screenwriter starting from zero. With dedication and perseverance, anyone can make it to Hollywood.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it hard to get a job as a screenwriter?
Yes, it is extremely difficult to become a professional screenwriter, especially starting out. The industry is very competitive with few openings compared to the number of aspiring writers. It can take years or even decades of effort to break in.
What qualifications do I need to be a screenwriter?
No specific qualifications are required, but excellent writing skills, creativity, and storytelling ability are essential. Education in film, TV or writing can be helpful. Most start by writing scripts on their own or taking courses.
What qualities do you need to be a screenwriter?
Important qualities include imagination, perseverance, thick skin, business savvy, passion for film, and the ability to work alone for long periods. Strong character development, dialogue, and plot skills are crucial.
Can you be a self-taught screenwriter?
Yes, many successful screenwriters are self-taught through writing scripts, reading screenplays, watching films, and seeking feedback. Classes can help but aren’t required. Screenwriting can be learned through practice and study.
How do I know if I should be a screenwriter?
If you have a passion for film, love writing stories, and are willing to work extremely hard at your craft, you may have what it takes. Write some scripts and get feedback to see if screenwriting is a good fit.
Do screenwriters make a lot of money?
It varies greatly. Top screenwriters can make millions per script, but most take years to reach that level, if ever. Unproduced writers earn nothing. The average salary is around $70K but with huge income swings.
Are screenwriters in demand?
There is a steady demand for talented, experienced screenwriters, especially those with credits. But the supply of aspiring writers vastly exceeds demand. It’s very competitive to get hired for paid writing jobs.
What is the difference between a screenwriter and a scriptwriter?
Screenwriters focus on feature films while scriptwriters write for other visual media like TV, plays, commercials, etc. But the terms are often used interchangeably, and many writers work across both worlds.
How do I send a script to Netflix?
You can’t directly submit to Netflix. First reach out to literary managers, agents, or producers who have a relationship with Netflix. Unsolicited scripts are not accepted or read.