Many aspiring creatives dream of succeeding in Hollywood as both a screenwriter and an actor. The idea of creating compelling stories and bringing characters to life onscreen is an alluring one. But is it actually possible to build dual careers as both a professional screenwriter and actor?
The short answer is yes – with the right blend of commitment, smart planning, thick skin, and perseverance, it is possible for a determined individual to succeed working both in front of and behind the camera.
Several talented multi-hyphenates like Dan Fogelman, Greta Gerwig, Sylvester Stallone, Matt Damon, and Mindy Kaling demonstrate that diverse creative roles can complement one another.
But it requires a passion for the craft, excellent time management skills, embracing both the highs and lows, and recognizing when each skill can support the other.
This article will dive into the unique challenges of pursuing simultaneous screenwriting and acting careers, strategies for developing excellence in both fields and what it takes to join the ranks of successful Hollywood polymaths.
The Challenges of Balancing Screenwriting and Acting
Taking on dual creative careers has its fair share of difficulties and demands. Before diving headfirst into both screenwriting and acting, it’s important to reflect honestly on the commitment required.
Here are some of the key challenges faced by those attempting to succeed at both:
Time Commitment to Develop Both Skills
Excelling at screenwriting alone takes thousands of hours of writing, reading scripts, studying story structure, and more. Acting also requires ongoing classes, scene study, audition practice, and years of experience.
Trying to master two complex, competitive crafts at once can spread your time and focus thin. It may be wiser to commit fully to one first before expanding creative goals.
Juggling Acting Gigs and Writing Deadlines
Booking an acting job often requires quick turnarounds, long shooting days, and last-minute scheduling changes. This can conflict with writing project timelines and deadlines.
Writers must be highly organized and disciplined to work on scripts in between acting jobs. Being represented by supportive agents and managers helps coordinate dual careers.
Coping With Rejection and Failure
In both fields, rejection and failure far outweigh successes, at least in the early years. Actors hear “no” in auditions all the time, while writers collect piles of script rejections.
Maintaining self-esteem and motivation requires dealing constructively with disappointment. Turn rejections into learning experiences.
Keys to Balancing Screenwriting and Acting Careers
Despite the substantial challenges, many exceptional creatives have managed to balance these two challenging careers successfully. What sets them apart?
Here are some keys that allow screenwriters to also develop thriving acting careers:
Prioritizing Writing Time
No matter how busy your acting schedule gets or how tempting other opportunities are, the most successful screenwriters/actors carve out consistent time for writing. Set a weekly writing goal and stick to it. Protect that time to develop material.
Leveraging Acting Experience in Writing
A key advantage of being a writer/actor is the ability to draw from real acting experiences to create authentic characters, dialogue, and story ideas. Use your knowledge to pen roles actors will respond to.
Using Writing Skills When Acting
Strong writers are often very effective at analyzing and breaking down scripts and characters. Apply these same interpretative skills when preparing for acting roles. See both the micro details and the big picture.
Surrounding Yourself With a Supportive Community
Any creative career has ups and downs. Build a reliable support system of encouraging friends, mentors, and collaborators who celebrate your victories and keep you motivated.
Avoid comparisons. Focus on serving your vision, not what others are doing.
Developing a Screenwriting Portfolio
To open doors as a professional screenwriter while also pursuing acting, it’s essential to develop a diverse portfolio of writing samples. Here are some proven ideas to kickstart your portfolio:
Write Spec Scripts for Existing Shows
One of the best ways to display your writing ability is by drafting sharp, engaging spec scripts for current popular TV shows. Study entire seasons, nail the tone and characters, and put your own twist on an episode. Use specs to get staff writing jobs.
Draft Original Pilots and Short Films
Original creative writing samples also attract attention, especially if they showcase your unique voice and perspective. Come up with your own pilot ideas. Write, direct, and act in your own short films. Enter reputable screenwriting contests.
Build Relationships Across the Industry
Make genuine connections by networking selectively at industry events, screenings, etc. Nurture relationships with producers, directors, managers, and other creatives. Don’t overly promote yourself. Offer to collaborate on each other’s projects.
Leveraging Acting Experience for Writing and Roles
Every actor brings their own real-life experiences, knowledge of human behavior, and creative instincts to their work. Savvy screenwriters/actors know how to channel this to excel in both fields.
Here are some ideas for converting acting strengths into writing and role opportunities:
Analyze Interesting People You Encounter
As an actor, you interact with and closely observe countless unique personalities, backgrounds, speech patterns, and emotional behaviors every day during auditions, classes, or normal life. Draw explicit inspiration from these real individuals when writing fictional characters.
Pay Attention to Natural Dialogue
Carefully listen to the organic way people speak in real conversations. Note interesting colloquialisms, witty comebacks, emotional authenticity, and uniqueness of voice. Incorporate this authenticity into your script dialogue.
Study Your Own Audition Experiences
Reflect on characters and sides you’ve auditioned for unsuccessfully and successfully. What made the difference? Use these insights to write killer audition material when characters match your strengths.
Pitch Yourself for Adapted Roles
Research source material for films and shows adapted from books, plays, or true stories. If characters match your essence, pitch yourself and leverage your writing ability to shape the role or script.
Becoming a Multi-Hyphenate Triple Threat
While intensely challenging, succeeding as both an actor and screenwriter can take your career to new heights. Some of the many potential benefits include:
Total Creative Control
By generating your own material, you have maximum control and creative freedom over stories, characters, and how projects are executed.
Deeper Insights Into Each Craft
Mastering the ability to write, direct, and act makes you uniquely qualified to excel at each individual discipline. Skills become more complementary.
Increased Respect and Opportunities
Impressing industry insiders by showcasing a wider breadth of skills opens more doors than being pigeonholed. Your reputation as a multi-talented creative will grow.
Satisfaction of Broad Self-Expression
For many creatives pursuing their passion, the ability to fulfill both their writing and acting tendencies is profoundly fulfilling. Following diverse creative instincts expands life’s possibilities.
Here are just a few of the many inspiring creatives who have successfully leveraged skills as both screenwriters and actors:
- Dan Fogelman – Writes hits like Tangled and Crazy, Stupid Love while building acting roles.
- Greta Gerwig – Went from indie actress to acclaimed writer/director of Lady Bird and Little Women.
- Sylvester Stallone – Iconic writer, director, and star of Rocky and Rambo franchises.
- Matt Damon & Ben Affleck – Longtime collaborators who act in and write films together.
- Seth Rogen – Prolific comedic actor who often writes and produces his own films.
- Mindy Kaling – Star, executive producer, and writer for The Office and The Mindy Project.
Conclusion: Pursue Your Screenwriting and Acting Passion
Though the challenges are undeniable, passionate and dedicated creatives should not shy away from pursuing their dreams of succeeding as both screenwriters and actors. By being strategic, leveraging complementary skills, and relentlessly improving their craft, there is no limit to what can be achieved.
The key is to remain focused on the art, craft, and joy of creation. Write from the heart. Act from an authentic place. Don’t get caught up in fame and status. Stay grounded through personal connections.
For uniquely talented storytellers, the ability to translate visions into scripts and characters into living souls on screen is worth all the sacrifices, risks, and hard work. With patience and perseverance, you too can develop fulfilling, complementary careers as both a screenwriter and actor.
What unconventional creative dreams resonate in your heart? With the right mindset, skills, and support system, anything is possible. Now is the time to take that leap. The world needs your stories and gifts.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can screenwriters act in their own movies?
Yes, it’s fairly common for screenwriters to take small acting roles or cameos in films based on their scripts. Some examples are Sylvester Stallone in Rocky, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in Good Will Hunting, and Greta Gerwig in Lady Bird. Acting in your own films can be very rewarding.
Do screenwriters make more money than actors?
On average, successful screenwriters make more money than actors from a single project. Top screenwriters can earn millions for an original or adapted script, while most actors make thousands to hundreds of thousands for acting roles. However, popular lead actors can eventually exceed writer incomes through their brand power.
Do screenwriters interact with actors?
Yes, though not as extensively as the director. Screenwriters interact with lead actors during the script revision process to incorporate actor input on characters. On set, screenwriters advise on sticking to the intention of scenes. There can be improv collaboration.
Should screenwriters take acting classes?
Taking acting classes can absolutely benefit screenwriters by gaining first-hand experience of character motivation and dialogue from an actor’s perspective. Understanding the acting process leads to stronger, more organic scripts.
What actor is also a writer?
Many successful Hollywood actors also write, including Sylvester Stallone, Seth Rogen, Mindy Kaling, Donald Glover, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Steve Carell, and Greta Gerwig. Writing gives actors more control over the material.
How much do screenwriters make per movie?
On average, experienced screenwriters earn $100,000 to $500,000 for an original studio film script or adaptation of existing work. Top screenwriters can earn over $1 million. Payment is based on the writer’s track record, film budget, and originality.
How much does Netflix pay for a script?
For original films, Netflix pays around $300,000 on average for an original script, though top writers can earn over $1 million. For a licensed existing script, Netflix may pay a few million depending on its success and brand value. TV scripts earn less.
How do I submit a script to Netflix?
Netflix only accepts script submissions through licensed literary agents and managers, not directly from writers. You need to find representation first. Then your reps can submit your scripts to Netflix executives when open calls are announced.
Do screenwriters get rich?
A small percentage of successful, produced screenwriters do get rich, especially those with multiple hit films. But most working writers earn a solid middle-class living. Advancing to top A-list screenwriter income levels requires tremendous talent and luck. Managing finances smartly is key.