For many aspiring screenwriters, getting hired to write for TV shows, movies or digital platforms can feel like an impossible dream. The industry is incredibly competitive, with studios receiving thousands of scripts and pitches each year. In Los Angeles alone, over 50,000 movie scripts are registered annually with the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA).
So how does an unknown writer stand out and get hired when the odds seem so daunting?
The truth is that making it as a professional screenwriter requires hard work, persistence, and a strategic approach. Very few writers immediately sell their first spec script and catapult to success. For most, it takes years of improving their craft, building connections, and proving their talent before being hired for paid writing jobs.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll break down the key steps aspiring screenwriters need to take to set themselves up for success and ultimately get hired to write for film and television.
Improve Your Screenwriting Skills Through Study and Practice
The foundation to becoming an excellent screenwriter who gets hired is learning the craft and enhancing your writing abilities. Screenwriting is a specialized skill that takes study and practice. While natural talent helps, it’s not enough on its own. You need to commit to continuously improving.
Here are some tips:
- Take screenwriting courses and workshops. Enrolling in classes offered at local colleges or institutions like UCLA Extension provides structured ways to strengthen your screenwriting knowledge. Both in-person and online courses are great options.
- Study script format and structure. Master the specific layout and stylistic conventions used for film and TV scripts. Excellent formatting shows professionalism. Resources like ScreenCraft’s blog detail how to format like the pros.
- Read produced scripts and watch the corresponding films/shows. Analyzing why and how great writers successfully structure narratives, develop characters and write compelling dialogue is invaluable. Services like ScriptSlug make scripts accessible.
- Read screenwriting books and articles. The Screenwriter’s Bible by David Trottier, Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, and Story by Robert McKee are considered essential. Books help internalize what works.
- Write daily. The best way to improve is to put pencil to paper (or fingers to keyboard) each day. Set a consistent writing time. Start small with short scripts and scenes to find your voice.
- Join writer’s groups for feedback. Having other writers read and critique your work helps identify weaknesses to address. Free, candid feedback is vital for growth.
- Consider screenwriting software. Programs like Final Draft, WriterDuet, and Scrivener help streamline drafting scripts and treatments with automatic formatting.
Dedicated practice and education in the craft substantially improve the quality of your writing and set you up for future success in getting hired. Treat screenwriting like an apprenticeship.
Build an Impressive Writing Portfolio to Showcase Your Skills
The next step is developing a portfolio of writing samples that underscores your abilities and unique voice. Think of your portfolio as a resume conveying why you deserve to be hired.
These elements are key:
- Write excellent spec scripts. Spec scripts for existing shows demonstrate you grasp how to write within an established show’s tone, characters, and style. Read show scripts and strictly follow the format.
- Craft an amazing original pilot episode. Original pilots highlight your creative storytelling abilities. Lead with your most commercial concept and make characters memorable.
- Include a writing sample of your best work. This 5-10 page excerpt of polished writing dazzles with dialogue, imagery, and style. Remove context so the writing shines.
- Assemble pieces highlighting range. Diversify your portfolio with short films, plays, or sketches contrasting with full-length pilots and features. Variety displays adaptability.
- Build a portfolio website. A dedicated writing website organizes your materials, bio, and credentials in one place for producers and agents. Include video clips or auditions when possible.
- Only showcase excellent writing. One mediocre writing sample damages your brand. Be extremely selective in curating only your highest-quality pieces, even if the portfolio is smaller.
Treat your portfolio package as a tangible business card conveying your best self. The excellence of your writing will become your calling card to get hired.
Make Connections Within the Entertainment Industry
One truth of this business is that who you know dramatically helps. Making meaningful connections with producers, managers, agents, and successful writers increases awareness of your talent and often leads to that first writing job.
- Attend film festivals and industry events. Making contacts at festivals like Sundance, SXSW or comic-cons lets you pitch yourself directly to influential people.
- Join professional organizations. Groups including the Writers Guild of America, International Screenwriters Association, and Stage 32 connect you with established professionals.
- Follow relevant people on social media. Subscribe and interact with the Instagram and Twitter feeds of those you admire. Comment thoughtfully; don’t just pitch people randomly.
- Consider moving to Los Angeles. The density of studios, networking events, and general buzz in LA make it the epicenter for launching a screenwriting career and getting hired.
- Do informational interviews. Ask screenwriters at various career levels to meet for coffee and ask them about their backgrounds. People often enjoy sharing their stories and offering advice.
- Collaborate with talented people. Partner with ambitious directors and producers to create projects together. A great short can provide a career breakthrough.
Surround yourself with people as passionate about screenwriting as you. Let natural mentorships develop and avoid transactional networking. With effort, a hiring opportunity will emerge.
Obtain Manager or Agent Representation
Managers and agents are invaluable for getting your writing and brand in front of key decision-makers. It’s challenging to secure representation as an unknown writer, but possible with the right strategy.
- Research reputable managers and literary agents accepting queries. Use sites like ManagerLists.com. Beware scam artists.
- Submit query emails with your portfolio website and metrics like script downloads or contest placements. Follow agents on Twitter for tips.
- Consider paying for a script evaluation service like ScriptPipeline before querying. A high review may catch the attention of reps.
- Sign with a manager first. Managers often have more incentive as they earn 10-20% commission vs. agents earning 10%.
- Leverage your connections to get referrals. Having someone reputable vouch for you helps get read. Particularly target junior reps looking to grow their roster.
- Be patient and persistent in contacting dozens of potential reps without being annoying. It only takes one expressing interest.
- Don’t submit scripts unsolicited. You risk burning potential bridges. Representation brings access to people and opportunities.
Having a manager enthusiastically promoting you to their production and agency contacts is invaluable. But remember, your work still needs to shine.
Pitch Your Work to Production Companies and Executives
With a solid portfolio and representation, you’ll gain access to pitch meetings where you present your original concepts. Pitching requires storytelling charisma and preparation.
- Leverage your reps to get pitch meetings, but also pitch producers at events. Have multiple one-paragraph concepts ready to intrigue people.
- Thoroughly research companies and execs beforehand so your ideas appeal to their tastes. Watch the shows and films they’ve produced.
- Along with pitching original concepts, also mention spec scripts you’ve written that align with their interests.
- Enter respected screenwriting contests like Austin Film Festival or the PAGE Awards. Winning or placing gains industry heat.
- Pitch the “what if?” hook of your idea first before expanding on details. You want to immediately grab their attention.
- Convey your personal connection to the idea and why this story must be told. Passion is compelling.
- Prepare creative writing samples that immerse execs in your idea like atmospheric scenes or character profiles.
- Follow up promptly with producers expressing interest to keep momentum going. Avoid being pushy.
With razor-sharp pitching skills and killer original concepts, you’ll convince key decision makers to hire you for a TV episode, feature project or digital series. Stay ready for when opportunity strikes.
Becoming a screenwriter who consistently gets hired to write for studios is challenging but very attainable with the right game plan. It requires mastering your craft, showcasing excellence, building relationships, securing representation and pitching like a pro.
If breaking in seems daunting, remember that every working writer was once in your shoes. They likely faced countless rejections and setbacks before getting hired. You can do it too with a strategic approach, tenacity and amazing writing skills.
At the end of the day, your goal is creating stories that resonate deeply and truthfully for audiences. That’s what will make producers take notice and want to hire you for many projects to come.
What other tips do you have for aspiring screenwriters hoping to get hired? What steps proved most crucial in your career? Share your experiences in the comments below!
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it hard to get a job as a screenwriter?
Yes, it is very competitive to get hired as a professional screenwriter, especially just starting out. Only a small fraction of aspiring writers sell a script or get staffed on a TV show. It requires developing excellent writing skills, tireless persistence, and building a strong portfolio over time. Have realistic expectations about the challenges. But with talent and smart strategies, it is possible.
How do you get hired to write a screenplay?
You get hired to write screenplays by improving your craft, networking extensively, gaining representation from managers/agents, participating in pitch meetings, entering contests, and persevering through rejections. Build an impressive portfolio and spec scripts so you are ready when opportunities arise. Leverage any connections to have your writing reach decision-makers.
What qualifications do I need to be a screenwriter?
No formal credentials are required, but most successful screenwriters have either related education or extensive experience. Sharp writing skills are essential—study script format, structure, and storytelling techniques. Read produced scripts. Take workshops. Write daily. Knowledge of the industry and how to pitch ideas is also very valuable.
How do I get into screenwriting with no experience?
To break into screenwriting with no experience, start by reading screenwriting books, blogs, and scripts to learn format and storytelling basics. Take beginner classes and workshops. Join a writer’s group for feedback. Write short scripts and practice scenes to develop skills. Study films/shows in the genre you want to write. Work or intern in the industry to make connections and gain insight.
How do I send a script to Netflix?
Netflix and most major studios do not accept unsolicited scripts. First, get representation from a reputable literary agent or manager. Have them submit your portfolio with writing samples and pitches to Netflix Creative Executives. Build relationships by networking at industry events. Enter respected screenwriting contests to gain visibility.
What degree do most screenwriters have?
A film or creative writing degree is common, but no specific degree is required. Many screenwriters study subjects like literature, journalism, theater, or media arts before segueing into entertainment. Strong writing skills from any background translate. Continuous learning about screenwriting craft and the industry is most vital.
What is the difference between a screenwriter and a scriptwriter?
A screenwriter focuses on writing for film and television. Scriptwriters write scripts and copy for a wider range of media like radio, theater, video games, commercials, and corporate presentations. The writing skills overlap significantly, but the career paths differ. Most aspiring Hollywood scriptwriters should focus on screenwriting.
Is screenwriting in high demand?
Demand for talented screenwriters is high as the volume of content being produced rises exponentially. But the supply of writers is also very large. To stand out, you need exceptional writing skills and the ability to pitch commercially viable stories that studios want to produce. Have persistence and leverage connections to get hired.
What are the chances of becoming a successful screenwriter?
The chances are quite low—under 5% of aspiring screenwriters become WGA members earning a living wage. But you can significantly improve your odds through continuously improving your craft, being proactive networking, writing amazing scripts, and fully committing despite rejections. Maintain realistic expectations but tackle each step.