Have you ever dreamed of seeing a story you wrote come to life on the big screen? As a freelance screenwriter, you could make that dream a reality by writing scripts for film and television.
But what exactly does being a freelance screenwriter entail? What steps do you need to take to break into this exciting industry? And what key skills are needed to find success as an independent screenwriting professional?
This comprehensive guide provides everything you need to know about building a career as a freelance screenwriter.
Let’s start with the basics, and make sure we have a firm grasp of exactly what freelance screenwriting is and the services freelance screenwriters offer.
What is a Freelance Screenwriter?
A freelance screenwriter is a scriptwriter who works independently to write television, movie, mini-series, or streaming service scripts and screenplays.
Unlike staff writers, who work on contract for a single production company or studio, freelance screenwriters can work on a per-job basis across multiple projects with different producers.
Freelance screenwriters craft compelling scripts for feature films, network TV shows, web series, and more. Their job responsibilities typically include:
- Developing unique concepts, characters, and storylines for scripts
- Writing rough draft scripts and scenes on spec to later pitch and sell
- Taking on paid writing assignments to write or rewrite specific scripts
- Making revisions based on producer or director feedback
- Adapting novels, news stories, or other source material into script form
In essence, the day-to-day activities of freelance screenwriting involve both writing original spec scripts to showcase your ideas and voice, as well as completing script jobs for hire. It offers diversity in projects and clients worked with.
Now that we know what a freelance screenwriter is, what are some of the key skills, experience, and qualities needed to succeed as one?
Skills & Qualities Needed for Freelance Screenwriters
- Screenwriting Training: Whether through a degree program, online classes, workshops, or intensive seminars, some education focused specifically on script writing best practices helps provide the proper foundation. Understanding story structure, plot patterns, dialogue, and characterization are a must.
- Strong Writing Chops: Naturally, exceptional writing ability is mandatory. You’ll need mastery of written language conventions, descriptiveness, editing skills, and individual writing style. Mimicking the tone of previously successful scripts is key while bringing your own twist.
- Perseverance: The path of a screenwriter inevitably involves many unsolicited scripts that are initially passed over by producers and agencies. Maintaining motivation through possible waves of rejection before that big break is crucial.
- Conceptual Storytelling Skills: As the saying goes, execution matters more than the idea itself. But you will need to form compelling premises, scenarios, personalities, and set-ups to spark initial interest before nailing down execution.
- Business Savvy: Understanding how to negotiate writing fees effectively, pitch ideas strategically, collaborate smoothly with producers, and sell yourself is vital for consistent success. Think part writer, part marketer.
Once equipped with this diverse set of freelancing screenwriting skills, how do you start getting professional work writing scripts?
Getting Work as a Freelance Script Writer
- Query Producers Directly: Identify a producer seeking sci-fi or horror scripts, for instance. Then customize query emails pitching your script premise with a strong one-page synopsis indicating its speaking to their preferences.
- Network At Industry Events: Making connections at film festivals, seminars, screenwriting contests and classes can all lead to gig opportunities. Prepare and practice an engaging elevator pitch beforehand.
- Win Screenwriting Contests: Placing as a quarter-finalist – or better yet, finalist – in reputable screenwriting competitions like the Austin Film Festival or tracking boards like The Black List lends major credibility that can jumpstart paid assignments.
- Get Referrals From Previous Clients: Screenwriters often work with a tight network of producers. Delivering exceptional work the first time around leaves a strong impression you can get re-hired from and referred by. Aim for repeat loyal clients.
Challenges Facing Aspiring Freelance Screenwriters
Of course, choosing to pursue freelance screenwriting professionally does come with an array of challenges to tackle as well, including:
- Pinning Down Consistent Work: Some years you may get multiple options to work on exciting new TV shows and films, while other years leave you relying solely on your own unsolicited spec scripts unlikely to sell. Prepare accordingly for income fluctuations.
- Stiff Competition: You’re up against droves of both amateur and experienced screenwriters gunning for the same gigs with possibly better industry connections. Your scripts not only need to stand out, but also get into the right hands.
- Writing Many Spec Scripts That Don’t Sell: Even the most talented screenwriters write five to ten scripts that fail to get picked up by everyone who does. Patience and persistence are key while constantly striving to polish your craft.
In Closing – Quick Tips for Aspiring Freelance Screenwriters
If exploring the path of freelance screenwriting still excites you after understanding exactly what the career entails – from major responsibilities to primary challenges – then it may be the perfect professional creative writing track for you!
Remember these quick words of wisdom in your journey:
- Write every day – screenwriting improves with immense practice
- Study script formats religiously – know industry formatting conventions
- Maximize the Black List website – host your scripts for added exposure
- Attend local screenwriting networking meetups – make authentic connections
- Pitch low-budget productions initially – easier to attract newer producers
Ready to start writing your next binge-worthy new series or blockbuster film?
With dedication to the fundamentals, a spirit resilient to waves of rejection, and commitment to the freelance screenwriter grind, your creativity, and skills can land on both big and small screens around the world for all to enjoy.
Script that next iconic film role and make your cinematic mark through freelance screenwriting mastery.
Frequently Asked Questions
What do freelance scriptwriters do?
- Write spec scripts and pitch stories to producers
- Take on writing assignments for film, TV, and streaming services
- Develop characters, plots, scenes, and dialogue
- Revise scripts based on producer/director feedback
How much do freelance screenwriters make?
- Earnings vary widely, most make $23K to $63K per year
- Top screenwriters can make six figures per script
- Most income comes from upfront fees and residual payments
What exactly does a freelance writer do?
- Takes on writing projects across genres without being employed by one company
- Finds their own clients and writing opportunities
- Manages their schedule, workload, and finances independently
How do I start freelance screenwriting?
- Develop writing samples like spec scripts to showcase abilities
- Take screenwriting workshops and classes
- Network to make connections in the industry
- Enter reputable screenwriting contests
Do freelance writers actually make money?
- Yes, many freelance writers earn a steady income
- Income level depends on niche, demand for writing skills, and business/marketing abilities
What skills do you need to be a screenwriter?
- Excellent writing skills: dialogue, plot, character development
- Solid understanding of script formats
- Creativity and imagination
- Perseverance and resilience
How much does Netflix pay for a script?
- Around $75,000 to $200,000 for non-established screenwriters
- Up to $500,000 or more for Oscar-winning/nominated writers
Is there a high demand for screenwriters?
- Yes, streaming and episodic TV are driving demand for high-quality scripts
- But the role is still very competitive to break into
Is it hard to become a screenwriter?
- Yes, the odds are stacked against emerging screenwriters
- Requires dedication to improve writing skills and networking abilities
- Getting reputable representation also poses challenges