The path to screenwriting superstardom is a frustrating paradox. You represent your own unique writing voice, so technically you don’t have any competition. You are also in competition with other screenwriters to nail a voice the audience responds to. Once you establish a voice, you must crush it to write in a certain tone. ARGH!!
The path to a prosperous screenwriting career is a marathon rather than a sprint. The overnight success stories often took more than a decade to get there. Set realistic writing goals for yourself. Since the recommended 10000 hours of training writing before you are ready to take on the world is one of the few variables you can control, keep writing. There is no substitute for the hard work. No short cuts. Sorry.
Break your screenwriter career into manageable milestones. Perfect your screenwriting craft before you try to get an agent or sell your script. Since development budgets are on the constant decline, agents, managers and producers simply don’t have the time anymore to develop your movie script anymore. The onus is on the writers.
Coupled with the plethora of reality TV squeezing scripted shows off screen, it is essential you approach your career strategies with surgical precision. You probably won’t get a second chance to get your script read if you shop it too early. Similarly, having low quality attachments to your project won’t help get it greenlit.
In order to be a marketable commodity as a screenwriter, have a stable of film or TV scripts, not just one. If you take a meeting because a producer loves your writing, but can’t reasonably sell your film, you’d better have a project in reserve, or the relationship will turn cold. Faster than you can say “FADE IN.”
Have life experience behind you. Despite the perceived/actual ageism in Hollywood, older writers have had a previous life; a rich well of experience they can dip into. Were you a carer in a mental hospital, a special operations cop or a high priest? Having depth as a person translates as emotional depth in your writing. It brings authenticity to the writing.
Even if you perceive your past life as not being movie worthy, use it as a starting point for your story. I’m not letting you off the hook if you claim that nothing interesting has ever happened to you. Newsflash. The most successful writers get out of bed every morning, take a shower, get dressed, have breakfast and sit at their desks. Just like you.
Did you read anything interesting in the newspaper? Something quirky? Something alarming? Use this to embellish your stories.
Show dedication and longevity. The path to screenwriting success is a non-linear. You can suffer from over planning. You can fail to set up a dozen projects in a decade, then sell a dozen movie scripts in a year. These are the vagaries of the industry. Embrace them. Don’t argue with them. You can never win.
Establish your screenwriter career team who can help move your project forward. Bring established blood to your team. You are the new blood. This is why community building is integral to your success. Befriend as many people in the industry as you can. Even if they aren’t more advanced than you. Today’s assistants are tomorrow’s executives. The film industry moves that fast. By adding value to your associates’ lives, you add value to your own.
Take advice from writers who are experienced. Ensure they are successful in the type of project you want to sell, have helped others set up their project, or are respected experts in their field. Hopefully, all three. Most are willing to advise or mentor you.
Understand the business. Understand its cyclic nature. So if you’re a biopic writer and biopics aren’t selling that year, put it aside and polish your script that is more aligned with the marketplace. Don’t focus on the unexpected breakout hits as the basis to sell your project. Keep in line with market trends.
Be out there. If you do stand up comedy, theatre, spoken word, have a blog, publicize it.
Be interesting. If you hiked Machu Picchu or spent a month in a Buddhist monastery without uttering a word, let the world know. Interesting people generate interesting stories. Many people write without having anything to say.
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