Breaking into the film and TV industry is hard. There is no single way of doing it. It isn’t like other professions where you earn a qualification, start at the bottom and work your way to the top. There is no ladder or easily definable career path for screenwriters. It is a career lattice defined by where you are at any given moment.
More importantly, there usually isn’t a single factor in getting your screenplay sold or landing a writing gig. More often, a screenplay may win a screenwriting contest, which leads to meetings with agents, managers and producers. Then things go dead until the screenwriter meets a producer at an event and discusses the traction their screenplay has already received. The producer requests a read and passes on it because it’s not right for them. However they know a director looking for your type of material and sets up a meeting. You get the picture. Breaking in requires a web of relationships, constants nurturing of those relationships and perfecting your writing craft.
What is a spec script?
Speculative (spec) scripts are written without them being pre-ordered, assigned or have shown any current industry interest at that point.
Spec scripts serve several purposes: to demonstrate your writing ability and style, your understanding of the marketplace and your ability to capture the voices of an existing TV show or movie franchises.
For the emerging screenwriter, the realistic purpose of your spec script is to get you read and hopefully a meeting. It’s your calling card to the film industry.
If you’re really lucky, your spec script may result in an option, or possibly even a sale. Veteran working writers view spec scripts differently than emerging writers. The former can be more jaded and tend to focus more on the sale, while the latter can still be exploring their voice and the wonder of writing. I’ve heard many experienced working writers claim that they envy the joyous, unrestrained creativity that newer screenwriters have.
The more career-minded scriptwriter often asks what is the best medium to write in. I can say, write in the medium and genre you hope to work in. Write to your strengths and train your weaknesses.
Jerry Bruckheimer once said that it’s rare to find an all purpose writer who’s good at everything. He’ll hire one writer for action, another for dialogue and another to punch up jokes. So don’t go into a meeting and say I can write everything. Have some focus, but don’t be too narrow.
If you’re an emerging feature script writer, try writing something low-budget and producable with the resources at your disposal. If you write a blockbuster, the chances are that it will be taken out of your control and an established screenwriter will be hired to rewrite it.
It’s also true that studios are making fewer films and are still relying on franchises, sequels and established brands to fuel their business models. Non studio buyers are picking up the flack with small to mid budget films. Moreover, many feature writers are turning to TV writing because they can’t get their feature projects set up.
On the bright side, there is also an army of micro and low budget producers scouring the earth for material to produce”at a price” (read: cheaply.)
If you have a solid film script, there is a good chance it will get picked up. Low budget genres which don’t require a name actor or director attached are horror and thriller.This is a good place to start.
Dramas generally require at least one name actor or director to move them forward. Due to the idiosynchratic nature of comedy, it really helps if a popular stand up comedian is interested in your project.
What about TV spec scripts?
The TV writing world is heating up. It’s currently more of a writers’ world and the best stories are arguably being told here. If you’re looking to get staffed, receive a regular pay check with benefits, then this is the way to go. However, don’t expect your TV spec script to be sold unless a respected TV producer champions it.
Unknown TV writers have had better success getting produced on a breakout film rather than TV show. Given the mercurial nature of the business, this may not be true next year.
The digital boom is showing no signs of slowing down. It has crossed over from a hobbyists’ medium to a bona fide distribution platform. Once the sustainable business models are established, there will be more work for content creators, including writers.
Furthermore, new media is becoming a new way for scriptwriters to join the WGA and you don’t need to worry about approval from an executive. This is the easiest and cheapest way to get your material into the public domain. You have complete creative control.
I would also focus on the uniqueness, originality and expression of your concept than its format. I’ve pitched TV series ideas and told that they would work better as a feature, and vice versa.
The entertainment world is more fractured than ever. Finding a home for your project no longer means finding a production company that will produce it into a movie or TV series, but rather finding the best medium for your story to be told.
The online world is becoming more sophisticated with the launch of the “second screen”. Try tweeting and interacting live with your characters during a screening. Audiences are now a community, box office is now measured in views and ratings are now called hits.
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