by Fin Wheeler
With the New Year come vows to write more and better. Here are a few pointers on how to keep your screenwriting resolutions. (Read Part I here.)
11. Write an indie
Studios don’t hire untried writers for big budget projects. Writing a break-out indie film which does well on the festival circuit will get you noticed by the studios.
12. Develop a writing portfolio
Now that you have a few high quality specs it’s time to get more strategic. Most paid work is in television and advertising. Do you have relevant writing samples? Are your film writing samples too similar? Even if an agent is only interested in your action features, you will have to have three that aren’t carbon copies of each other.
13. Get your short screenplays made
Producers and directors are very wary about working with an untried writer. Collaborating on shorts can be a way to prove yourself.
14. Think very carefully before working for free
The Writers’ Guild has forbidden working for free for obvious reasons, but there are many, many people who grab at any opportunity to work without remuneration. Before you choose to work for nothing, consider the bigger picture. Do you genuinely believe that writers are worthless artists who don’t deserve financial consideration and/or respect?
Often wannabe producers put out a call for writers. They promise big money when (read: if) the project ever gets picked up and made. Before you sign up, ask yourself a few questions:
- Am I the only writer they’re ‘hiring’? Or have they promised co-ownership and the sole writing credit of the project to 20 other writers as well?
- Has this producer had at least two producing credits in the past five years? If not, how can they possibly have the contacts and knowledge to get a project like this up?
- Why aren’t they hiring a professional writer with decades of experience?
- Why should I take this gig (when I won’t even be able to use the script as a writing sample) instead of writing a new original spec of my own?
As an early-career screenwriter, it’s so tempting to sign up for a dud project, just so you have something penciled in, but you should always think about the bigger picture.
15. Get paid to write
Advertising is trending towards the narrative more than ever. If you are determined to get paid for your words, copywriting may be your best bet.
16. Be more professional
Make sure your screenwriting career plan considers not just your writing, but also your online presence and the way you appear and behave in person. Every other day I read about an agent who really liked a spec, until they googled the screenwriter and saw a negative tweet they’d posted about another agent. Don’t let that be you.
17. Stop using other people’s ideas
Agents and producers – in fact, everyone in the industry – is a huge film and TV buff. We all know where you lifted it from, we all recognize when something is not original. Write a list of your top 100 films. How many are groundbreaking? Probably all of them. Don’t waste everyone’s time by being derivative. Write unique.
18. Enter loads of competitions
Screenwriting is such a long, slow race. On average it takes a decade to break in. Entering competitions can give you tangible goals and deadlines, which can help create a sense that you’re getting somewhere. Just don’t get too disappointed if you don’t place. Contests, like the rest of the industry, are subjective.
And don’t waste time on no-name contests that try to get you to pay for your trophy if you win. These are run by bad people trying to scam you.
19. Don’t expect to get rich on your writing alone
If you become Instafamous, then companies pay $300,000 for you to pose-and-post with their product. If you want fame and riches, Instagram away. If you want to be a writer, accept that it won’t ever be for the money.
20. Write something people love
Successful screenwriters always say that they were surprised by the popularity of their pet project, that they felt it was so unique and specific that they questioned whether it would ever find an audience. Be brave, be bold, and be original. Regardless of genre, we love a genuine writer who wears their heart on their sleeve.
21. Keep writing
To make it as a screenwriter, the most fundamental thing you have to do is just keep putting pen to page. Every great author was a failed writer… until they weren’t.
Happy New Year, and all the best with your writing!
Fin Wheeler is a member of the Australian Writers’ Guild and has a feature in development.