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Streaming services like Netflix, Prime Video, and Hulu massively disrupted the entertainment industry and fueled a lasting boom in film and television production. During the 2010s, the number of new shows and films created hit all-time records; and, accordingly, the demand for skilled screenwriters skyrocketed.
As of 2021, Canada alone had 51,400 working screenwriters and the average salary of those writing for film and television in the country reached $86,047. No doubt, this has been an exciting time for those keen to launch a career in screenwriting.
Nonetheless, the process of breaking into the industry can still feel quite daunting, especially if you’re starting with zero experience. But fear not! We’ve put together a comprehensive guide to help you navigate the intricacies of launching your screenwriting career in 2023!
What Does a Screenwriter Do?
First things first, if you want to be a screenwriter, you’ll have to make sure you understand what the role actually entails.
A screenwriter is a key creative player in any film or television production. They create the project’s script that functions, more or less, as the foundation for the entire film or show. Screenwriters develop and craft stories that are specifically fit for the big or small screen. Because of this, it’s important to remember that screenwriters are not novelists – they write in a specific format that lends itself to visual narratives.
In addition, they create rich characters, write compelling dialogue, and outline a project’s key visual elements, including stage and camera direction. As a screenwriter, you can expect to work alongside producers, directors, actors and other industry professionals.
Network with Other Screenwriters
Connections are crucially important if you want to start a career in the film and television industry. And this is especially true for screenwriters, who need to get their scripts in the hands of producers, directors, actors, and other industry pros. To speed up the networking process, here are a few strategies you should implement:
- Utilize Social Media: Connect with other screenwriters via Reddit forums, Facebook Groups, LinkedIn, and other social media platforms. Do not hesitate to reach out and message other screenwriters directly on these platforms!
- Join Local Meet-Ups and Workshops: Seek out local in-person writer’s groups and meet-up opportunities. For example, events like the April Toronto Film and TV Networking Evening are free-to-attend opportunities where you can connect with other writers face-to-face.
- Attend Industry Events: Make sure to attend any screenwriting conferences, film festivals, or other industry events in your city. Not sure where to find these? You can start on sites like MeetUp.com
Take a Screenwriting Course
If you’re truly committed to pursuing a career as a screenwriter, we recommend you treat screenwriting like a trade that can be learned and mastered. Without a doubt, the most efficient and effective way to do this is to enroll in a high-quality screenwriting course.
Although having a formal education in screenwriting is not a strict requirement, a degree or diploma will provide you with a considerable edge over the competition. This is because a good screenwriting course will go well beyond teaching you the basic principles. It will offer you a comprehensive, industry-focused learning experience from which you can launch your career.
For instance, here at the Toronto Film School we offer our Writing for Film & TV Diploma and Writing for Film & TV Associate Diploma (offered online). These specialized programs have been designed to align with the real-world needs of the film and television industry. They also offer students the chance to build their personal networks and learn from industry professionals while refining their writing skills.
Learn Screenwriting Software and Formatting
Nowadays, if you want to be a successful screenwriter, you’re going to have to master screenwriting software. Most screenwriting programs are designed to handle much of the labour around screenplay formatting. And outsourcing formatting to software is a surefire way to make you a more efficient writer.
We recommend you familiarize yourself with at least one industry-standard software, such as Final Draft or Celtx. These programs will auto-correct your scripts, ensuring you never hand in a poorly formatted document again. What’s more, many of the leading software programs now include AI functionalities, allowing you to further focus on the good stuff – writing!
If you’re just getting started with screenwriting software, check out our blog post on the topic, 5 Best Software Programs for Screenwriters, or watch the video below!
Create a Screenwriting Portfolio
Next, you’ll need to work on creating a strong screenwriting portfolio that showcases your work. Generally speaking, your portfolio will function as your resume and will help you land jobs in the industry, so make sure to spend time perfecting it.
Here are five steps you can take to create a killer screenwriting portfolio:
- Create a dedicated webpage or platform: Create a website that can house all of your screenplay examples. Upload them in a user-friendly format like PDF.
- Diversify your work: If you can, make sure to include a wide range of scripts in different formats, styles, and genres.
- Properly format each script: Make sure your script has been thoroughly proofread and adheres to industry standard formats.
- Showcase your achievements: If you’ve won any awards or received recognition for a specific project, be sure to include this in its own section on your website
- Stay up to date: Ensure that you are regularly adding new work and achievements to your portfolio.
Find Paid Work as a Screenwriter
Landing paid work as a new screenwriter can definitely be challenging, but with enough persistence and determination, it’s more than achievable. Here are two key strategies you can use to break into the industry!
Find Agents or Managers
Finding a good agent or manager is a reliable strategy for landing your first paid gig. Agents function as intermediaries, helping connect you and your scripts with the right producers and directors. Here are three steps you can take to find the right representation for your work:
- Research relevant agents: Begin your research by honing in on agents and managers that represent screenwriters specifically. Seek out those with strong rosters and a history of success. Utilize social media platforms like Linkedin to research agents.
- Prepare your pitch: Before you reach out to a potential agent, make sure that you have thoroughly polished your portfolio and that is 100% up to date. Then, pen an email with a strong angle/hook that effectively pitches you and your work.
- Attend industry events: Outside of researching and pitching, a good way to connect with an agent is by participating in industry events; in particular, ones where you will have the opportunity to promote yourself face-to-face.
Sell Your Screenplay
Selling your first screenplay is like scaling a mountain – it’s going to require preparation, strategy, perseverance, and adaptability, but once you achieve this feat, you’ll feel like your on top of the world!
Here are three actionable tips that will help you sell your first screenplay:
- Enter screenwriting competitions: Sign up for as many reputable screenwriting competitions as you can. The Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition and the Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting are two high-profile competitions you can check out.
- Pitch to production companies: Research production companies that produce projects similar to your work. Once you’ve gathered a list of relevant studios, pitch each of them with a tailored email or phone call. Be sure to highlight how your writing aligns with their needs specifically.
- Use social media: Start publicly advocating your own work via social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Share your portfolio on these platforms and reach out to producers and directors directly.
Now Get Writing!
All in all, it’s more than possible to become a successful screenwriter in 2023. It just takes a good deal of determination, persistence, and adaptability. In addition, there are reliable steps you can take, such as taking a screenwriting course, using the right software programs, and creating a strong portfolio that will help expedite the launching of your career.
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