Getting started is the hardest part.
We know there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people who have amazing stories to tell and would write a screenplay if they could, but it’s that getting started part that holds so many creative people back. But what if I told you that there’s a tried-and-true approach to doing just about anything, including screenwriting? Screenwriter, author, and podcaster Bryan Young (StarWars.com, HowStuffWorks.com, SyFy.com) joins us today to guide you to become a screenwriter, and we’ve broken it down into ten simple steps.
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Now, this guide is not the only way to become a screenwriter, of course. Some writers choose to go the college route, majoring in film or creative writing while at one of the best universities for filmmaking and learning the ropes there. That’s an option, too; just make sure you know how to choose a filmmaking school wisely based on your screenwriting career goals.
How to Become a Screenwriter
1. Learn How to Write a Screenplay
Traditional screenplays are rigidly formatted, yes, but there are other structural elements that make a screenplay an effective way to communicate a story visually. Before you start writing, learn how to write a traditional screenplay. Screenplay beats make a story move along, while character arcs explore a character’s growth and make the story more relatable to your audience. Scenes require positive and negative charges to create tension and interest. There are also standards for how long acts, scenes, and sequences should be. Get to know the lay of the land by first reading through some screenwriting books.
You’ll also want to understand the various screenwriting terms and meanings and see examples of what various parts of a traditional screenplay look like.
2. Read Screenplays and Then Watch the Accompanying Movies
To understand how a screenplay functions and to learn how to turn your story idea into something that translates on screen, you should read lots of screenplays. What makes them work? Then, watch those films. Young told us that doing this is like a mini film school education.
Try writing a short film first, then maybe something a little longer before you dive into a feature or a television show. Learn how to write a short film here.
4. Find a Screenwriting Mentor
You don’t have to set out on this screenwriting journey alone. There are plenty of people who want to share their screenwriting wisdom, but you have to know where to look and how to ask. Find a screenwriting mentor to help hone your craft, give you great advice, constructive criticism, and possibly even share industry connections with you.
5. Get a Screenwriting-Related Job or Internship
If you want to get a screenwriting job, it may require a move to one of the screenwriting hubs, although some screenwriting internships are now fully remote in a post-pandemic world. While the role may not require you actually to put pen to paper, you’ll make invaluable connections and learn what it takes to make a movie or TV show come to life while working in one of the many alternative jobs for screenwriters.
6. Learn the Screenwriting Business
Internships will help you get a baseline for how the entertainment industry machine operates, but you also need to know how you, the screenwriter, can be part of that process. Learn the screenwriting business. It will help you understand what to write, how to make money writing scripts, and how to be aware of red flags.
7. Build Screenwriting Connections
The film and television industry is a relationship business. Starting the relationship-building process early and working at it often will pay dividends for screenwriters. Learn how to network in the film industry, leverage the online screenwriting community, and avoid networking mistakes that screenwriters often make.
8. Continue Growing
Consider challenging yourself with a screenwriting contest, which can help you see where you rank among your peers and can help you make a name for yourself and your screenwriting resume if you don’t have any screenwriting credits to your name. Work on your skills by writing outside your genre and tackling interesting screenwriting prompts daily.
9. Build Your Screenwriting Bench
As with almost any career, you’ll need people to help you along the way. When you become a paid screenwriter, you’ll likely need more than just the aforementioned mentor. Learn the difference between agents, managers, and entertainment lawyers, and figure out which one(s) you’ll need to take your career to the next level.
10. Sell Your Screenplay
There are many ways to go about marketing yourself and your screenplays to sell a script eventually. Note that I wrote the plural “screenplays.” You need more than one, and often in different genres. Studios, producers, managers, and agents don’t want a one-hit-wonder, so make sure your portfolio is complete with several protected screenplays before you attempt to sell one. No agent? No problem. There are plenty of places to submit your screenplays, solicited or otherwise.
Like Mark Twain once said, the secret to getting ahead is getting started.