06,April
2016

Starting A Screenwriting Career

It’s a whole new world out there. The entire screenwriting/filmmaking landscape has changed from when I was starting out back in the early 00s. There are more and more people bustling for producers’ inboxes than ever before. Plus, the competition is improving; good style and efficiency is now the prerequisite screenwriting standard. If I was starting out now, here’s 7 tips I would follow, highlighted with stuff wot I’ve done myself:

1)   PORTFOLIO

Write a range of screenplays. A short script. A half-hour script. An hour TV pilot and a feature-length script. These are all valuable currency, and can show your range as a writer, and are equally handy for competitions/schemes, and short film opportunities. (Me: I gave up my day job in 2000. It was 2004 before I got my first TV gig. In between, I was writing treatments, shorts and feature scripts, I hadn’t yet written a TV pilot.)

2)   INTERNETWORKING

Get online. Start a blog, or Tumblr, or Facebook page or whatever. Sign up to Twitter. But don’t just get online and post drunken photos from last night. This is the professional you; your shop window. So, keep your blog on-topic, and maintain it well. Blogging’s not for everyone but if you have something to say, then say it (film reviews, industry opinion, whatevs). Tumblr is better for just sharing stuff that you’ve found inspirational or interesting (all relevant to writing/filmmaking). There’s a big screenwriting community online, and you’ll find a lot of them hanging out on Twitter, sharing links, info or just having a laugh. Get involved but don’t get too distracted, either. (Me: I started this blog in 2005. I’m on Facebook and Twitter. I do the UK Scriptwriters Podcast with Tim. I helped set up the Red Planet Prize in 2007. I try to use the internet as a proactive tool as much as possible.)

3)   COLLABORATE

As you develop online contacts, see if anyone wants to make your short film, or if there’s anything you can do to get involved with their projects. There’s always something going on, and people are always looking for help. So, you could probably find a producer or director for your short film within a couple of hours of friendly online query. Better still, produce or direct the film yourself, and gather a crew through various key online resources like Shooting People, Talent Circle etc. (Me: I’ve worked on loads of shorts, plus as an assistant/runner in TV, all of which helped me with key contacts, especially when it came to making my own shorts, and of course the best collaboration came this year with Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg, with Tim.)

4)   MAKE STUFF

The internet is ours. We own it, we control what we put out there. Technology is cheap and accessible. Heck, you can make a short film on your iPhone or the camera on your computer. So, get together with your filmy friends or collaborators, and make a trailer, a short film, a web series or a low budget feature. There’s no excuse not to nowadays. (Me: As well as shorts, I’ve done web series and generally played around – all good fun and learning.)

5)   SUBMIT

Apply to every writing competition or scheme that’s out there. BBC Writersroom, Red Planet Prize, BFI Shorts, Channel 4’s Coming Up. If you’re not in it, you won’t win it, and most of these opportunities are free to enter (all of the above, for example). Preparing the application form and relevant script keeps you disciplined and focused. You’ll probably get rejected but hey, that’s just the numbers game, not a damning indictment on your actual talent. (Me: I won a BBC New Writing Award in 2004. I placed top 10 out of 2900 in BBC Writersroom a couple of years ago. If I’m eligible to enter, I’ll give a comp a go.)

6)   LEARN

Keep up-to-date with industry news with Screen International and Broadcast magazine. Study the relevant books about screenwriting that are popular, and whose methods are widely embraced. Through your collaboration, learn as much as you can about every facet of filmmaking, from props, make-up, special FX, everything, so you can have a better appreciation of what everyone does, and how everyone contributes to the creativity of a project (not just the writer or director). (Me: Twitter is handy nowadays for keeping up-to-date with stuff.)

7)   KEEP WRITING

You’ll get rejected. A lot. Especially as you start off. But it never goes away; it’s a constant companion. ‘Good’ news: it happens to everyone (even the most successful screenwriters get rejected or fired, right now). Toughen up. A rejection is not a rejection of you, just a rejection of the particular story or project. Keep writing. Improve. Learn. Then your work will be harder to ignore, and even harder to reject. (That whole last paragraph was me, basically.)

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