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Monday
Mar052012

Become a Screenwriter in 25 Easy Steps!

Getting Started

  • Direct your own work. If you want control over the scripts you write and you're not one of the top 10 screenwriters in the world, you must fund and direct them yourself.
  • Make short movies first. That means writing/directing short films/Internet videos/webseries, then moving on to your first feature once you've amassed the experience, crew, and funds necessary to make a feature. Most people do not attempt to make a feature without at least 5 to 10 years of prior directing experience, but sometimes much more.
  • Let go of your work. Don't try to control everything you write. Write some things for yourself, and some for others. Making movies is the ultimate collaborative process. You can't do everything yourself. Experts in other fields (directing, acting, cinematography, set design, costuming, SFX, etc.) will actually make your work better. Trust them.
  • Be easy to work with. You can always get better at what you do. It's less easy to improve your reputation. No one wants to work with people who are controlling, oversensitive, condescending, egocentric, insecure, or rude.
  • Learn by working for others. That's the best way to gather friends and crew in the business. Interning or PAing for different production companies, student films, big-budget films, producers, etc. is the fastest way to do this. Do not expect to be paid for the first few years.


Writing

  • Do not expect your first 10 screenplays to be any good. You will think they're great, but when you return to them after 6 months or a few years, you'll realize they were not. Don't let that deter you. They need to be written before you start writing great screenplays. Don't worry: I know you don't believe that your first 10 screenplays won't be good. That's fine. Now, wait 5 years and come back to this post. See? I was right.
  • Rewrite constantly. To become a better screenwriter, you must be willing to rewrite. Constantly. If you're not subjecting each script to dozens or hundreds of drafts, you are not getting better. This is what the best writers are willing to do.
  • Don't say exactly what you mean in your dialogue. It sounds false. Subtext is best.
  • Try multiple genres. Don't be afraid to try horror, comedy, thrillers, intrigue, action—everything. You might be good at it.
  • Write every day. There is no such thing as writers' block; that's just perfectionism. It doesn't matter whether you're in the mood to write or not—even professionals rarely have the luxury of choosing when they feel like being creative. Brainstorm or write nonsense if you have to, but write a little every day. It will quickly become easy to write a lot every day.
  • Don't work on any one project too long. Write it, then come back to it after a few months, when you have more perspective. But don't spend years on any one script, because it will end up changing drastically when you get to the shooting stage anyway.
  • Don't worry about having your ideas stolen. It sometimes happens, and there's nothing you can do about it. But the alternative is being unwilling to share your work with fellow writers, production companies, and studios. If you don't share your work, no one will know about you, and you'll have no career. The only solution is to always have multiple projects in the works.


Getting Better

  • Read all the screenplays you can. I recommend subscribing to The Tracking Board, where almost every new script gets posted within hours of it starting to make the Hollywood rounds. Also check out Drew's Script-O-Rama.
  • Read everything you can on the subject. I highly recommend reading Writing Movies for Fun and Profit by Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant. And Save the Cat!. And Story by Robert McKee. Plus magazines like Creative Screenwriting, Script, etc.
  • Follow all the websites you can. ScriptShadow, Go Into the Story, John August, etc.
  • Listen to all the podcasts you can. "On the Page" is a good one. So is "The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith".
  • Take all the classes you can.
  • Be willing to listen to others when you get feedback on your latest screenplay. Don't listen to everyone—just people with more experience in the industry than you have, and preferably those who are not competing with you directly. Then rewrite based on their notes. Then show it to them again. If you find people who only praise your writing, they are not going to be helpful. Don't use them again. Likewise, you find people who only tear down your writing by making the criticism about you rather than about the writing itself, don't use them again either.
  • Do roundtable readings of your work with actors. This will help you figure out whether your words ring true or not. The actors will also tell you if they enjoyed their roles, or if there are rewrites you could do to improve them.


The Industry

  • Don't follow trends. By the time you follow a trend—say, zombie movies—it will already be over. Write something that's good, not something that's trendy. Better to start a trend than to follow someone else's.
  • When you get more serious, you'll have to move to L.A. That's where most screenwriting jobs are, and where the most networking is. It's also where the competition is the highest.
  • Attend festivals, even if you don't have anything screening in them. That's where you get a better sense of the industry. You'll also see what sort of talent is coming up through the system. And it's great networking, for everything from PA jobs to screenwriting jobs.
  • Make friends in the industry, and maintain those friendships. Don't treat anyone poorly. It's bad practice in general; plus, today's mailroom assistant is tomorrow's studio executive.
  • This is a game of longevity. The longer you stay in it, the better you will get. It will be very slow going at the beginning. Stick with it. I've been doing it for over a decade, and only now do I feel like I'm getting any good.

References (3)

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  • Response
    Response: news
    Awesome Website, Preserve the wonderful work. Thanks for your time.
  • Response
    The Real Timothy - Observations - Become a Screenwriter in 25 Easy Steps!
  • Response
    The Real Timothy - Observations - Become a Screenwriter in 25 Easy Steps!

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