How To ‘Break In’
Every week, screenwriters email me about how to ‘break in’ as a writer. They will ask me what they should do next, or why it’s going wrong for them.
Personally, I’ve always advocated creating one’s career, rather than focusing on how to ‘break in’. I feel the latter promotes the idea that the industry is a locked shop and writers are being kept ‘out’. This has never been my experience, because I’ve never believed that. I’ve also followed the 5 tips below.
So if you are ready to ‘break in’ (or rather, create your career!), then check these tips out:
1) Write Spec Screenplays People Actually WANT
My first simple tip would be to maximise your portfolio. In other words, write stuff that is achievable and that people actually want. This is because …
- Too many spec scripts are written FOR their own writers (not an actual target audience)
- Worse, too many specs are not possible to make at low budgets
- Too few screenwriters even know what ‘low budget’ means, ie. ££$$ range
Research is the key in finding out what the industry wants, plus what is possible for what money. This doesn’t mean you are ‘selling out’, just SELLING. It’s what professional writers DO. More on maximising your portfolio, HERE.
By the way, if you don’t have an agent, this is not necessarily an issue. Lots of people say it’s a ‘Catch 22!’ and you have to have an agent to get work. If this was ever true, it’s definitely not now. More info on how to get produced without an agent, HERE.
Lastly, if you DO want an agent? That’s okay too, CLICK HERE. Just know agents are hard to attract as a screenwriter without 2 or 3 on this list. More, next.
2) Create An Online Platform And/Or Following
NEWSFLASH: Agents, producers, filmmakers and other writers Google people. This means how we appear online is very important. Make sure you have a good online presence. I can’t stress this enough.
Google your own name, right now. What appears in auto-complete? Here’s mine, at time of writing:
Now look what appears in your text results. Again, here’s mine:
And here’s my image results:
It’s Not Accidental
None of what appears in my search results is accidental. Look at the keywords. I have cultivated these results, for a long time.
But what’s more, it’s not difficult. You can do the same, simply by adding to content online. Consider the below, when thinking about your results.
- If you do not appear at all (or very, very low down the search results). This is bad news. When relationships are everything in the media, a quick Google check is common sense. If people cannot find you at all, they may not want to work with you.
- If you DO appear, ask yourself a) Is it good? b) Neutral? c) bad? Good results are the ideal and relate to writing and filmmaking stuff. Neutral may be your day job, or unrelated good stuff like appearing in the local paper because your kid won something. Bad is (usually) you writing lengthy diatribes online or trolling others, especially in the industry. Massive own goal.
The good news is, your current ‘Googlability’ is not the way it must be forever. You CAN ensure your search results come back MUCH better in the future. Start today! A great online platform is a must in 2019. At the very least you should have a good website or Linkedin profile.
3) Create Some Buzz For Yourself
i) Make Short Films
Even after 15 years in the script reading trenches, I believe the simplest way of creating buzz is STILL making a short film. The good news is, advances in tech means this is more achievable than ever. It’s possible to create high quality shorts and documentaries at very low budgets on iPhones, even.
Creating buzz with shorts can mean different things. Obviously, winning awards and commendations at high profile film festivals is great. If you can do this, all power to you. But films festival submissions can be very expensive, plus there’s no guarantees you will win or place. So maybe you want to create buzz another way. Here are a few I have seen Bang2writers do:
- Work with charities, so they can access that charity’s audience (especially online).
- Taking part in 48 Hour Film Challenges and other initiatives, like Create50’s The Impact.
- Create your own short film showcases in pubs, village halls, online, etc and invite people you want to work with.
- Research and get commissioned by organisations to make your film, like The Exeter Phoenix’s. (Which B2W advises on, by the way). These commissions often lead to official showcases.
- Create a short with a learning objective, taking it into schools and orgs for talks and workshops.
- Making the film available online, with teachers’ resources as a free download so it’s distributed into classrooms by the teachers themselves.
This is not an exhaustive list. There’s ALWAYS ways to get your work out there, if you want to make a short film.
ii) Enter Screenwriting Competitions
That said, making films is not possible for everyone. There are lots of Bang2writers with responsibilities or challenges that mean making shorts is too much of a gargantuan task. Then there’s the writers who simply don’t want to!
If you are one of these writers then, entering screenwriting competitions may present a viable strategy. The bigger ones include Final Draft Big Break, The Nicholl Fellowship, Bluecat, Scriptapolooza, Shore Scripts and The PAGE Awards. If you can win or place highly in 4-5 screenwriting contests in the same year, this can be one way of getting agents’ and filmmakers’ attention. Bang2writer KT Parker writes about this in more detail, HERE.
Lastly, I am fan of the book Screenplay Competitions: Tools and Insights to Help You Choose the Best Screenwriting Contests for You and Your Script by Ann Marie Williams. You can buy it, HERE.
iii) Network Like A Pro
Lastly, networking well in real life is a great way of creating buzz around yourself. If you are sociable (or can can fake it well), then meeting as many people as possible is a great strategy (as long as you are not weird or demanding!).
You don’t have to wait for official networking events, either. Asking people for coffee (you’re buying) is a GREAT way of meeting producers and filmmakers, especially those on their way up the ladder. For 5 Quick Tips On Effective Networking, CLICK HERE.
4) Try Events and Online Hosting
If you’re able to, try an event like London Screenwriters’ Festival. There are lots of initiatives, competitions and a pitchfest associated with this event – amongst other things. It’s the biggest screenwriting festival in the world now and you can meet lots of people there. The next one is in 2021, but you can get ‘PAYG’ tickets to budget for it.
I would also recommend giving sites like Stage32, Roadmap Writers, Virtual Pitchfest, The Black List, Ink Tip a try. These sites will let you pitch your script to industry pros and/or host his script online, for a fee. They have their fans and their detractors, so make sure you do your due diligence. (For the record I have heard of Bang2writers doing well with all 5 of these. Roadmap Writers is my personal recommendation. This is because I know Joey Tuccio and believe he is a great guy who genuinely loves writers and wants to help them break in).
Look, I get it. It is tough to break in. It wasn’t different for me, I had to create my career too. Spec Screenwriting and filmmaking is a difficult gig. But if you concentrate too much on the ‘break in’ moment, you may miss opportunities right in front of you.
Instead, I put to you … What is more preferable:
- Believing you WILL get where what you want to be (whilst enacting the 4 other points on this list)?
- Thinking it’s all pointless and everyone wants to keep you out?
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Grab Your Free Online Course
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So, if you want proven methodologies for working on your writing craft (including developing your structural toolbox), this course will provide the know-how and the resources you need. To grab your free mini course from B2W then, CLICK HERE.