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On Becoming a Screenwriter

7/10/2012

If you are pursuing a dream of becoming a screenwriter, you’re embarking on a potentially exciting adventure. While many aspiring screenwriters put a lot of time and unrewarded effort into their scripts at the beginning, selling that first screenplay can be the most fulfilling moment of your life—and once you build a reputation as a screenwriter, the jobs can develop into a lucrative career.

But it is important to note that the film industry is very competitive, and getting that first script picked up can definitely be a challenge. In order to compete in this market, you need to tell stories that are nothing short of compelling—and once you’ve written those scripts, you need to have industry connections in order to get them read. (Writing the best screenplay in the world does you no good if the industry executives never see it.)

That being said, if you are serious about becoming a screenwriter, here are some tips to help you along:

  1. Read. (A lot.) Developing a good screenplay starts with telling a good story, and you need to be well-versed in stories that have already been told.
  2. Study. You should learn to be a good researcher, so that your screenplays are accurate and believable. You should also learn the elements of storytelling. (A writing course or two could help.)
  3. Write. This should go without saying, but the more you write, the better you will be at it. Practice writing constantly.
  4. Connect. Your target market, as it were, is not the viewing public. Your target market is the film industry—the people who can take your script and turn it into something that the public will view. You need to make as many connections as possible within the film business, so you have somewhere to pitch your screenplays when they are completed.

Should you go to film school to become a screenwriter? It can help, but it is not mandatory. Some film industry professionals even feel that formal film schools are overrated, because they charge high tuition rates but do not actually help students connect to the industry. One really good way to learn screenwriting is to learn directly from a screenwriter—someone who is doing what you want to do for a living. Apprenticing under a working screenwriter could do more than just teach you how to write a screenplay: it could also teach you the “tricks of the trade” and help you make connections. If you don’t know a screenwriter who could take you on as an apprentice (extern), one alternative is to enroll in a film school that uses the mentor-apprentice (extern) approach.

Screenwriting can be a very rewarding profession, but you need to know more than just how to write screenplays. You need some business know-how, and you need industry connections. If you want to be a screenwriter, focus on these aspects as well as the writing itself.

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