Almost all of us at one time or another thought something and said, “Hey, that would make a great movie.” For some, that idea turns into a hobby, then a goal and finally pursuit of a career. Unfortunately, becoming a professional screenwriter is one of the more difficult jobs to secure. There are few openings and a ton of competition but there are some steps you can take to make your dream of becoming a screenwriter turn into a reality.
Screenwriting is a craft that varies widely from other forms of writing such as novels or short stories. Your first step in writing a film, besides having an idea for a story, is learning the proper format of a screenplay and understanding basic story structure. When it comes to format, there are a ton of resources out there to get you started. Any beginning screenwriter should always have a copy of David Trottier’s, The Screenwriter’s Bible. This is a great reference guide that teaches you everything from what a slug line is to where to use parentheticals in your scripts. Always remember you can’t get your foot in the door if your script doesn’t look professional.
After you’ve learned some basic formatting techniques, you’ll want to take a look at basic story structure. One of the biggest pitfalls of new writer’s is a lack of structure in their work. In short, every film must have a beginning, a middle and an end. Your hero has to start somewhere, develop a goal to pursue and either achieve or fail at that goal at some time and be changed by the journey in the end. Much like format, there are many resources out there that can give you an idea of how story structure works. One of the most recognizable books on the subject of structure is Robert McKee’s Story.
Putting the Pen to Paper and Beyond
Once you have learned the basics of screenwriting, it’s time to put the pen to paper. Writing can be a lonely hobby and you’ll spend countless hours alone and tapping away at your computer but eventually you will type FADE OUT on your work. Then comes the real heavy lifting – what to do when your script is complete.
For starters, you’ll want some feedback. Even accomplished professionals like Gary Young, writer of such works like Harry Brown and The Tournament, seek feedback for their work. Feedback gives you an outsider’s perspective of your story. While it’s nice to go to friends or relatives for their opinion, it’s probably best to utilize a peer review site like American Zoetrope or Talentville or even pay a professional script doctor if you are looking for the most useful notes.
You script is done and your revisions are complete. Now what? You can’t sell a script that’s stored under your bed – you need exposure. For new writers with no industry contacts, one of the best vehicles to gain exposure for your work is to enter screenwriting contests. Finishing in the top tier of these competitions can get you reads from managers and agents in the business and securing one of these professionals can launch your career into super stardom. Check out what’s out there–there’s something for every genre and experience level!
Screenwriting is one of the toughest professions to break into. It takes dedication, knowledge, networking and talent – but it can be done. One must remember to write, rewrite and always seek exposure for your work. Set your goals and follow them relentlessly–remember, the harder you work the better your chances are. Good luck and write on.