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Business of Screenwriting: Furthering Your Career as a Writer

Understand that writing good scripts is essential to furthering your career, but there are more "must do" items necessary to succeed as a screenwriter.

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Do you know the steps to becoming a professional writer? Do you know how to get from writing your first spec script to getting offers to develop your original ideas while being paid tons of money? I’m going to outline it right here and now. Understand that writing good scripts is only a quarter of the work that must be done. All the rest are very tricky, but they are all “must” do items:

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a. First of all you must learn how to write a “proper” script. That means format, structure, plot and characters.

b. You will have to take classes in screenwriting at a local college or online.

c. You must read screenwriting books by professionals who will tell you how to write great characters and how to cut and rewrite your script.

d. Once you’ve finished your first script you will need to put it in a drawer and forget about it. Believe me it is not good. Writing is a learning art form, and no one ever gets it right on the first try.

e. Write a second script but make sure you are in a genre that you love.

f. Now rewrite the second script until the descriptions are shorter, the plot is less complicated and the characters are likable and show some personal growth.

g. You will now need to hire a writing consultant to tell you what you did right and what you did wrong in that script. You do NOT want “coverage.” You want a complete review of your material from a well-known professional. Dig into your jeans and find the money. It is a huge part of your education.

h. After working with the consultant to everyone’s satisfaction, go ahead and write another screenplay in the same genre.

i. When that is completed repeat letter “g” above.

j. Once you have two really good scripts, you are wondering how to move ahead. You have some big choices to make while sitting in your home in Detroit, Chicago, Canada, Duluth or New Haven. Will you stay at home or move to Los Angeles? Do you want to be an independent filmmaker or a major studio writer? Think about these decisions carefully and commit to whichever one you choose.

k. Go to all of the pitchfests, writer’s seminars and film festivals that you can afford.

l. Take along 10 copies of each script and twenty copies of a short treatment/synopsis of each film.

m. Do not take any artwork with you. The pros will only throw them away in their hotel rooms.

n. Listen closely and watch closely when pitching your project. Are they really interested? Do they lean forward or backward? Do they ask questions? Are they intrigued?

o. If they ask for the script you may give it to them or send it to them. Which do they prefer? If you send it to them, be sure to do so immediately.

p. Ask for everyone’s card. If they don’t have one, ask the name of their company. If they aren’t in Los Angeles, forget about them. Once you have their name and address, send them an email “thank you” note for listening to you and for coming to the event. This person is now a “contact” for you.

q. Start another script in the same genre and repeat all of the above.

r. If you’ve sent your script to anyone and haven’t heard back from them within two weeks, email or call their office to see if they have received it and had a chance to look at it. Be very nice and friendly to the assistant.

s. If you’ve decided that you want a Hollywood career, get yourself organized, find the money and MOVE.

t. In Los Angeles, go to the Writers Guild (WGA) and see what they have to offer you in the way of seminars, panel discussions, writers groups and information. Ask for a copy of their Minimum Basic Agreement and their Rules and Regulations.

u. Find a good agent at a small agency. Use referrals or just walk in cold. Email a query letter that is perfect. Follow up in a week. Do not try big agencies. They won’t take you until you are well established and already making money. Do all of the same things to find a manager while you are looking for an agent.

v. Make connections via a writers group, any WGA events you attend, check out the Sherwood Oaks’ school for writers and attend their events. Have business cards printed that say: Writer.

w. Be nice to everyone but don’t take any crap from them. People in Hollywood will cancel meetings at the last minute or keep you waiting in their outer offices for an hour, or not return your calls, ad infinitum.

You now have your foot in the door, so just keep trying and keep on writing.

Everything is up to you!

Michele Wallerstein’s book: MIND YOUR BUSINESS: A Hollywood Literary Agent’s Guide to Your Writing Success may be purchased via The Writers Store, E-Bay, (in paperback and on Kindle) and local book stores.


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