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Script Angel: Making the Dream of Screenwriting Success Come True

Hayley McKenzie is a Script Editor and founder of Script Angel, helping screenwriters elevate their craft and advance their screenwriting career. Follow her on Twitter @scriptangel1.

Hollywood has often been known as the Dream Factory and it’s no coincidence that Steven Spielberg named his production company DreamWorks. The film industry might produce other people’s dreams but what about your dream to be a successful screenwriter? How do you go from a love of telling stories and a passion for films, to being a professional screenwriter that gets paid to write stories others will spend millions of dollars producing, distributing and marketing?

“Dreams can come true... if we have the courage to pursue them��� – Walt Disney

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If your dream is to become a successful, professional screenwriter, you’re not alone. You’re entering one of the most competitive industries out there and to succeed you’ll need skill and determination. Screenwriting is one of the most sought-after careers and no wonder, surely there’s no better job in the world then telling stories that move, entertain and inspire millions of people? In the US alone there are over five-hundred screenwriting courses, between them producing thousands of screenwriting graduates every year, each with a dream to succeed.

“A dream becomes a goal when action is taken toward its achievement” – Bo Bennett

The good news is that since you’re reading Script Magazine you’re clearly already taking action to turn your dream into a reality. If you’re writing, even if it’s only a little bit every day, then you’re taking steps to make your dream come true. Every successful screenwriter started as an outsider with no experience, no representation, no paying screenwriting gigs, just a dream to make it as a screenwriter.

So what can you do to improve your chances of becoming a successful screenwriter? We all know that it starts with the script. No one comes into this world as a fully-rounded, exceptional screenwriter. Some innate talent is important but so is learning the craft and developing the screenwriting skills that will enable you to make the script do want you want it to do. I might have a flair and instinct for script editing but most of what I do today has come from years and years of practice, more internships than I care to remember, low-paid script reading work analyzing thousands of scripts, working with writers, directors, producers, executive producers and developing hundreds of projects right through to production. It is through that combination of study and doing that we learn best. The more good books on the craft of screenwriting you read, you better you come to understand how great screenplays are constructed. By watching movies and reading their screenplays you learn how that amazing film moment that made you cry has been carefully constructed by a skilled screenwriter. And if (s)he can do it, so can you!

In a highly competitive market a well constructed screenplay is essential, but even with every story beat hit on precisely the right page it won’t make your script stand-out. For that you need something that is harder to teach but just as important; your unique writing voice.

Writing a story because you think it’s what the market is looking for is rarely a way to achieve success. Instead, write stories you are passionate about – after all, if you are not passionate about what you’re writing how can you expect anyone else to be? Telling that unique story that you are desperate to share with the world and crafting it in a way that is accessible and engaging is what will make it feel commercially appealing. It’s also important to stay creatively inspired, to keep refueling that creative tank by doing things that expand your horizons, whether that’s taking your dog for a walk in the park so that your mind can wander, or visiting art galleries, or watching controversial documentaries. Whatever it is that keeps you feeling alive and curious and passionate and excited, make sure you make time for it.

So you’ve got an amazing script that is going to blow everyone away? Well that’s great, but having a brilliant script that no one knows about won’t open doors for you. Along with that awesome spec script you need to learn how the industry works and be getting your work noticed. Researching producers, production companies, screenwriting contests and events might not be as much fun as writing but it’s just as important. Luckily there are a ton of resources out there to help you do all those things and with hard work and determination you can find your way.

But how will you know when you have ‘made it’? Is it when you sell your first spec script? But what if that script never gets produced? Maybe it’s when you get your first screenwriting credit on a produced film? But what if you get fired and other writers are brought in so that screenwriting credit is a shared one? Does it still count? OK, so it’s got to be when you can give up the day-job and earn your living as a full-time screenwriter, right? Well that’s great, until you realize that there are other screenwriters getting better gigs than you and earning more money than you!

It’s worth bearing in mind that seeking happiness in the destination alone can be a dangerous thing. It’s what psychologists call hedonic adaptation:

Imagine you’ve just picked up the keys to your very own, multi-million dollar house in Hollywood. It’s huge, with marble floors and the highest spec decor. Life is perfect. As you pull up at the gates of your dream home you glance up the hill next to you and see Jennifer Anniston’s hill-top mansion. With a pang of envy you think ‘what would it be like to live in a house with that view?’ from 'Psychology of Success' by Alison & David Price.

Whatever material success we gain, whatever money or goods we acquire, we quickly adapt to it and then want more. The key is to enjoy the journey, to find joy in all the things that you’re doing to turn your dream into a reality. Take pleasure in every small success and learn from the knock-backs and rejections. Take actions that will help you to keep learning, keep improving, keep developing and your dream of being a successful screenwriter will come true.

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