How Emerging Screenwriters can Break into the Film Business

sledgehammer breaking glass

By Scott A. McConnell

I was recently asked for advice on how to break into the screen industry. The following notes will especially focus on writing and producing, which are my background and experience.

*Know where you want to be. Writer, producer, actor, director, etc. Then work out a path towards that. Ignore the doubters and naysayers. And any dark whispers within yourself.

*Get into the biz at any level you can. At the bottom is often the best place to start because you can learn so much. Be a reader, runner, assistant, PA, coffee maker, driver.

*Hit on your friends, family and contacts to get a foot in the door. Cold call or write to production companies, asking for work.

*Help people who work in the biz who you want to help you. Or ask the pros for advice. One respectful (and informative) way to reach out to important people is to ask them for advice.
*Do a course in the field you want to enter. For example, a course on script analysis, so that when you apply for work as a reader you will have samples to show, “experience” to brag of.

*Working for free is a great way to get work that will teach you skills and get you credits. Caveat: you don’t want to do it too often or for too long.

*Do internships. If you’re good, you will be noticed and may earn a full-time job. After a personal recommendation from an industry player, internships are the best way into the biz.

*Be a mensch. When you get in, make contacts, impress people, work hard, do the tough or boring jobs, ask people how you can help them. Don’t talk politics or trash. Always be positive about the product you are helping to create. Be passionate.

*Learn all aspects of the biz. Knowledge is power, confidence and skill building, and it will make you look a pro who can be trusted.

*Study your craft. There are books and articles to read, old timers to quiz. Shoots to watch.

*Read the classics. Both the older classics: Hugo, Ibsen, Rattigan, Dumas, Bronte, Fleming. And the new ones: modern screenwriting masters like Bill Goldman, Aaron Sorkin, Nora Ephron, Diablo Cody, Joel Surnow, Gary Ross, Vince Gilligan, Gillian Flynn.

*The best book on fiction writing (I have read) is Ayn Rand’s The Art of Fiction. Read other classic writing texts like Stephen King On Writing, Robert McKee’s Story. Every writer must know The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri.  
*Write great stories, ones that stand out, are original, have a new voice.  

*Get a great script editor to edit your scripts. No new writer can be objective; get help from a pro.

*To sell your scripts: First get the script finished! Then develop your pitching materials: biog, pitch letter, one-page synopsis and a brilliant logline. Then you have two main options: 1/ Get an agent, manager or entertainment lawyer to represent you and your work or 2/ go directly to companies/broadcasters and pitch yourself. Do NOT submit unless your script is FINISHED (as good as you can possibly get it), as judged by experts.

*Find places to pitch your scripts: search IMDB pro and the internet for the best companies for your type of story. Then send them a knockout pitch letter. (You can find agents online to get their email addresses, but the best way to get an agent is by a referral from a pro or through some success like a contest win, or better yet, a sale or option.)

*Get credits. Build a resume. Develop a page on IMDB.
*Look out for wankers, amateurs and bs artists. Check their credits or writings. And beware of some “experts.” Take it all with a grain of salt. Keep an open (active) mind to the ideas of others, but develop your own philosophy and style.

*Don’t forget the people who helped you and build a network of good people. Stay in touch with them. If you say you are going to do something, do it. Be trustworthy and respectful. Good people notice good people. Always remember that pros are very busy. Be patient in silence, gracious in failure, thankful in success.

Good luck. It’s a tough biz but a great one that respects and wants talent. Believe in yourself and believe that your work and life are important. Take pride in your work and character. When discouraged, read an uplifting story and study Kipling’s poem If. When successful, remember that once you weren’t but do enjoy your work and achievement.
May you have a long, satisfying and productive career in the film and TV business.
It’s in your hands now…
Scott McConnell,
writer/story consultant