February 19-20, 2022 was Roadmap Writers first annual virtual conference and it was awesome! There were over 70 executives who were on panels sharing their wisdom and advice about how to get your screenplays into the right hands or how to write amazing screenplays, and they were also taking pitches from writers and giving fantastic feedback on how to improve our pitches or better present them.
I'm a novelist who has been writing for over twenty years and a dozen novels published, but I am just getting started with screenplays. Which is surprising, because my father was a screenwriter and an actor, and I can't believe I never wanted to write in this format before now.
Below are a few of the takeaways I had after attending this conference.
WRITE! WRITE! WRITE!
Believe it or not, many screenwriters work on that ONE screenplay and then start farming it out and giving pitches and stop there until they can sell that ONE screenplay. BIG mistake, and here's why…
Today is the best time to be a screenwriter! We're in the age of streaming movies and TV, the studios are looking for LOTS of content!!! You don't want to sell just one screenplay. You want to keep selling more and more screenplays. You will NOT just write one story and then hang your hat up on the single check you got from selling that one script. First, that check you get might not be as much as you hoped, and second…that money will run out. Don't you want a STEADY paycheck, to get paid constantly to do what you love to do? So KEEP WRITING so you can sell more!
But here are other reasons you should keep writing…
- You Learn so much! – You don't learn how to write screenplays or find your voice as a writer with just one manuscript. You have to keep writing. The more you write, the better you get.
- They Need More – Executives (producers and directors) and Representatives (agents and managers) want to know if you're a prolific writer. If you only have one screenplay, then you can't prove yourself as a writer who can keep producing content. If they like the one idea you pitch, you HAVE to be ready to answer the inevitable question, “What else ya got?” KEEP WRITING.
- Don't Limit Yourself – Your one screenplay idea may not be what's popular now, or relevant to matters today. Or maybe it is, but because that period of selling those types of scripts has come and gone before you could get yours sold, you now have nothing left to offer. Keep writing to have something new to offer, but don't throw away what you've written. Things come around again, so an old screenplay might become relevant again with a new social issue or trend.
So don't stop writing. Write your first screenplay, edit it until you think it's ready, then put it aside and write the next one. I know that sounds painful! I know you're anxious to start pitching it. But TRUST ME when I say you're not ready. Start the next screenplay, edit it, put it aside. WRITE THE NEXT ONE.
Don't stop until you've written at least 3-5 manuscripts. THEN go back to the first one and re-read it. Does it still sound wonderful? Are you still in love with it? Is it still well-written? Once you've gone through the experience of writing multiple screenplays, chances are you've learned a whole lot more technically and about yourself and what you love to write, and that first screenplay won't be as good as you've become. You'll be glad you didn't submit it when it was finished. Polish those manuscripts and maybe write one or two more before you start farming them out. Because then you have to learn the next part…
Getting Your Script Out There
Just like writing a book, you're not done. Now you have to learn the marketing side. With books, you can either submit to publishers or self-publish, but either way, you have to market your books to sell them. Same thing with screenwriting. It's time to get your script in front of execs and reps, but to do that, you need to network and pitch.
Pitching your manuscript is a whole other learning curve, and an art in and of itself. This is a short summary of your story idea, along with why YOU are THE person to write this story. You then verbally pitch it to an executive in hopes they're interested in reading your script. They'll either pass or ask for more. “More” usually is the script you just pitched, but sometimes they'll pass on that story idea and want to hear, “What else ya got?” See why “keep writing” is so important?
If they pass on your script after they read it, it doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad script. Maybe they already have a writer who writes in the same genre, or they have another script they're producing that is very similar, or your style of writing is not something they're looking for. Above all, don't take it personally! Just do your job and keep writing. If you keep getting turned down, spend the money to get your script evaluated, and by more than one person. If they're writing similar notes about what you're doing wrong, take it seriously and fix it. But if you believe in your story, don't give up. Figure out how to make it work.
Relationships are KEY/KING in the Industry
Why are relationships so important in the Entertainment Industry? People IN the industry say that all the time – especially when it comes to television – but what does it mean? Why isn't writing a good script enough to get it sold OR get your pilot picked up and produced?
Think about it from their perspective. They have a multimillion-dollar TV show or movie they're producing. There is a TON of pressure to not only make money once it's released and being consumed by the public, but they have a tight budget in which to operate and they DO NOT want to be wasting time (time = money) or energy on someone they don't know. Are you easy to work with? Can you do rewrites in a few days? Do you take feedback/criticism personally? Do you play well with others?
How will they know this about you if they've never worked with you OR they don't know anyone who has worked with you who could speak on your behalf.
If you're brand new to the industry with no experience working with other people in the industry, chances are the best you can hope for is getting your script purchased and that's it. You will most likely not be involved in any stage of the production. And chances are, the script they buy from you will not be the one that makes it to the screen. MANY scripts go through SEVERAL rewrites, and most brand new writers are NOT okay with their babies being morphed into something they never imagined.
That's why networking and building relationships are sooooo important in Hollywood. So you can't just write. You'll need to put yourself out there and mingle!
Not All Screenplays Are Meant To Be Sold
This is mostly for NEW writers, but knowing this nugget of information will help you build realistic expectations. Being successful as a screenwriter doesn't mean you're going to sell the screenplays you're writing now. At least not right away. Like the auditions actors perform to get acting jobs, the screenplays you're writing at the beginning of your career are samples of your writing, and will therefore HELP YOU get a job.
We all dream of having our original screenplay idea being bought up by a studio and produced. That is definitely the ultimate goal, but in this industry, you have to take baby steps. There's just no way around the process (see previous section about building relationships). Sure, there are those “overnight sensations” and rare gem opportunities where someone gets their very first screenplay bought for a million dollars and it's produced, but the odds of that happening are even slimmer than winning the lottery. Don't give up on your dream, just realize it will most likely NOT happen that way or right away. You have to work your way up.
The screenplays you're penning today are the ones that will get you a JOB. Some agent, manager, producer or director might get your screenplay and think, “Hey, this is a good writer! Great voice, good technique, knows how to format a script properly.” And then you could get hired to rewrite someone else's screenplay, or get hired two write on a show. Even those job opportunities are difficult to get without networking and putting yourself out there.
BUT my point is don't hitch your wagon onto the idea that the screenplay you write today is going to be produced and you'll be walking the red carpet at your premier.
LATER, after you've worked with studios on other people's projects, you will have the chops and experience that will get YOUR screenplay produced. Does that make sense?
So write those screenplays, but don't anticipate them being produced right away. Once you've made contacts and gained experience, THEN you can dig those original ideas out with hopes of getting them produced. And if they DO get bought right away, WHOOPEE!! It's a win-win.
Bottom Line – Keep Writing Because It's Your Job
Whether or not your screenplay is bought and produced, you have to keep writing to hone your craft and do your job, which is to keep writing more content. You need to grow as a writer AND you need to create lots of content so you have something to sell.
If you ever want to see your script produced and be able to see your name on the screen as “Written By”, then you have to put in your time and write. Write for other people AND write for yourself. Build realistic expectations and if you get lucky and your first screenplay gets bought and you produced, it will make the experience that much more amazing for you!
What About You?
Are you an aspiring screenwriter? Are you a novelist and you're thinking about wanting to break into screenwriting? Do you have a great story to share about what you've learned by being in the industry? Or do you have an experience in the industry that would prove my statements right or wrong? Please comment below and share!