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Four Screenplays Every Screenwriter Should Have In Their Arsenal

Updated: Sep 16, 2020

There are four types of scripts every writer should have in their arsenal. I’m not talking about genre -- that’s up to your taste and preference. What I’m talking about are four types of mediums that you should have a script written for.

Screenwriting Staffing has facilitated over 275 success stories in 7 years; during those 7 years, we have seen requests come through for all four mediums. Writers who can submit/apply to all four have the best chance of selling a script and/or landing a job. Featured success stories:

Without further ado:

Mr. Hublot (2014), Oscar winning animated short film

SHORT SCRIPTS. I know, I know. There are those who hate shorts and believe they are a waste of time. I landed my first agent and paid writing assignment through my short thesis film -- so, yes, I’m a believer. Writers/Directors such as Sofia Coppola, Paul Thomas Anderson, Tim Burton, George Lucas, and Wes Anderson -- just to a name a few -- broke into Hollywood with a short film. That alone should be enough of a motivation and validation.

I Digress.

FOR THE BEGINNER SCREENWRITER. Shorts are a great way to get the hang of the craft, especially if you are new to formatting. The wonderful thing about shorts (if done right) is the fact there is only one story plot. We also only follow one main character with one clear motive. Typically, shorts are visual, so you can focus more on writing powerful and decisive action and description lines rather than dialogue. Instead of trying hashing out a 100-page script, focus on scribing a ten-page script with a powerful story. It's excellent practice for newer and novice writers. It’s also an easy way to become a produced screenwriter; there are tons of short screenplay contests out there, too!

FOR THE EXPERIENCED SCREENWRITER. Shorts are a great medium when you are in between projects. They keep you creative, stimulated, and, most importantly -- writing. Regardless if you’ve sold 1 script or 10, we all reach a point where our writing career feels stagnant. Shorts are a great way to keep you relevant. Indie filmmakers are continually looking for new material to make, mainly short content, so they can also stay relevant and/or get discovered. Be sure to check out our QUERY LETTER CONTEST to reach indie (and studio) filmmakers. This is a great way to keep adding credits to your name, make some money off selling your short, expand your network, and possibly collect some awards along the way. After all, the OSCARS recognize shorts, so why shouldn’t we? Don't forget, plenty of shorts have turned into features; take Damien Chazelle's Oscar-winning film, WHIPLASH. I can speak from experience. I wrote, directed, and produced my short film FROM GRINGO TO GRAVE as a proof-of-concept for my feature film DE GRINGO A LA TUMBA. (ISO of producers, investors, AND creatives).

CLOSING ARGUMENT Anytime a producer posts with us seeking a writer, they typically want to read a writing sample. Many times they ask for 5-10 pages from a script you wrote. Instead of sending them a small excerpt from your feature script, send them a short. This is an excellent way to show them you can tell a solid story from start to finish. Be sure to check out my Final Draft article where I speak to 2 screenwriters who were selected to the SUNDANCE LAB FELLOWSHIP and how a short film landed them representation and stature:

Wonder Woman (2017), made for 149MM

BIG BUDGET SCRIPT. Every writer needs one script that they don’t hold back on. The type of story where you’re not limited to a specific budget, location count, and cast size.. This is the type of script that propels your career, where you make upwards of six figures, maybe even seven! First-time screenwriter, Diablo Cody, sold her spec JUNO for an ungodly amount of money. So don't rule it out just yet!

FOR THE BEGINNER WRITER. You’re new to the business, a little naive. Enjoy it while you can. You’ve written the shor,t and you are now ready to write your first feature. You should not think about limitations, what stories sell in Hollywood, what trends are popular -- all you need to do is WRITE. Write your best story, even if it would cost 400MM to make -- seriously. Flex your creative muscles, and don’t look back. My first feature I ever wrote was a massive budget script that's set in Chicago during 2004-2005 (when the White Sox won the World Series). The script was OPTIONED right out of the gate. Nothing came of it. The script still sits unproduced -- mainly due to its budget. But it has been helpful as a writing sample.

FOR THE EXPERIENCED WRITER. Somewhere along the way, you realized that Hollywood’s not buying this kind of material, especially original content that would cost a fortune to make; it is all based on comics, video games, and books. So you write for a specific audience and budget. I challenge you to write one big-budget script, if you haven't already.The goal: sell it. But what if you don’t? Not a problem. Having a script in your arsenal where you don’t focus on production design, wardrobe, extras, special effects -- all of that nonsense -- but focus on your story, will pay off down the road. As many experienced writers know, paid assignments keep us above water; it pays the rent. Having that one solid script, especially when a producer asks you to send your best script as a writing sample, will be helpful when trying to land that all elusive paying job. You also may be asked to doctor or edit a larger budgeted script. I just did this recently for a 7MM Chinese-American romantic comedy. They will want to read a low-budget or short script; they are going to want to read a script that's meant for a large budget and audience, so they can adequately gauge if you can tackle this type of project.

CLOSING ARGUMENT. Novelist have the luxury of just writing. They can take their characters around the world, no problem. Screenwriters deserve also to have that one script where the world is their playground.

Napoleon Dynamite (2004), made for 400K

LOW-BUDGET SCRIPT. There are some writers out there that still haven’t jumped on this bandwagon. Many of these writers are the ones who are unproduced and bitter, trolling social media bullying aspiring writers.

The truth is, television has become king. Most of the films being made by studios (especially the BIG 6) are remakes or are written around one huge actor (like Dwayne Johnson… sigh). But there are still tons of indie producers out there making feature films -- but the scripts must be written on a budget. This may be under 1MM, 500K, or even 100K. Sometimes... even lower.

FOR THE BEGINNER WRITER. Writing a one-location script and/or a script with under 8 characters can be challenging at first. Even frustrating. Anyone can write a big-budget film, where the budget doesn’t matter. But it takes a real writer to be a minimalist, confined to one location like a basement. It takes pure creativity, thinking outside of the box, simplicity, moderation, and being economical. Again -- anyone can rely on explosions and CGI. Still, it takes a special kind of writer to tell an entire story in one (maybe two or three) locations, a minimal cast, all interior shots, with absolutely no green screen or special effects. So as a newer writer, this is your chance to separate yourself from the amateur writer. Like the short, this is a great way to add credits to your name and make some money along the way. But unlike the short, this is a feature that puts you in a whole new category if your script is produced. There is an endless supply of producers who seek this kind of material. It’s not like the old days. Filmmakers have access to all the equipment they need -- now they just need a shoestring budget script. My last feature film, in which I directed and wrote (AN ADDICTING PICTURE), was entirely shot in an apartment, less than ten characters. The script screened in 5 countries, 10 film festivals, and won two awards. We are now negotiating distribution. This method works -- trust me.

FOR THE EXPERIENCED WRITER. You may have sold tons of scripts during the SPEC craze in the 90’s. You know, when producers were buying up material just for the hell of it. Back when good films being made. But let’s be frank here, those days are over. The spec, at least for now, is nearly extinct. So it’s time to economize. It’s imperative to have scripts that can be made on a budget at this point. If you use Screenwriting Staffing or a similar service, you are well-aware that these are the type of scripts that people are searching for. Producers with major credits are now downgrading to these sorts of scripts. I could drone on and on about this and the theory behind it, but the truth is that if you want to see your work made in 2018 and beyond, you best be writing scripts on a budget. Period. The golden days of Hollywood are behind us -- at least for now. I do believe, eventually, it will circle back. Until then, jump on the bandwagon!

CLOSING ARGUMENT. Think writing a limited location, limited cast script is impossible? How about 12 ANGRY MEN, BURIED, PANIC ROOM, ROPE, REAR WINDOW, PHONE BOOTH, BREAKFAST CLUB, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, SAW, and HUSH -- to name a few. It’s feasible. And, most importantly, there is a demand for it. If you refuse to have one low-budget script in your arsenal, you may find yourself irrelevant in the film world. In my upcoming feature film DE GRINGO A LA TUMBA, a good portion of the script takes place in the car. This is for budget purposes, but it also plays a role in the story. You must think like a producer when writing your script.

Stranger Things, an American science fiction-horror web television series on Netflix

TV PILOT. It’s painfully clear that TV trumps film, at least for now. I do believe everything has a way of making a comeback, and film will be alive and well again eventually, but for now it’s. TV. So you can even accept it or not -- but if you choose to ignore it, consider yourself left behind. When I went to film school back in 2009, my career development adviser told us that we should consider our careers over if we work in television. Boy, was he wrong! Get your query letter for your pilot in from of 3.5K industry buyers and employers!

FOR THE BEGINNER WRITER. You’re at an advantage. Most of us have been spending the last decade or two writing features. You have an opportunity to embrace TV in a way we never will. There are different thoughts on whether you should write an original pilot or an episode for a currently running show as a calling card. I’m not going to use this specific blog to get into that. But the most straightforward answer? Do one of both. No matter what, if you are looking to get staffed on a show, you better have something a producer, showrunner, or director can take a look at.

FOR THE EXPERIENCED WRITER. It may be time to take a break from features. We all have to eat. And it’s no secret that being staffed on a show pays the bills. As an experienced writer, you are also at an advantage -- you have clout. You also have contacts. With that said, write a fantastic TV pilot, something original, something that streaming services like NETFLIX will invest in. Don’t hold back. The good news about television is the budget doesn’t trump story. An original story is what every network under the moon wants. So while you aren’t selling feature scripts like you used to, there’s no reason why you can’t capitalize on the TV craze. Use the contacts you have cultivated over the last decade and get your pilot in the hands of decision-makers.

CLOSING ARGUMENT. In order to write for TV, for the most part, you better live in LA or NYC. Otherwise, your options are limited. However, web-series' are really popular right now. And this can be done from anywhere. I also know that any industry professional who posts an advert with us seeking a writer for their web-series wants to read a pilot sample before hiring. So at the very least, having a pilot (or episode) written in your arsenal may come in handy if you wish to land one of these gigs.

And... there might be a 5th and 6th...

OTHER. There are 2 other samples you should have in your arsenal if you wish to land a job or sell a script. I’m not going to harp on these for too long, but these are two to consider.

TREATMENT. There are plenty of producers out there who want you to write a treatment off their very simple and limited idea. Having a treatment to show them as a sample may land you the job. If you feel this is a waste of time, well, think of it this way. There are producers out there who will not read your script unless they read a treatment first. So at the very bare minimum, write a treatment for one of your already-written scripts.

TV BIBLE/SHOW BIBLE. So you wrote a great pilot - big deal. What showrunners want to know is if it has “staying power”. Will people tune in every week to watch the next episode? It’s imperative that if you are pitching a pilot you have a BIBLE that lists out future episodes, everything from plot twists to new characters. Just like a treatment, this is also a good piece of writing to have in your portfolio.

No matter what, the goal is to keep writing. NEVER stop. Always add to your portfolio.

Having these four types of scripts (or 6) in your arsenal will keep you active, relevant, and creative. Push as much content out as possible. Content is king; always remember that.


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Article written by:

Jacob N. Stuart is the Founder of Screenwriting Staffing

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