Updated: Feb 2, 2021
There’s quite a few articles that tell you all the “things to do” to find success as a screenwriter, but very few tell you “what not to do”.
In today’s world, there are a million and one “screenwriters”. I put that in quotes because everybody and their mother labels themselves as a screenwriter.
So since there are so many “screenwriters” out there, how do industry professionals and buyers weed out the “amateur” ones?
From my own screenwriting experience, speaking/teaching at well-over a dozen film festivals and panels across the country, and running Screenwriting Staffing (where I deal with industry pros daily), I’ve come up with 10 things that “amateur” screenwriters do that inhibit their success right out of the gate.
That isn’t a typo (well, kind of). I purposefully wrote longline. Go on Facebook, Reddit, or Linkedin screenwriting groups. Do you know how many writers ask how their “longline” sounds? I don’t know about you, but I don’t know what a “longline” is; but I know what a “logline” is. Come on, people, let’s get this right. Yes, typos happen, it happens to me all the time; but do not submit a logline to a producer if you think it’s called a longline.
PICTURES OF YOUR SCRIPT
I am 33 years old. While I don’t have kids, most of the kids I grew up with are having
their first child. On Facebook and Instagram, they are constantly uploading photos of their “baby bump”, their doctor’s visit, baby shower, the baby's actual birth, the baby’s first Christmas, and the child’s first steps.. While having a child has been done a million times, I understand the miracle of having a baby and the life-changing experience it provides. So go for it; post your photos! But can we all agree that this is a first-time mother? Maybe even a second-time mother? Most of the time, the mother is in her twenties (even teens, now).
The same goes with screenwriters who take pictures of the TITLE PAGE of their script. Or a writer that alerts the world they just finished their script. Writers, please understand this: you aren’t the first person ever to write a script… and you won’t be the last. When you do this, you are letting the world know this is your first script; or that you are so naive to believe that you are the first person ever to complete a screenplay.
Yes, writing a screenplay should be praised -- but it does not warrant a parade. Writing a script does deserve a pat on the back, by you, alone. Selling a script warrants high praise, but even more so, seeing your script produced warrants a premiere -- which usually happens. I’m a firm-believer in self-promotion and letting the world know you are relevant -- so getting hired to write a script, winning an award, or selling a script is perfectly acceptable self-promotion, in my opinion. Tell the world! But taking a photo of your TITLE PAGE because you finished a script, to me, is like taking a picture of your newborn kid: congrats, enjoy this moment, but you have a long way to go.
SOCIAL MEDIA PITCHES
Any professional writer knows that scripts sell through networking. It’s all about who you know. This takes years, even decades, to facilitate relationships through networking events, film festivals, pitchfests like AFM, organizing meetings, and getting “in the room” (refer to Stephanie Palmer’s, GOOD IN A ROOM). It’s also important to join sites that connect you with pros, not only mine, but also sites like THE BLACKLIST, INK TIP, and SCREENCRAFT. You need to constantly be surrounded by buyers, movers, and shakers.
Sending your “query letter” randomly to people through social media -- specifically LinkedIn and Facebook, will blacklist you. Hollywood is a small town. You will be negatively remembered. Social media was not created for producers to produce screenwriters’ work. While I have directed and produced projects in the past, I’m a full-time screenwriter. So why do I wake up every morning to 20+ pitches in my inbox? First, this tells me they don’t read my profile… they would see I’m not a production company or a producer. Second, it tells me they are lazy… they sit in front of their computer instead of getting out there to meet decision-makers.
Producers experience a whole new level of spam from writers. This drives them nuts. It’s why screenwriters get a bad rap.
Would a baseball player show up to a game without a glove? Would a doctor enter a patient’s room without a stethoscope? Would a tax professional do your taxes without some sort of spreadsheet software?
If you are a serious screenwriter, invest in a serious screenwriting software (Final Draft, WriterDuet, or Movie Magic). Don’t want to use those? Fine, Celtx is FREE. There are more out there. But WORD is unacceptable. Any real producer can open up a script in PDF and identify what it was written in, especially WORD. If you aren’t willing to invest in your craft, why would a producer invest in your script?
This is mainly seen on social media: Facebook groups, Twitter feeds, LinkedIn groups, and Reddit forums -- but I’ve also seen these through emails. Writers seem to think that other writers have time to review each other's work. I’ve seen writers ask for logline reviews; I’ve seen writers take screenshots of their first 2 pages and want feedback; and, my favorite…. when writers upload their entire script for review.
It’s hard enough for writers to find paid writing work. Why do you think a writer would stop their writing to give you notes? It’s different if it’s a friend or a writing partner. But asking strangers to read your script, since you are the “first-person” ever to write a script, makes you look… well… pathetic. I don’t know how else to put it.
Want your script reviewed? There are tons of services out there that will do it for a small fee -- plus, the notes will be better than some amateur writer trolling Reddit.
Yes, rudeness is most prevalent on social media, but this is also found through email -- a lot. Rune writers, even bullies, tell you (without saying it) that they aren’t so much an amateur, but bitter, no longer relevant. If the little things make you mad, you’re obviously frustrated with the results you are producing in this industry. Frustration is acceptable, but taking it out on people, mainly strangers, is highly unprofessional. Once you write something online, your digital footprint is forever. Don’t be that “writer”.
I DON’T NEED HOLLYWOOD
Hollywood is not the be all end all. In fact, California is not even the number one (or second) place movies are filmed in North America. Some of the best film schools are not based in Los Angeles. But any real industry pro will tell you that all roads lead to Hollywood. It’s where the cream of the crop lives, where a good portion of the money is, and the state-of-the art equipment needed to make a successful film. That’s not to say other states (or other countries) don’t have some of this -- they do, but Hollywood has, well, more...
I’ve been working in the film industry for ten years (which is nothing compared to many of my colleagues). I’ve spent only half of my “film” life in Los Angeles. In fact, I’ve found just as much success out of the state of California as I did living only a few miles from Universal Studios.
Do you have to live in Hollywood to find industry success? No. But you should not be so naive to believe that you won’t ever have to go to Hollywood, even if it’s just for a meeting, to find success.
When I teach courses outside of Hollywood, I tell future writers that you don’t need to pick up and move to the “Valley” tomorrow. But you should have a rainy day fund. A fund that, if you get that call for a meeting, you can be in Hollywood tomorrow. Our industry is in Hollywood. I, for one, can’t stand Los Angeles, which is why I don’t spend a good portion of my time there anymore. But I do not underestimate the power and importance of LA, and if you ever want to reach a certain level of success, you better be ready to spend a little time there -- even if it’s just for a summer.
I’m sure we’ve all seen or heard it. It could be in-person or a post on social media. But there is always someone who says they have this “great idea” for a film, followed by, "do you want to hear about it?". Yeah -- you and two billion other posers.
Good ideas are all around us. Great scripts, scripts that are producible and can gross seven to eight figures, are rare. Your idea only matters if it’s in a properly formatted document. And even then, people don’t care. This industry is not just about ideas but about people, networking, marketing, and personality.
So, congrats on your great idea. You're a storyteller.
Do you want to know what makes the producers on my site delete your email before reading your pitch? Sending 10+ loglines. In fact, more than 2 at once.
Say a producer wants to read a creature feature horror story. Sending them 10+ loglines on all the scripts you’ve ever written tells them 1) you can’t read, 2) you write a lot of scripts, but you sell few, and 3) you don’t value their time.
It’s essential to keep writing. Never stop. Have a wide-range of scripts in your arsenal. But producers don’t need to know that you have 10, even 20 scripts that fit their bill. Having 20 creature-feature scripts to pitch poses one central question: why haven't you at least optioned just one of these?
Follow instructions, value their time and needs, and while they may not pursue a script of yours at this time, they most likely will come back to you when they open up a new search.
As creatives, we should pursue more than just writing., especially in film. It’s imperative we are multi-faceted. A lot of writers now produce. Actors now direct. Art directors go into cinematography. It's normal and healthy. But if you want to be taken as a serious screenwriter, someone that everyone goes to when they need a script written, you should solely advertise yourself as a screenwriter. I see this most often on sites like Stage 32. When creating a profile, you can click “all the things” you are. There are profiles out there that list they're a screenwriter, musician, actress, publicist, festival director, gaffer, and crafts service person.
Now, think like a producer. Are you going to hire someone whose profile is strictly about their screenwriting capabilities or someone who dabbles in a million other things -- and screenwriting is just one of them when they have time? The same goes when writing your bio on IMDb or a personal site. Saying you write scripts, moonlight as a juggler at night, have 2 albums as a rapper, slowly becoming a social media influencer, and have an affinity for music videos… well, you may not be taken as serious as someone who states they are a full-time screenwriter, or even a writer-director.
Keep things in perspective. It’s okay to do all of those things, but think hard about what you want to be labeled as in this industry… and push that.
I’m sure many of you could add to this list of ten.
“Nobody knows anything...... Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what's going to work. Every time out it's a guess and, if you're lucky, an educated one.” -- William Goldman
Be careful when sites tell you what works… no one really knows. But any veteran in the industry can quickly weed out the good from the bad… so while we don’t always know the “good” (what works), let’s try to avoid the obvious “bad”.
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This article was written by Screenwriting Staffing’s Founder, Jacob N. Stuart. Jacob is an award-winning screenwriter with over 20 scripts either optioned or produced to screen, airing in over 15 different countries. He is a graduate of The Los Angeles Film School with a degree in FILM/ENTERTAINMENT. Outside of judging and spear-heading multiple film festivals across the country, he is a regular contributor for FINAL DRAFT, MOVIEMAKER MAGAZINE, and CREATIVE SCREENWRITING MAGAZINE. You can follow him on TWITTER AND INSTAGRAM @JACOBNSTUART
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