Moving Write Along: 5 Things Every Aspiring Screenwriter Should Know
(that no one will tell them)

by Lee Jessup, Career Coaching for the Scrappy Screenwriter

In an industry where everyone appears friendly, there is lots that is said to your face. The good news? It’s not exclusive to aspiring writers; to aspiring anything, really. It’s just the nature of the beast. Since today’s most hated intern can become a studio head in 10 years, a worthwhile lesson in the industry is to keep it nice and civil, because you really don’t know, in the great scheme of things, who will end up where.

In that spirit, here are industry truisms that are rarely shared with writers on the verge:

1. Your first script is not going to get you there. It doesn’t matter how good you think it is, how much talent you have or how much time and effort you’ve invested in the work; your first screenplay will rarely be good enough to get you the attention you deserve. Most industry types look at screenplay 1 to 3 from new writers as practice. It’s scripts 4, 5, and 6 that will put on display your honed skills. If you’re taking a new script out into the industry and are excited to share it, don’t tell industry executives you come in contact with that it’s your first script right off the bat. Unless there’s a Million Dollar Idea buried deep inside of it, the knowledge that it’s the first script from a new scribe might stop them from giving it serious consideration.

2. Agencies are always looking for worthwhile writers. While agents from agencies big and small are known to spout such declarations as “You can’t get an agent!” The truth is that they are looking. Every last one of them. Agents get to keep their job if they have material they can sell. Finding new, fresh, exciting material to sell and buzzed about writers for whom to procure work is bread and butter in that world. What they do mean with that big, broad, disappointing statement is this: You can’t just walk up to an agent without any previous successes and get them to sign you. That is just not going to happen. The agency world works a bit like the mafia – they have to have someone vouch for you before they take you seriously. The good news? “Someone” is a rather broad term: it could mean a contest win, colleague, or pitch event. They just want to know that by looking at your work, their time is not being wasted.

3. Despite the hype, the industry is NOT trolling listing services. At this point, listing services such as InkTip are part of the industry landscape. Listing services have been out there, offering a path for writers to share their work, for over a decade. Franklin Leonard’s The Black List is the latest addition to this world. And while we do hear about the occasional talent signing of a writer whose work is featured out there, the reality is that, while they do feature success stories, the odds of getting discovered through a listing service are just not great. That said, it’s not the fault of the listing services. The simple reality is that most industry execs have screenplays coming at them from every direction. They are rarely out there trolling for work. So if you do choose to engage a listing service, do so and quickly move on to another more proactive outreach efforts.

4. We love the script but… If you get a rejection letter or email telling you that the production or representation company you approached loved the work but just felt it’s not right for them, DON’T take it at face value. They don’t know you from Adam, so they don’t know that you won’t become the next Chris Terrio some day, and therefore don’t want to offend you, just in case. If they loved the script like they said they did, they would have wanted to meet you, or passed the work on to someone else. Good work rises to the top, and everyone wants to be associated with good material. By being nice to you and staying on your good side, the company responsible for the letter is keeping you from recognizing that the screenplay doesn’t work, and either engaging in some investigative work to uncover where and why it failed, or moving onto the next.

5. Getting representation is where the hard work begins. You know the saying, it’s harder to keep an A than it is to get an A? Nowhere in the industry is this truer than in the representation game. Many a screenwriter thinks that once they’ve secured representation they can rest on their laurels and wait to see what comes next. Instead, it’s just the opposite: Once you’ve got an agent or a manager’s attention, you’ll have to work hard every day to keep them interested. Representatives want to see that you are a stellar, consistent source for new work. And that the work you turn in is ready for the marketplace. So accelerate your writing schedule, and make sure that any material you turn into them has been seen and signed off on by somebody else, be they a writer from your writing group or an industry analyst. As a repped writer, you are competing not only with your rep’s other clients for attention, but also with aspiring writers who are eager to take your place.

No matter the genre you write in, the city you live in, or the length of time you’ve been trying to make a go of it, make sure that your efforts are thought out, and driven by deliberate strategy.

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Lee Jessup, former director of ScriptShark.com, is a career coach for screenwriters, specializing in guiding aspiring and professional scribes toward long-standing and prolific screenwriting careers. Her book What To Expect… Launching Your Screenwriting Career will be published in early 2014 by Michael Wiese Productions.

On May 4, join Lee Jessup and screenwriting powerhouse Pilar Alessandra for Cracking Your Screenwriting Career: From Representation to Pitch, a screenwriting masterclass covering all things business. Use discount code group10 and receive 10% off.

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  1. […] covering all things business. Use discount code group10 and receive 10% off. Read Lee’s Expert Column on Write On Online and listen to Pilar on the Write On April 2011 […]

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