Besides the obvious (like a screenplay), there are many things that can make or break a screenwriter.
Getting caught up in the idealistic dream of making it in the film industry is fun. It’s hard not to dream about Hollywood, the Oscars, A-list actors (delivering the lines that you wrote!), or seeing your film in theaters! Any writer who hasn’t thought about that particular “what if” scenario is a liar. On the flip side, inexperience shows and can often be detrimental to your success.
If you want your screenplay to be made, you need to play the part. You need to be professional and prepared for any situation. Writing a screenplay is only half the battle. Below, I’ve compiled a list of nine things that every aspiring screenwriter needs to have or do in order to be successful.
In no particular order, they are:
1. A Lawyer
Having a lawyer is more important than finding an agent or manager. A lawyer will help you navigate the world of contracts and ensure that you and your work are protected, to the best of their ability. This is very important, as the last thing you want is to get ripped off and have your idea stolen. Agents and/or managers generally aren’t too helpful until after you have produced or sold a screenplay.
2. At least two Readers (One professional, one not)
Feedback from a professional writer, producer or director in the film industry is valuable. They know what it takes to get a screenplay made and will help you get there. However, feedback from a non-professional is just as important. This confuses a lot of screenwriters. Why on earth should you ever take advice from someone who knows nothing about the film industry?
The answer is simple: because they are your audience. If your story is not clear to your audience, it will not be successful. It’s important to get feedback from people outside of the industry, as they will provide a fresh perspective on your story.
3. Screenwriting Software
I cannot stress the importance of screenwriting software enough. Screenwriting software makes it easier to writer faster and more efficiently. With it, you won’t have to worry about whether your screenplay is “correct” or not. And, arguably even more importantly, everyone in the industry uses it. Meaning, if you do manage to sell you screenplay, chances are the production company is going to want to review and potentially rewrite your screenplay. They will expect to receive an editable file. Final Draft remains the preferred type. It speaks to your professionalism if you cannot deliver that.
4. A Professional Website
Part of being a professional screenwriter is looking the part. Websites are the new business cards. This is the link you give potential buyers and producers, directing them to your work. A screenwriters website should be professional, sleek and to the point. Ideally, the URL should be your name. It should consist of a screenwriter biography, current loglines, awards, and any other news or events that make you look amazing.
PRO TIP: Get some professional pictures taken! Websites that feature pictures of the screenwriter themselves are always more personable.
5. Business Cards
However, business cards are still good to have. It’s always a good idea to keep a few on hand as you never know when you will run into someone important. Business cards are a quick and easy way to provide information and the potential of a follow up. Your business card should include your name, website, phone number and email address.
PRO TIP: Business cards that match the design of your website shows instant professionalism and branding. It may feel weird to brand yourself, but as a screenwriter you kind of have to.
6. A Thick Skin
The film industry is ruthless, and as an aspiring screenwriter you need to prepare yourself for that. You are not the only aspiring writer out there. Competition is fierce and only the best will make it. Writing an excellent screenplay is hard. Constructive criticism is part of the game. The sooner you can accept that, the better you will become.
Anyone who has written a screenplay will tell you it doesn’t happen overnight. The writing process can take months. The marketing and/or production can take years. It’s not uncommon for screenplays to collect dust on the shelf before being made. Some people work fast and others slow. It is important to realize that writing a screenplay takes time. Don’t rush it, but don’t dawdle either.
This goes hand in hand with the last point. You need to be patient. That draft that you thought was the final draft? It’s not. Perfecting a story takes time and bucket loads of patience as you tweak, polish and improve. Your first draft will not be your last. A lot of changes will be made, sometimes to the extent of a completely new story being born. Take a deep breath and allow your story to evolve. It will be finished when it’s finished.
You have to spend money to make money. Many things on this list, like lawyers, script consultants, and screenwriting software (in some cases), will cost you. How much you spend is up to you. You can be as frugal or as extravagant as you want. It is possible to make it as a screenwriter with very little. But I won't deny that it helps if you have more.