There’s more than one way into the industry. Let’s look at some screenwriting career paths.
The industry has changed a great deal in the past 20 years. From the writers’ strike forever altering the spec market to the rise of streamers creating a rush for content, screenwriters are more in-demand than ever. However, that doesn’t mean getting hired on a major project is noticeably easier for those without much experience — and finding an alternate career path may be difficult if you don’t know what to look for.
So, we put together a list of career paths you can take in order to launch your screenwriting career. There’s a chance that there’s an opportunity below you never considered, but it might be the perfect way into the industry for you.
Forty years ago, made-for-TV movies were a regular occurrence on network television. With the rise of cable networks, the prominence of this genre went to up-and-coming cablers and left broadcast networks, where these new channels looked for low-budget ways to fill their schedules. With streamers racing to out-produce one another, the made-for-TV movie has continued to evolve.
From classic romantic comedies and holiday movies to low-budget horror films, many writers establish themselves as go-to writers in these genres as they require ingenuity to stick to a clear blueprint while still surprising audiences and keeping the budget low.
Whether it’s a narrative podcast or a deep dive into a true crime, all podcasts have some kind of script. Even your “entrepreneurial guru” is working off an outline with information to reference (just another form of script that they likely paid someone to help them with). And there are more and more opportunities for writers to establish themselves through podcasts or produce their own!
While many WGA-established writers are turning to podcast writing, that doesn’t mean that the space is overrun or only for those who already have a following. There is more than enough to go around, and the demand for writers in this space is only growing.
Social Media Scripts
Whether it’s Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, or any other social media platform, scripts are in demand! These scripts will be much shorter than what’s needed for a podcast but will require more of your visual writing skills. TikTok, in particular, is seeing an increase in writing needs, as many companies are turning to the platform over others as it’s easier for content to become viral.
However, the short length will challenge you to use your sales skills to get a message or joke across faster than you would in a traditional film or television script.
Commercials and Copywriting
If you enjoy this challenge of working in a shorter space to persuade or make people laugh, you likely have strong copywriting skills and can expand into the marketing world the more you work with clients in the social media space.
Entertainment Criticism and News
The internet never sleeps, and audiences are hungry to debate and analyze their favorite film and TV series. If you never tire of these debates while also having a strong love for the craft of film and television, then you should write about it! The great thing is you don’t need to sell a pitch to get started. Many writers use platforms like Medium and Vocal to build a portfolio, so they have samples to send out to the more prominent brands they want to pursue.
And if you’re worried about what working in news or criticism and how it could affect your screenwriting opportunities, remember that Ryan Murphy started as a journalist, and Lindy West shared her opinions on feminism and pop culture online for ten years before her book, Shrill, was adapted for Hulu.
If you love world creation and a puzzle, this could be a fantastic option for you! Video games are quickly overtaking films in terms of the amount of annual revenue they’re bringing in. Many schools are even beginning to offer courses in how to write for them alongside other forms of screenwriting.
They offer an immersive experience, and many utilize the classic three-act story structure, allowing audiences to feel like the hero in their own epic story. It’s a skill that requires you to think of the central throughline, the different actions that a character could respond with, and episode side adventures they could do, all while still always reverting back to the central quest. It’s a challenge, but if you love this kind of puzzle work, the opportunities available to you will be endless.
Comics and Graphic Novels
Many companies are focused solely on projects that come from IP and have an established fanbase. Why not go right to the source and create your own or add your voice to an established brand? While the comic script format has some nuanced differences from traditional scripts, the overall style and basic structure remain the same. This might make it more accessible if you like to stick to the same kind of style as screenwriting.
“Those who can’t do, teach,” claims the classic adage. And if it’s true, then the ones who can do it must be brilliant teachers. Why not continue your study of the craft and share all that you have learned by teaching the next generation of writers? Or why not work as a professional script reader?
More and more people are looking to the internet to teach them the skills they need as a storyteller, and there’s no reason why you can’t share your knowledge and build a career out of it.
Similarly, many places offer script coverage services and hire readers. If you prefer more control, you can even provide your own services through a website or use a third-party website.
Suppose you want to see the kinds of scripts that are getting any level of traction in the industry (before being produced). In that case, you should seek out reading roles for industry companies available at sizeable agencies, production companies, and studios. However, it should be noted that studio reading involves joining the union and is not easy to break into without direct access to an “in.”
Choosing the Right Path for You
There are countless paths available to you. Don’t limit yourself to the traditional image of a screenwriter that you grew up with years ago. With the industry changing more rapidly every year, the idea of what you think a screenwriter does has already evolved a great deal and will continue to evolve.
The goal is to keep your career connected to the path so that you are still passionate about what you’re doing and keep your finger on the pulse of the changes and trends. In doing so, you’ll have more opportunities in the long wrong while feeling fulfilled in your career.