“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” – Seneca
It can often feel like the path from “aspiring” to “working” screenwriter is a mysterious one. Where a young writer spends their time in solitary creating beautiful stories, only for them to magically end up in just the right hands to jumpstart their careers.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “it takes ten years to become an overnight success”. What this refers to is the aspiring writer who spends a decade in Los Angeles, pouring over their writing, meeting people, and working hard, and one day it all magically changes! Suddenly, one script lands in the hands of the perfect producer or manager and the writer has representation and a green light. They’re on their way to picking up the statue at their awards-show-of-choice!
From the outside, this outcome seems like pure luck, and it is!
But at its core, it’s a journey, not a destination. Then ten years to overnight success was filled with writing many scripts, meeting countless people, sleepless nights of working around a day job, and doing everything they could to take steps towards their ultimate goal of Working Screenwriter.
If you want to figure out how you can create magic in your screenwriting journey, we’ve got 5 tips to help get you started…
Location, Location, Location…
It might seem odd to point out that it’s easier to get work in Los Angeles during a time when most people are working remotely, and you’d be right! Location isn’t just about your physical location though! Your digital location can be huge for bringing opportunities your way.
In 2020, as remote work began to rise, the WGA was simultaneously struggling with staffing season while in a legal battle with the AMTPA. In order to help new and mid-level writers, WGA members became more active than ever on Twitter, helping people find work through #wgastaffingboost and #prewgastaffing boost. While many staffed writers are no longer reading scripts for pre-WGA writers, the hashtags are still active and the conversations and people in the industry are watching.
Similarly, the launch of the app Clubhouse has caused a stir. It’s currently still in beta-mode and, therefore, new members must be invited into the app. There are many Facebook groups where people are giving away invitations since they don’t have anyone else they know to invite. The app is great because it acts as a way to hear what would normally be private conversations between people in the industry and find out about new trends and opportunities.
Beyond Twitter and Clubhouse, there is still TikTok, Instagram, blogging sites, and a plethora of other platforms you can be utilizing. You don’t have to be “branding” yourself just yet, though that is an option, but if you can’t physically be in LA, being in the digital worlds of entertainment can be just as helpful.
Who Knows You
People often say, “it’s all about who you know.” That’s true to an extent, but how many of us have connections but don’t use them because we don’t feel like those connections are strong enough? Or that if you send them something or reach out too early, you’ve just blown your shot with that connection? The truth is, it’s not just about who you know, it’s about who knows you.
People “who know you” will drop your name when they hear of an opportunity that might be right for you. They’ll think of you even when you’re not right in front of them. When you hear stories about chances that “came out of nowhere”, more often than not the groundwork was already laid and someone thought of that lucky person for that specific job.
The way to make these kinds of connections are to simply network. Don’t just be on those digital platforms, find communities on them and embrace them. If you are in LA, get an industry job and work your way up through the ranks, befriending other entry-level people who are doing the same. You’ll find your own, sort of, class of graduates who move up in the industry alongside you. Once you make the connection, just reach out once or twice a year to see what they’re up to and let them know what you’re up to. The clearer you are with your goals and let them know, the more people will think of you when they hear of people looking for writing gigs.
Launch Pad Pilot Top 50 writer, Preston Walker, is a pro at this idea. When he was in school at USC, he added Screenwriting to his degree at the last moment. He studied abroad for his last semester, missing out on all of the in-house networking that the program typically allots students.
Following graduation, he was determined to take steps to create opportunities for himself and started emailing anyone and everyone he could think of. Though he was already in LA, his close friends and family members were not in the industry.
“It might appear easy from the outside, but reaching out to people you don’t know can be nerve-wracking,” Preston says. “I started to realize that if the people I was reaching out to were somewhat nice and genuine then they won’t resent me for that.”
Eventually, Preston thought of an old classmate with a TV-writing connection. He reached out on Facebook and was fortunate enough that the contact responded and set up a meeting for Preston. That connection ultimately led to Preston getting an entry-level job on a Chuck Lorre series and kick-starting his career.
Always Do Your Best
If you’re hoping that someone will remember your name and help you out, you should also do the same for others! Don’t view the connections you make in the entertainment industry as competition, but instead, view them as those classmates that you’ll graduate through life with.
If there’s a promising new screenwriting competition or open writing assignment that’s available to you, consider letting others in your circle know. They’ll be more likely to do the same for you. And even with industry jobs that aren’t screenwriting, but on the business side, there are always people looking for day jobs that you might be able to help someone get a leg up on. Whatever opportunity you’re hearing about, consider if you know someone that will be a good fit. You won’t just look like a hero to the person you’re helping find a gig or connection, you’ll also be a hero to the person who is looking for a new hire or connection.
In a keynote address to the 2012 graduates of the University of the Arts, author Neil Gaiman gave incredibly inspiring advice on how to approach their creative careers.
“People keep working, in a freelance world, and more and more of today’s world is freelance, because their work is good, and because they are easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three. Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. They’ll forgive the lateness of the work if it’s good and if they like you. And you don’t have to be as good as the others if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you,” Gaiman said.
In 2012, this advice was perfect, and today it is almost still perfect.
The world has changed and people are losing their jobs for behavior that is deemed unacceptable. You never know who will remember you for having a bad day and acting poorly. Usually, those small moments won’t matter, but if they become habit they will add up. So try to be that person who reaches out with a fun story or information that people find helpful.
Come From a Place of “Yes”
If you’ve heard of showrunner-producer-extraordinaire, Shonda Rhimes, you’ve heard of her “Year of Yes”. After years of success, both personally and career-wise, she found herself stuck and feeling unhappy. She challenged herself to say “yes” to everything for a year (and she even wrote a book on it!).
Her career was fully established by the time she did this experiment, but what Rhimes was doing is actually a lesson in the Law of Attraction. Whether or not you believe in these more spiritual-based ideas, the concept of be welcoming and kind to others and they’ll be kind to you is the very simple idea of Karma. So continuing the ideas that you need people to know who you are and you want to be known as an easy person to work with, a simple way to win people over is simply by saying “Yes!”
Do they need help with a really simple task that wouldn’t take too much time for you to help with? Say yes! If you’re early on in your career and people are working on a short film for fun, say yes and join in! You’ll meet people and gain great experience.
There are of course limits. Don’t overextend yourself or agree to do something important that you have zero knowledge on. But see how you can be a help and say yes to things you wouldn’t normally say yes to.
You’re a Writer, Say It.
It can be so hard when you meet people and they ask, “what do you do?” How do you answer that in a normal year, let alone one where so many people have lost their jobs? Usually, you want to tell them how you make money, and that’s probably what they want to hear. But try just saying “I’m a writer!”
So many writers are afraid of getting an eye-roll or feel dismissed if they answer this question and then are expected to provide credits. Most writers are doing something besides writing to pay their bills. They’re teachers or producers or freelance script readers, etc. But if what you’re passionate about is screenwriting, then you shouldn’t be afraid to declare yourself one.
The only pieces of evidence you need to prove that you are a writer are scripts. This is the toughest part of being a writer, but if that’s what you’re passionate about then you’re doing it. And if you’re doing it, then you are a writer!
If someone is rude enough to roll their eyes or dismiss you for calling yourself a writer, then you likely don’t want to work with them anyway. You want to know, support, and be supported by people who are encouraging! The person you tell you’re a writer that asks “what have you written?” Embrace that opportunity! Tell them! Now they know you, now you know them, and now you can help each other. Keep that connection alive either in person or online, and you’ve just upped the chances of succeeding in achieving your goals.
If every day you do one of the above steps, you will find that you’ll be creating your own luck in this industry in no time!
Ready to take your screenwriting career to the next level? Enter the Launch Pad TV Pilot Screenwriting Competition!