If you’re looking for a paid screenwriting gig, you’ve probably noticed that very few screenwriting books offer tactics on how to actually transition your first pitch meeting from a polite conversion into something that will add credits to your IMDb page, put money in your pocket and help kick-start your career.
Here are 4 tips to help get you there, and also provide you the right frame of mind for success:
Screenwriting Tactic 1: Your spec script isn’t for sale; your skills are. Many writers think their job is to pound the pavement in order to sell their spec script. In reality, your spec script exists so that you can sell your talent for writing. The likelihood of your spec script being purchased (as is) and produced into a major studio film is slim to nil at best…
Landing Your First Paid Screenwriting Gig
The purpose of your spec script is so that you can showcase your talent for writing and show that you can be trusted to write something the other party needs. This is usually a writer for hire type gig, where you flesh out a treatment or first draft of their projects.
Screenwriting Tactic 2: When it comes to landing a paid screenwriting got, it’s all about them, not you. Far too many writers enter boardrooms ready to pitch their stories and their ideas yet have very little understanding of what those on the other side of the table are actually looking for (and what background those individuals have).
A little research on the company and its key executives will reveal a great deal of insight not in what to pitch, but rather how to pitch it. A memorized ‘pitch’ you’ve rehearsed in the mirror doesn’t solve this problem; you need to understand the mandate of the company (what their goals and objectives are)… From there, you can present yourself as an experienced writer who is capable of making their goals a reality.
Screenwriting Tactic 3: Don’t reach out too early. To be seen as a writer that can deliver a script on time that matches what a company needs (essentially being a ‘writer-for-hire’), you need to prove that you’re a writing machine… You need to build your writing arsenal to a minimum threshold before you can approach Hollywood execs and be taken seriously.
Ideally, you need 3 completed feature length scripts and at least ten fully fleshed-out (logline, treatment with clear beats etc.,) ideas ready to go. Pitching one script isn’t enough; you need back-ups that prove talent and consistency. Even better, most of these scripts should be the same—or very similar—genres.
Sure. You will get typecast as a certain type of writer and that’s exactly the point! Writers who get ‘known’ for being able to deliver a certain type of script are the ones whose names are top-of-mind for producers and production companies that need specific types of scripts written and having your name top-of-mind of a Hollywood exec is how you get work.
Take time and build your arsenal before reaching out.
It’s equally important to not write the wrong kind of scripts!… One should avoid standardized dramas, comedies and horror titles and instead go for more commercially viable content that works in the independent space, which is where most new writers will find their first breaks. (For more information on this tactic, please check out my book Writing for the Green Light.)
Screenwriting Tactic 4: Business is like dating; the same rules apply equally. A guy walking up to a girl in a bar and asking ‘you wanna get married today?’ has about the same chances of success as blindly emailing a spec script and asking ‘are there any projects you want me to write?’ Hollywood is a business of relationships, and these relationships take time to build.
Execs will hire new writers, but they need to vet them out first and know they can truly trust them with a project. And Hollywood execs are very busy people. They need answers to their problems and don’t like to waste time dealing with people who aren’t providing solutions.
To land a paid screenwriting gig, you also need to be successful in pitch meetings, building relationships and creating hype around your talents. And all this follows the same code of conduct as the dating ritual. Come off too strong and aggressive, you won’t get far… Call too many times (and too soon after a pitch meeting) and you’ll see the other side go silent. When in doubt, follow the rules of everyday dating and you’ll see a game plan for how to approach Hollywood execs and stay on good terms.
In conclusion, there are producers, production companies and distribution entities actively looking for new content as you’re reading this (with money in their pockets ready to invest)… The only thing preventing you from engaging with them and gaining traction in your career is by simply knowing how to approach them in a professional manner (with an understanding of what to expect in the real world). These above 4 tips are your first steps toward getting a paid screenwriting gig.
For more information on these types of screenwriting tactics, please check out my book Writing for the Green Light.