Making that transition from hobbyist writer of good, solid spec scripts to paid, professional screenwriter is really, really tough. What you need to make that break-through is a screenwriting champion; someone who loves your work enough to take action and help you break-in.
Why you need a screenwriting champion
Right now you’re unknown and unproven as a professional screenwriter. That’s ok. Remember that every professional screenwriter today started where you are now. But right now you feel stuck. Without credits and proven experience as a professional screenwriter no one will take a risk on you. But unless someone takes a risk on you, how can you get that experience and those professional credits?
You need someone to go first, to take a risk on you, a writer with no proven track record, no string of writing credits on IMDb. They need to feel so strongly about your work that they will take action, despite the risks. To do that they’ve got believe in your writing, to be wowed by it. They’ve got feel a powerful connection with your work because whether they’re an agent considering signing you or a producer considering hiring you, they’re not only taking a risk on you but they then need to ask others to do the same.
So you need to find someone who falls in love with your writing, who is passionate about the stories you want to tell and the unique voice through which you tell them.
Those of us working in film and television script development get excited when we find writing we love. We can’t wait to tell other people. We become their champion, their cheerleader.
Why would someone champion your writing?
You might wonder why would someone become my champion, what’s in it for them? To answer that you only have to know two things about the film and television industries;
1) They’re built on creative relationships – people like working with people with whom they have a creative connection and a shared vision.
2) We make (mostly) single-use products. As fast as we’ve made one film or tv show, it’s done, consumed and we have to start finding a new project to develop and sell. That means we’re constantly looking for new projects and new ways of telling stories. And that’s what you, a brilliant new writing voice, can provide.
How to wow
It starts with the writing. Which has to be good, really good. You need to have mastered all the screenwriting skills at your disposal in order that your script can generate in the reader the strong emotional reaction (whatever your genre) that you intend. You’ll only know if your writing is that strong from having others read it. Hopefully you’re starting to get some signs of encouragement about how good your writing is; maybe you’ve placed highly in a well-respected screenwriting contest or have had positive responses from industry professionals who have read your scripts.
If your writing is at that advanced level, it’s time to go find your champion.
And the next hurdle is subjectivity.
We’ve all read really strong scripts that were a good idea and well executed and yet we’ve not quite felt strongly enough about the writing to do anything with it. Perhaps that’s where you are now; people are saying good things about your writing and yet that agent wasn’t excited enough to sign you (yet) and that producer doesn’t love the script enough to option it.
The truth is that once you’ve jumped over the ‘are they a brilliant writer?’ and ‘is this brilliantly written?’ hurdles, you will hit the ‘it’s just not my cup of tea’ hurdle.
How to find your champion
Once you get to this screenwriting level it’s all about finding the people who respond to your work. There’s no denying that subjectivity and personal taste now come into play.
But that’s ok because I firmly believe that there is someone out there for everyone – you just haven’t met them yet.
Think of it as speed dating; it’s time to start kissing a lot of frogs (they’re lovely, just not right for you) in your search for the right person.
You need to be meeting more producers and agents, and directors, and fellow screenwriters. You need to build and grow your network and develop relationships. Not all of them will love your work, and that’s ok. Just keep looking.
And think outside the box about where you could meet those people, either online or in person. Give everything a go; social media, writer meet-ups, writing conferences, film festivals, drama summits, new writer nights at theatres. Some of this will be strategic (where do producers go to network?) and some will be creative instinct (I love x’s new film, I’ll go to the BFI screening/Q&A).
The more people you meet and who read your script, the better your chances of finding your champion.
Building and nurturing relationships will remain an important part of developing your screenwriting career, so it’s time to put your best foot forward.
Your screenwriting champions are out there, so keep looking!