If you don’t (yet) have a lot of writing credits, how do you sell your writer CV? Script Angel’s Jay Harley has the answers.
Your writing CV is like none other you’ve had before. It’s not about buzz-words like time management, team-player and self-motivated… although all of these are great writerly skills. Script Angel can help whip your writer CV into shape, but also give you a workout so you can tone up those credits and really flex those writerly achievements.
Prioritise your portfolio. Concentrate first on credits, those scripts that have been produced (in any format, stage, web, radio…) followed by less formal productions such as rehearsed readings and workshops. Emphasise prizes and awards, including runner up places (e.g. top 2% of BBC Writersroom or Nicholl Fellowship finalist). Being truthful, some awards are better recognised and more highly-prized. Be honest with yourself and rank your achievements, placing a high priority on those which are more impressive in the industry.
Next, take a look at those projects in development. Again, it’s a question of priority; from those that are ready to go (script plus bible), to those ideas which are, as yet, undeveloped (treatment or pitch doc).
If you have a number of scripts, emphasise those which have gained some traction, whether in competitions, labs or with producers/production companies. If you have work optioned or in development, be honest about it – but don’t build it up too high. And make sure you’re up-front about what’s there. Don’t say you have a script if the idea is little more than a scribble in a notebook, because dashing off a quick script when it’s asked for won’t make you look your best. Ideally you won’t list any ideas that are only this far along – better five full scripts than a dozen entries which are under-developed.
The Workout: So, work up those ideas – can you get them to treatment stage so they’re ready to send out?
By the way, a writer CV with only five or six credits is much better than listing twenty scripts that you wrote before you got good, those that should remain in your vault. They did their job, in getting you to where you are as a writer, but volume of work won’t make you look better than a short, boutique list that fully represents you now.
Finally, think about relevant experience and how you can frame that. If you’ve ever written copy, social media, journalistic articles or any other kinds of writing, include a brief section about how that helped you. Highlight skills such as creativity, writing to deadlines, taking notes and only those areas that are specifically relevant to your writing career. For example, if you were a copywriter for a decade but only have a couple of scripts, don’t be tempted to pad out your CV with the less than relevant writing work – it might be ten years’ worth of writing, but on your CV it shouldn’t be more than a couple of lines.
What we don’t need to know is your day job, unless it’s super relevant, i.e. you’re already working as a writer, or perhaps a script editor/dramaturg. If so, this is a sub-section, after the writing section. There are many brilliant work opportunities and experiences that will come to bear on your work and you as a writer, but keep that information for the discovery process of getting to know your agent or producer.
The Workout: Can you get a week or a fortnight’s work experience at a theatre, or script-reading for a competition? This could be a way to demonstrate that you have fingers in creative pies and your awareness of the field. However keep it contemporary – it might not help to show your awareness of the field from over a decade ago.
Also, unless you’re applying for a job as an actor, model or presenter, CV etiquette suggests you don’t need to include a photograph.
What does it say about you?
Now take a look at what you’ve got. If you’re already working with a screenwriting coach, use this opportunity to properly spring clean your portfolio. Rather than worrying about what’s not there, focus hard on what is there and what that says about you. Think: genre, format, tone.
Genre – make sure your most polished script is the project that best represents the genre in which you hope to work, Deviations from genre are totally fine, but they should be exceptions to the norm, no one expects you to be able to cover all genres.
Format – your portfolio should reflect your preference for TV or features, but even if you’re totally devoted to a career in TV, a very polished feature is a great way of showing you can complete a fully-rounded project with a beginning, middle and end.
Tone – if you’re a comedy writer your mini-pitches should be funny, if you’re a thriller or espionage expert, your pitches should be hooky and dramatic. Polish these very short outlines with rigour.
Also, it’s worth saying there are some very attractive paid CV templates out there, in pink and teal and with some superb features for the job-hunting millennial. If that’s you, great! They can be bought for a small fee and will show off your visually creative side. However, it might be just a teensy bit distracting if it doesn’t speak to your brand.
If that’s not you, don’t pretend. Don’t force it. Unless you’re a graphic designer in your other life, a simple CV template (in Word, Pages, etc.) will more than adequately do the job. The layout of your CV is technically graphic design, the visual look of the thing is important, but simplicity is better than extravagance – good formatting is obviously better than bad. And create a pdf to send, rather than the original document, so the formatting can’t shift when opened on a different machine.
Take advice, get help. Elegant is fine, but there’s no need for fussy formats. This CV is speaking for you, it’s representing you; make sure it absolutely does that, with concise simplicity.
- Name and contact details
- Produced writing credits
- Unproduced portfolio of writing including awards and development status
- Complete scripts – list projects and status, e.g. ‘pilot script and bible’
- Incomplete ideas – list projects and status, e.g. ‘treatment’, ‘outline’
- Other writing experience, social media, copywriting…
- Script/writing courses
- Industry-related work experience in brief
- Other work experience, very brief
- Writing-specific referees (if you have them)
This can be tough. Remember every single working writer started from a point of zero experience and zero credits. Use the CV-building process to organise your mind and your portfolio; find the love you had for those projects now living in a dusty drawer and reinvigorate ideas that still have legs.
Whether you have one script or twenty, be proud of each and every one as an achievement and a well-earned marker of experience. Then take a breath and start sending it out!