5 Warnings For Aspiring Screenwriters
Screenwriting Workshop Lesson: Adapt to a lifestyle that enables creativity.
By Jen B.
If you’re a young, aspiring screenwriter, you’ve probably pounced on any screenwriting agent or manager accepting unsolicited screenplays. You leap onto the first chance you get to show off your work in the hopes of getting recognized and finally breaking into the film industry. A similar scenario is when a hopeful new screenwriter submits their first script ever to some of the best screenplay contests without the blink of an eye, dreaming of winning that coveted prize. It’s understandable for aspiring writers to have an optimistic outlook but there many traps they can fall into when it comes to submitting scripts.
The following five warnings will expose some of the mistakes new screenwriters might make early on during their screenwriting journeys or careers.
The Writing Traps
No echo chambers!
To stand out as a screenwriter, you need to forge an original writing style for yourself. If you simply follow preexisting formulae or an auteur’s established style, you’re not really bringing anything new to the table. If there’s anything that can launch your career, it’s an original, fresh voice that readers didn’t know they needed. So how do you learn from others without lurking in their shadows? Ingest different perspectives and teachings, process them, sift through various guidelines and advice, and absorb what works for you. There’s no one right way – there are many muses and many paths to create a successful script. Adopting a single point of view or following one glorified screenwriter will only limit your potential, restricting you from exploring your writing ability and where it can lead you.
No long scripts!
You’ve got the perfect screenplay idea and you’re excited to start putting pen to paper. Don’t get too excited. Many screenwriters end up with a script that is 120 pages or more and find themselves trapped during the rewriting stage. Which scenes to cut? Which pages to completely do away with? It’s a trap! By writing too much, you’re facing the challenging, almost impossible, task of cutting a lot of fat off your script. That’s a daunting mission for any screenwriter who’s poured their heart out onto the blank page. To avoid this trap, always repeat to yourself: less is more, less is more. Whenever you’re about to turn the page or write a new scene, ask yourself: do you really need this next scene? Is that dialogue really necessary? Another helpful tip to follow is the 30-30-30 rule. This rule basically says that each act should be 30 pages long. With a total of three acts, your script should be around 90 pages. During the rewriting stage, you might add a few pages, that’s not an issue at all. But it’s not like having to cut out over 25 pages of your script because you got carried away.
Screenwriting feedback is one of the most valuable assets on your journey as a writer. It offers you a different perspective and opens your eyes to different aspects you could improve. BUT that does not mean you get lazy and throw in the towel. You still need to write the best script you can write. Don’t just depend on feedback to fix and polish your script for you. Whether you seek feedback from friends, fellow writers, or coverage services, you shouldn’t delegate the bulk of the writing process to others.
Another side effect of screenwriting feedback is that you may end up getting used to the idea of always having someone to lean on, someone to check on your work after every draft. Although that’s useful during the early stages, it’s more harmful later. You need to improve your skills and develop them enough to become independent as a writer. It’s only by becoming confident that you’ll be more comfortable when you eventually land a paid position where 100% of the work is on you.
The Business Traps
No wishful thinking!
The waiting, the hoping, the wishing. It’s an inevitable phase of every screenwriter’s life. You’ve just submitted your screenplay to one of the best screenplay contests. Or you’ve sent your spec script to a screenwriting agent accepting unsolicited screenplays.
The suspenseful, long wait follows. What also follows are endless clicks on that refresh button, expecting an e-mail bringing good news. Or hours spent by the phone, expecting a call inviting you over to “the office.” All this is just unnecessary pain. Try to let go of your scripts after submitting them anywhere. Instead of hanging all your hopes on that script, spend that time working on a new screenplay idea. Or simply take a break and relax a bit. But overthinking about that possible reply will just drain your energy and do nothing but harm your morale. Stay focused, set realistic goals without getting sucked into the fantasies and dreams of screenwriting success.
Market your script strategically!
The first rule of screenplay marketing: never use your first scripts. First scripts are for trial and error, experimenting with the format, making the silly newbie mistakes, and learning from all that. Even if your first script turns out to be miraculously good and you get that e-mail or that call for an interview, it’s more likely than not that your interviewer would want to take a look at your portfolio, to see your other work. What then? You don’t want to come off as a novice who just got lucky. So before going to market, have at least 4-5 scripts in your portfolio as samples of your work.
Another important marketing rule is: do your research. You have to be fully aware of your target audience (or agents, managers, producers). You need to know which buyers make your kind of movies, pitch them yours, and hope for the best. But throwing your fishing net and wishing for whatever it catches is not a reliable, effective way to do things. You must create a marketing plan, well-researched, focused, and with multiple options. Prepare yourself and your script for the market. How? Research. Reach out and explore all the connections possible. Network. Write a solid logline. Be ready for what’s coming next and don’t waste your screenplay on companies that are a bad fit or agents that don’t really work with your genre.