Number 5!

One of the big problems screenwriters run into is that they’re good with the writing part but they have no idea how to strategize their career. They don’t know how to break in. Without a concrete plan, they just sort of write stuff and send it out to a few people and if nobody says it’s great, they cry in their Cheerios, spend several months watching bad television and eating a lot of donuts and Reeses peanut butter cups, before jumping back on the horse and trying again.

Much like your protagonist needs a goal in his story, YOU need a goal. Today, I’m going to give you ten goals to choose from in regards to what your plan should be. Once you know what your goal is, you can cater your screenwriting break-in strategy accordingly. Here are the ten best ways to break in as a screenwriter in 2023 from least effective to most effective. Are we ready?


10) Be the ultimate self-promoter – Be someone who’s on every screenwriting message board there is and constantly promote your work. Get people to read it. The trick with this is you have to be genuinely nice about it and reciprocate the gesture. If you’re out there asking everybody to read your scripts, you should be offering to read their scripts too. What’s going to happen if you do this consistently is that you’re going to grow a network and people in the screenwriting community are going to know who you are. And what ends up happening is that, in these bigger networks, there are always industry people dipping in and out of that network. So they’re going to be aware of you. And if people are talking about how your writing keeps improving and then you come out with some great concept for your latest screenplay, I guarantee you a few of these industry people are going to be curious and want to check the script out. We have a few of these promoters here on the site. I will allow them to share with you their secrets in the comments section.

9) Contests – Contests aren’t what they used to be because they used to be the only middle-ground between being a no-one and being a repped screenwriter. Nowadays, obviously, you have this thing called the internet which, if you’re smart, you can use to circumvent the contest route. But the bigger contests still hold some sway in the industry. Managers and agents still pay attention to the people who win a Nicholl Fellowship. They’ll even take a look at your logline if you were a finalist. There are a few more good contests. Austin. Sundance Screenwriters Lab. And I’m sure a few of you will post others in the comments section. Contests aren’t as helpful as they used to be. But you can definitely parlay a good showing in a big contest into representation.

8) Short stories on Reddit – Short stories naturally lend themselves to feature film ideas and one of the bigger trends over the last five years is production companies snatching up the rights to original horror short stories being posted on CreepyPasta on Reddit. I believe they also have subreddits for sci-fi and romance and drama and whatever else tickles your fancy. Although horror seems to be the genre that gets the most attention. The great thing about this is that your story doesn’t need to be crazy elaborate. 2000-5000 words is all you need for a good short story. And that’s just one-quarter of the words you would write in a feature script. You also get instant feedback from readers so you’ll know right away if your story is working or not. If not, you’ll find out why and you can go back to the drawing board, improve, and try again. Short horror stories are one of the avenues that have filled the vacuum of the long lost spec boom.

7) Spec Sale – The days of giant spec sales are long gone. They just don’t happen anymore for a number reasons, the biggest of which is that in the 1990s studios got burned for spending hundreds of millions of dollars on good first acts and terrible second and third acts. So they went the more dependable route and started hoarding IP. However, you can still break in with spec sales under the right circumstances. Those circumstances are writing lower budgeted big concept genre material (horror, sci-fi, contained thriller). You’re not going to get paid as much. But you can sell those scripts and, because they’re cheap, there’s a good chance of them getting made. And now you’re in the system. You know that movie about the two girls who climb up a tower called, “Fall?” Stuff like that you can sell as a spec script.

6) Find some IP and write a script based on it – Industry people like IP better than they like sex. It’s a magical word to them. I bring this up because you’d be surprised at just how interested someone will be in a marginal idea solely because it’s previously established IP. The trick with IP is to go in one of two directions. One, look for overlooked material. Books (or games, or comics) that made a little splash in the 80s and 90s and 00s, but not a big enough splash to become a part of popular culture. I remember Akiva Goldsman got the rights to some unicorn book from the 90s for a bag of pistachios and a half-finished can of Busch Light. You can option these more obscure materials for next to nothing from the authors if you’re charming enough. Cause what else do they have going on? The other avenue is to look for stuff in the public domain. You probably want to stay away from your Peter Pans and Robin Hoods only because everybody picks those. Keep an eye out for books that will be in the public domain A YEAR FROM NOW. That way, you can write the script over the course of the next year and have it ready the second the book enters the public domain. Sites like this one will tell you what’s upcoming.

5) Write a Pilot Script – As a feature guy, it pains me to say this. But pilots sell more than features these days. And the great thing about pursuing this avenue is that, unlike fifteen years ago, where you had to be a seasoned veteran to get a show on the air, these days, virtual no-names can get on the air (True Detective, The End of the F***ing World, Severance, PEN15). There are so many slots to fill for networks and streamers that they have no choice but to take a chance on young writers LIKE YOURSELF. So write a pilot, preferably with a juicy concept (think more “Stranger Things” and less “This is Us”), then do your research, see who reps the writers of shows like yours (on IMDB Pro), and START QUERYING THEM!

4) Black List – The Black List continues to be a touchy subject around here. It used to be great. Now the town has learned how to game the system so a bunch of crappy scripts make it on the list. Also, woke scripts get heavily weighted regardless of whether they’re good or not. So the Black List is definitely less prestigious than it used to be. But getting on the list is still going to give your career a bump. And if you make the top 10, it will be a sizable bump. You’ll be able to get meetings with everyone in town and, hopefully, parlay a few of those into writing jobs. How do you get on the Black List? Go through the last two Black Lists. Write down every manager who has more than one entry. Note what kind of scripts they like. And write a script in that universe (woke and biopics are most managers’ entry point). Query them with a logline. They’ll probably want to read it if your script is in any way similar to the kinds of scripts they usually promote onto the list. And if the script is good, they’ll send it out. And now you get to be on the Black List. Simple as that!

3) Write and direct a short film – A short film that gets a lot of views online allows you to e-mail lots of reps and producers in Hollywood and get a meeting with them. It’s the ultimate business card. Because it’s not just a short film. It’s a promise of what you’re capable of if someone gave you the money to make a feature film. And everyone’s going to want to be in on that because they’re going to make money from it. But you have to give us a short film that’s special in some way. It’s got to be legitimately scary. It’s got to be incredibly moving. It has to have a world-changing twist to it. It has to have something shocking in it. It’s got to be controversial in some way. People always say, “There’s a million short films. It’s impossible to stand out.” Well, yeah, if you write some lame handheld mumblecore drama in a one-bedroom Hollywood apartment, nobody’s going to care. But, luckily, you’re a writer. So you know what captures audiences. Especially if you read this site. Use that knowledge and make something memorable.

2) Get on a TV writing Staff – The last time I counted, there were 700 shows on TV. If each of those shows averages 5 writers, which is probably a lowball estimate, that’s 3500 writing jobs. Are you one of the 3500 top writers in the United States? If you read this site and you’ve been at this for while, you should be. Or you should be close. There are just so many of these jobs, mathematically, it’s easier than trying to sell a spec or make the Black List. If you want to get on one of these shows, identify what kinds of shows you would love to write for, then write an original pilot script in that genre. Then query all of the managers and agents who represent TV writers (through IMDB Pro). Then they’ll send your script in to the right people and hopefully you get staffed on one of those shows. You also want to submit to all the studio TV writing programs, which someone can list for me in the comments section.

1) Direct a movie from your own script – By far, this is the fastest way into the system. Because the thing that Hollywood values most is a finished product. And if you do it this way, you’ll have a finished product. The rub is that you have to want to direct and you have to have some money. With that said, part of being a writer is being financially creative. It’s something you’ll be asked to do over and over again when you’re hired for jobs. So try to write something that would be cheap to shoot. A writer recently sent me a script for a consultation that was limited to a computer screen, like Searching. And it was a good script! So it can be done. And if you do it, it really is a “jump to the head of the line” situation.

And there you have it! Did I miss any? Rank them incorrectly? Feel free to let me know in the comments.