We received a question this week from someone who loved to write but wasn’t sure how to turn their writing into a career. I thought I would share my thoughts on the blog in case there were others reading with the same question.
First let me say I wouldn’t have felt qualified to answer this query except that I’ve now had the pleasure of interviewing several television writers and showrunners with our scripted series lab. Although each writer seems to have found his or her own unique career track, one consistent thread between them is that they all managed to make circuitous but ultimately important connections in the film industry. They also share the traits of being humbly dedicated to working on their craft and working hard. I’m sure I won’t be the first to come up with this conclusion but I now believe aiming for a career in tv and film writing requires a two-front strategy:
- Make connections in the film industry…in every and any department.
- Be a professional – meaning always be writing and working on your craft.
Get in anywhere you can. Whether you are a PA on set, working in the accounting department of a production company, building sets in the carpentry department, or logging footage for documentaries, you never know how your connections and understanding of the wider industry will help you get a script to the right person who can help you get your next opportunity and so on. Be invaluable at your job, be someone people want to extend themselves for, and let people know that you are also a writer. Volunteering at film festivals can also be a useful way to meet people and learn more about how writers fit into the industry.
While you build your network, you have to continue to work on your craft. Pump out that material, draft after draft, and you’ll get better with each one. Try different genres. Write original material and non-original specs to show you can write in your own voice or adapt to someone else’s. Create an ironclad routine for your writing. There are many great books that a quick internet search will reveal.
There are some great teachers in our local screenwriting programs. Check out the full and part-time options at UBC, SFU, Capilano University and Langara. Also, check out Raindance, InFocus and Vancouver Film School. Here at the PSP we accept applications for our highly competitive scripted series lab, (running January-April) beginning in August.
When you feel your work is ready, you can start entering your scripts in screenwriting contests. Making it to the finalist round of any of the major competitions is a great way to get the attention of industry decision makers. Making your own short films or web series’ can also be a great way to showcase your work and your ability to make things happen.
Beyond craft, there are some great websites and podcasts to help you understand the business of screenwriting. Some of my favourites podcasts include: Script Notes by John August, Write On by Final Draft, On the Page with Pilar Alessandra, and Storywise with Jen Grisanti. Both the Writers Guild of Canada’s Writers Talking TV, and John Ward’s 49 Degrees North focus specifically on writing in Canada.
I would to hear from working writers out there. Do you have any tips for turning a love of writing into a screenwriting career?