‘Once upon a time, in a land far far away…’
Remember how this one line used to grab our attention as kids while reading or listening to a story? It still does for me! Storytelling is a powerful form of expression and plays an important part in everyone’s life. Storytelling is where the limits of human imagination cease to exist, and through that is how we see our past and imagine our future.
Films have been one of the most popular forms of storytelling, and if you’re someone who has a great set of stories that would make for great films someday, then you might want to stick around as I’m going to tell you how to become a screenwriter and get your stories onto the screen.
What Is A Screenwriter?
A screenwriter is someone who writes the screenplay or a script, based on which a film or a TV show is made. Screenwriters are not your regular writers ﹘ they write stories in a particular format, unlike a book. Here they include dialogues, the look and feel of the scene, transitions, cuts, shot angles, non-verbal cues and much more. This helps the director to visualise the story in their head and also helps actors to prepare for their characters. It is not uncommon for a screenwriter to play the role of director as well.
Here’s How You Can Become A Screenwriter
Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? Read on to learn all the things that you can do to kick start your career as a screenwriter.
- Read Screenplays
- Learn The Craft
- Write, Write, And Write
- Go To Film School ﹘ Or Not
- Up Your Pitching Game
- Get Yourself An Agent
- Make Short Films Yourself
- Submit Your Screenplays And Short Films To Festivals
- Become A Full-Time Paid Screenwriter
To become a director you watch films; to become a writer, you read books. Just like that, to become a screenwriter, you read screenplays. Watching films can be fun and they can teach you a lot about filmmaking, but to learn how to write a film, there’s nothing better than reading screenplays ﹘ especially the ones written by the industry’s finest.
Make it a habit to read at least one screenplay of a film you liked every week. This will not only help you learn the way screenplays are written but will also enhance your creative capacity. I have listed below some of my personal favourites to help you get started.
- Pulp Fiction by Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary
- Lady Bird by Greta Gerwig
- 1917 by Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns
- Knives Out by Rian Johnson
- Mean Girls by Tina Fey
- Marriage Story by Noah Baumbach
Learn The Craft
Now that you’re reading screenplays and have a working knowledge of how a film script works, it’s time to level up by diving deep into the craft of screenwriting. Try reading books on screenwriting written by industry experts, or read blogs and watch videos from sources that are dedicated to filmmaking.
This will expose you to the intricate details of screenplay writing and will help you form a good narrative structure, build great characters, and write better dialogues.
Here are a few resources that will come in handy:
- Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
- Blog and video resources from Studiobinder
- Screenplay by Syd Field
Write, Write, And Write
The only way to be truly good at something is to keep doing it again and again till you’re exceptional. If you have a story idea ﹘ no matter how small or big ﹘ get on your computer or pick a notebook and start writing it. Once you’re done writing your first draft, go back to the top and read what you’ve written and keep improving on it. A screenplay is considered complete only after the shooting wraps up; until then changes keep happening because there is always room for improvement.
Previously, screenplays were written on typewriters. Today, there are dedicated free and paid screenwriting softwares for your laptop that can help you write your screenplay without you worrying about the format.
Pro Tip: Never use a Word document to write a screenplay. Here are a few free screenwriting softwares I recommend.
Go To Film School ﹘ Or Not
No profession in the filmmaking business requires an educational background in films. Especially when it comes to screenwriting, all that you can learn about it is already available on the internet for free. Then why is film school important?
A degree from a film school may not be mandatory but can be very helpful to start your career as a screenwriter. It will give you an opportunity to learn from expert screenwriters and also help you make valuable connections for the future. Through film school, you can also get a full-time screenwriting job in a big production company.
Here are a few film schools in India with strong screenwriting courses:
- Film and Television Institute of India, Pune
- Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI), Kolkata
- Whistling Woods International, Mumbai
- Ramesh Sippy Academy of Cinema and Entertainment (RSACE), Mumbai
- Annapurna College of Film and Media, Hyderabad
Up Your Pitching Game
Did you think that writing was the hard part? Well, it’s not ﹘ pitching your screenplay to potential producers and studio executives is. Pitching is an art in itself and anyone who aspires to become a filmmaker needs to master it, especially if you’re a screenwriter.
Try practising your pitching skills on your friends and time yourself to see how long you’re taking to convey your story idea. Producers and executives are very busy and cannot sit around for a 30-minute pitch meeting. Keep practising and bring down your pitch to a maximum of 10 minutes for a formally scheduled meeting. But if you catch a producer at a film festival or in an elevator, have a 30-second pitch ready in your pocket. Most screenwriters get their formal meeting after chasing down a producer and giving them a 30-second elevator pitch.
Get Yourself An Agent
Have a few solid scripts with great potential but you’re unable to get a meeting with producers or studio executives? Well, that is something every newbie in the business has to face, and to help you comes an agent. Relax, I don’t mean Agent Smith from The Matrix. An agent is someone who represents artists such as actors, directors, and screenwriters while working independently or under a talent agency.
Agents help you get meetings with studio executives and arrange pitch meetings. If all goes well and your script is greenlit, they also help you draft the best possible contract for your work. You can look for talent agencies that represent screenwriters and choose one that works best for you. Once you’ve done that write a statement of purpose to them as to why they should represent you as their client and also attach a few pages of one of your screenplays, but never send the whole thing unless you have your script copyrighted.
Make Short Films Yourself
Ever heard of the phrase, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade”? Well, this is the mantra that keeps me going, and it should be yours too. As a newbie in the film business, you will come across a lot of rejections, but that’s just a part of the game. Producers and executives sometimes fail to recognise talent, but that doesn’t mark the end of your career. So, what can you do to get recognised?
It’s easy ﹘ make a film yourself. You may not be able to fund a feature film all by yourself, but you can make a short film with little money. You can find an aspiring director to direct your short film, but as I said earlier, it’s not uncommon for screenwriters to be directors themselves. If you feel confident enough, go on and wear both hats. Collaborate with other budding cinematographers, editors, and actors and bring your story to life.
Submit Your Screenplays And Short Films To Festivals
Now that you have a couple of short films and screenplays under your belt, submit them in the festival circuit. Film festivals are a great place to network and showcase your work to industry professionals and to potential producers. Here, you and your key crew can get recognition for your work, and who knows ﹘ you might even get your big break.
Become A Full-Time Paid Screenwriter
Screenwriting is not exactly a full-time job when it comes to filmmaking, but if you’re more inclined towards the television side of the business, you can write a spec script of any TV show or film that you like and send it to TV producers and executives along with your portfolio. The spec script will help them determine if you’re fit to be a part of their writer’s room. You can start as a junior writer or script supervisor and make your way to the top from there.
What about income? A screenwriter’s salary depends on the project and the studio they are working for. The average screenwriter salary according to Payscale is 4.8 lacs per annum and can rise up to 9 – 10 lacs per annum depending on experience. But if you’re an independent movie screenwriter, it can be much more depending on the project’s budget.
That’s it – With all the above information, you’re all set to go out there and bring your stories to life.
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