Written by Carole Kirschner
Great screenwriting advice is everywhere: online, at events (like those hosted by the WGSA), and in countless courses and books created by some incredible professionals.
But unfortunately it’s just as easy to find (and get caught up in) terrible screenwriting advice that can be easily mistaken for useful tips. Advice that’s outdated, from sources that don’t actually understand how the business works today, or advice that’s just convoluted and easy to misinterpret.
Watch out for misinformation that can set you back rather than help push you forward.
Here are 4 bad screenwriting tips to be wary of:
1. “Make Sure Your Script Ideas Are Small or They Will Never Get Made.”
A common “hot tip” from well-meaning individuals (who are usually not in the industry) is that you need to write stories that are affordable to make; that, as a new writer, you’ll never get a script picked up if it’s got big action sequences or is based in a genre like sci-fi or fantasy. Let’s be clear: A brilliant screenplay, no matter the budget, scope, or genre, is a brilliant screenplay. If your script is brilliant, nothing else matters. Yes, in general studios are looking to make movies that cost under 20 million, so they have a decent chance at making their money back. But some studios are also on the lookout for their next franchise or action film. Plus, more often than not, a screenwriter is brought into a meeting based on one script, but is asked to pitch or write for a completely different project. In a nutshell, if you have an idea you’re passionate about, whether it involves flying cars or flying monkeys, write it.
2. “You Need To Get Your Scripts Out Into The World ASAP.”
Yes, people need to read your work for you to get your foot in the door, but sending a script out before it’s ready can do more harm than good. Too many newbie writers fall victim to this advice — rushing to send their very first script out as soon as it’s done. Your first script might be great, but it might also read very “green”. You only get one first impression, and Hollywood decision-makers are not going to want to hire you if they think you’re an amateur. At the beginning of your career take the time to hone your voice before putting your work out into the world. This might take a few months, or it might take a few years. Then, once you have a script you feel confident is great, write 2 more. Even if industry insiders read one script and love it, they’ll always ask, ‘What else do you have?’ Arm yourself with 3-4 great scripts that clearly communicate your voice as a writer, and THEN get them out into the world. Don’t procrastinate, but take the time to make sure it’s right. It will pay off.
3. “Be Bold; Send Your Script To Whomever You Can – Someone Will Bite.”
I’m all for being bold, but there’s a difference between ‘bold and strategic’ and ‘bold and reckless’. Finding email addresses on IMDbPro, or LinkedIn and then shooting off your script to everyone and anyone is not going to make you any fans. You need a plan of attack. Choose who you approach wisely, and then approach them strategically. Take the time to find the ‘industry allies’ for your content. If you write comedy, which people and companies are in line with your brand of humor? If you make short form digital, what platforms host your type of content? Once you know who you want to target, I STILL don’t recommend you send them random emails, or hound them online. There’s a right way to get noticed by them and a wrong way. For tips on how to get noticed the ‘right way’ check out my posts on Hollywood Etiquette, parts 1&2. Practice working smarter, not harder – it can help you get ahead faster, and not piss off people along the way.
4. “If You Don’t Go ALL IN, You’ll never be a Professional Screenwriter.”
We’ve all heard the stories of award-winning screenwriters who quit their 9-5’s and moved to Los Angeles with nothing but a dollar in their pocket to pursue their Hollywood dreams. Of course there are writers who have gone “all in” with writing and had great success, but there are also famous writers who kept their day jobs as they worked their way up. In fact, sometimes quitting your job to put all your energy towards writing can create more anxiety and fear than freedom and focus. How can you do your best creative work if you are worrying about paying your rent or keeping the lights on? Before you quit your day-job hone your craft. It can take years before you are ready to compete with professional writers in Hollywood, and even then landing reps takes time, getting staffed takes time, even when you do get hired as a writer contract negotiations can take months. There is no shame in keeping a day job and it doesn’t have to take away from your writing career.
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