Screenwriting is not a monolith. The reality is that as a career, there are specific jobs you ought to look into, each a form of screenwriting, and decide which suits your skillset best, which you can realistically break into. Today we’ll take a look at the distinction between three kinds of writing for
the screen. Keep in mind, few writers start out by writing. You’ll have to build connections and break into the industry first for your abilities to be noticed before anyone drops you into the battlegrounds of the third draft of a blockbuster adaptation, which will then be re-written a further four times. Good things come to those who work very very very hard.
Spec Writing. You may have heard of Spec scripts, they tend to be the most admired and mythologized entrants into the film world. It is exactly what we think of when we think of scriptwriting; you have an original story, you write a full first draft, and with the help of a manager or other connections, shop around your script until it gets picked up to be produced, simply because it’s irresistible. This sort of thing isn’t as common as it once was, though uber-established writers like Quentin Tarantino insist studios are still looking for great spec-scripts.
This does however mean that you’ll be doing a lot more work to sell the entire project, versus simply keeping up your end by writing what is required of you. When it’s your work from the get-go, you need to make sure the title, premise, theme, logline, and so on can easily be pitched to prospective buyers. Writing spec-scripts might not lead directly to a sale, but it may provide an outlet through which to show off your style. And if your style is appealing, you may get work on other projects.
Working by commission/contract. So perhaps you’ve made a name for yourself by your voice or skillset, but no one is picking up your original work. That doesn’t mean you can’t be commissioned to work on a project. A project that involves writers hired on commission will typically have been developed to a robust plot and even as far as a few drafts in, but the script needs retooling, and retooling, until the production is ready to wager their reputations and funds on it.
If you’re the first writer to be given a pass at the story, you are writing on assignment from a studio. When a producer has the rights to adapt a novel, and they’re certain it’s a sure-fire hit, they’ll hire a writer with a reputation for quality on commission.
And briefly; Script Doctoring. This falls on the other end of the process. A script is well into development, but needs seasoned or magisterial hands to iron out the kinks and rewrite the material. If financiers believe the script can be made into a film, but there are specific problems to address, Script
Doctors address these problems with their reliable aptitude. They often go uncredited, typically because they have not contributed more than 50% of the final product, but because of this, very occasionally, no-names can flex their chops by being of some service. None of this is to be confused with Script Consultation, a career for another day.
So, where to start on your journey to discovering which niche best accommodates your talents? Well, other than the wealth of advice available on this website (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), start by writing. A lot. Like anything, the more you write, the better your work will become. And networking as much as possible on social media, through Facebook groups or anywhere else you can find people eager to find partners in their developing careers, will elevate your chances astronomically. You need to be seen in order to be involved.