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Newbie writers who are eager to start a career in screenwriting often ask me: I wish to become a screenwriter. How do I go about it?
Every writer's journey is unique and what works for me, may not necessarily work for you. Like every journey, in this one too you may come across many different paths to get to your destination. The important thing is to get started with a rough map and then figure out the milestones on the way. So here are some tips...
Learn the Craft It all begins with learning the craft. So let's not jump the gun. And this is the fun part. If you wish to be a screenwriter, you need to understand how movies are written. The best way to do this is by watching a lot of films. Mindfully. So you have a bunch of films that you love. Those are the ones where you should start...not simply to be entertained but to understand the writing behind it. Take notes on what happens in a scene. How one scene flows into another. How characters are at the beginning of a story and at the end. At what points do major events in the story take place. The ups and downs faced by characters and how this impacts the story. Take copious notes. Then go and do a search for the screenplay of the film. Read it...and you will be able to make the connection between what you watched on screen and what you read on the script. As you do this over several films, you will begin to understand just how important structure of a screenplay is. How the structure varies for different genres.
While you're taking a deep dive into the craft, there are some great screenwriting resources that will help you in understanding screenplays, storytelling, structure, character development and more. Here are some: Go into the Story ScreenwritingU Save the Cat
Practice The only way to ensure that you are absorbing the necessary elements of screenwriting is with practice. Don't have a story idea? Check out some of the writing prompt sites to trigger your imagination. Use some of the above mentioned resources to work out a rough outline and start writing. Since screenplays have a unique format, you may want to download free software such as Celtx. Have fun with it. The more you write and practice, the better your scripts will be. Join an online screenwriters forum to connect with other writers and exchange scripts for feedback. Forums like Stage32 are a great place to connect with writers and other filmmaking professionals.
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Make friends and collaborate Often interacting with other writers, filmmakers and other professionals in the field helps you to understand how the industry works. Unlike other forms of fiction writing, screenwriters can't create in isolation. A script is just the starting point and you need to find others who are as excited about your writing as you are to help you turn the words on the page into moving images. As a newbie screenwriter it is tough to connect with established professionals, production houses and filmmakers. The trick is often to start small...write a short film project and collaborate with a newbie filmmaker to get it made. You can reach out on Stage32 and LinkedIn and connect with a bunch of people. A screen credit or two will help you reach the next level of your screenwriting journey.
Enter Contests This is a great way of establishing your credentials as a screenwriter. While you do have to pay entry fees, consider this as an investment in your career. Try out a couple during the first year. Many of these also offer feedback from judges. So that will definitely help you to get a grip on how far you have progressed in learning the craft. If you place as a quarter- semi- or finalist or end up a winner, it will inspire you to keep moving forward and connecting with professionals in the film industry.
With a couple of contest placements, a bunch of scripts and maybe a produced short script credit line in your portfolio you are now poised to enter the second stage of your journey...getting a manager or agent to represent you. But well, that's another story for another day! :)