What are the screenwriting secrets that screenwriters need to know and understand as they navigate through Hollywood during their screenwriting journey?
We all know the go-to screenwriting advice and tips.
Know the format and keep it simple.
Read ScreenCraft’s Does Correct Screenplay Format REALLY Matter?
Master the Three C’s of Screenwriting.
Read ScreenCraft’s Have You Mastered the Three C’s of Screenwriting?
Write what you know.
Less is more.
Read ScreenCraft’s Why Every Screenwriter Should Embrace “Less Is More”!
Show, don’t tell.
Have an opening hook to engage the reader.
Read ScreenCraft’s How Do Screenwriters Hook the Studio Reader?
Have a strong ending that readers will remember.
Read ScreenCraft’s 7 Ways to Master the Endings of Your Screenplays!
We could go on and on. But there are a few simple secrets that screenwriters need to know to help guide them through the difficult times they are sure to face as they chase that Hollywood dream of becoming a professional screenwriter.
1. Great Writing Isn’t Enough
This is perhaps the most frustrating secret that many screenwriters can’t handle. You can write amazing characters with excellent dialogue that have cathartic arcs, and still not sell the script. That same screenplay can have impeccable pacing, flawless format, and great twists, turns, and reveals, and it still may never see the light of day.
The problem with film and television is that it costs a lot of money to make a screenplay’s story come to life for all to see and experience. Whereas with the publishing industry, you can simply print the manuscript and let the reader do all of that work within their own imagination.
Hollywood is a business. And 99.9% of studios, production companies, and filmmakers are in it for the money. And there’s nothing wrong with that. If you have an issue with a company or individual wanting to turn a profit or support their family, you’re living in a naive dream world.
For these reasons, great writing isn’t enough in Hollywood. A substantial body of work will surely get you noticed, but before that can happen, you have to do the work to get your screenplays read. And again, great writing isn’t always enough for that to happen.
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You could even get significant notice through the contest, competition, and fellowship market by winning them and enjoying the accolades, but that still may not be enough.
The secret to dealing with this secret is to choose your projects wisely. It’s not about writing a big action spectacle. In fact, those types of spec scripts are often undesirable. It’s about finding those magical concepts that either haven’t been seen before or are unique and compelling takes on what has succeeded.
That well-written drama or dry comedy that you’ve written indeed has its worth within your deck of screenplays, but it’s the unique and compelling concepts that will get more notice.
So do your best to take the time to choose your projects wisely. Explore your imagination. Look at what has been succeeded and see if you can take that to the next level or create something that no one has ever seen — what no one ever knew they wanted to see.
2. It’s NOT About Who You Know
A common gripe amongst newcomer screenwriters is, “It’s all about who you know.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. It takes more than that. Yes, it certainly helps to know power players within the industry. But that’s not the be all end all doorway to getting a screenplay purchased, produced, or even read.
In the end, the script has to have that X-Factor. Or you have to have that X-Factor voice, story, or perspective that is perfect for an assignment or series. And you accomplish those things by honing your craft and choosing your projects wisely.
If you’re marketing your very first screenplay, it’s a mistake. If you’ve managed to get a job as an assistant or intern at a production company and you want to show them that first screenplay for consideration, it’s a mistake. If you work as a barista at a movie studio coffee shop and you’ve built a rapport with some development executives or television stars that work on the lot, giving them that first (or even second) script you’ve written is a mistake.
It’s about the work. It’s about the craft. And it’s about your mastery of that craft that will get you noticed. Not who you know.
So take the time to write that first couple of crappy screenplays. And listen, compared to what you’ll eventually write after you’ve made those inescapable mistakes and blunders in your writing, that first couple ARE going to be crap.
Take the time to become the best writer you can be and write the best scripts you possibly can, and then worry about who you need to know to get them in the right hands.
3. You CAN Make Your Own Luck
Yes, luck plays a massive part in your screenwriting success or lack thereof. But what most don’t understand is that a majority of the time, you can, will, and need to make your own luck.
No one is just going to happen upon your script. You have to get it out there.
Luck is an integral part of success in Hollywood, or often anywhere in life. But we don’t have to be a slave to it. We don’t have to sit by the phone, waiting for it to call.
We make our luck by taking advantage of opportunities and circumstances, by being optimistic of our situations, by trusting in and following our intuitions, and by being resilient against anything and everything that is thrown at us in life, and especially in our pursuits of the Hollywood dream.
Read ScreenCraft’s How to Make Your Own Luck in Hollywood!
4. Script Readers Protect Producers From Having to Read Bad Scripts
That’s the sole job of the script reader.
The hard truth is that most of the screenplays out there are terrible. And no, this isn’t the argument of subjectiveness that screenwriters love to debate.
We’re talking about scripts that are horribly written from an objective viewpoint. The ones whose writers clearly don’t understand the format guidelines and expectations, a general need for structure, pacing, etc. The ones that are full of horribly bland dialogue, terrible exposition, and are overly derivative of iconic classics and current trends.
It’s the script reader’s job to ensure that the producers and development executives they work for don’t have to waste their time with those types of screenplays. Sadly, most of Hollywood is saturated with them.
For lack of a better metaphor, script readers are like Secret Service agents for their bosses. They protect their superiors from harm and will take all “bullets” without hesitation.
So why in the world would you ever send out a first draft, a work-in-progress, or untested screenplay to major production companies, studios, agencies, and management companies? They’re never going to get past the script reader. And if you’ve managed to entice them with an otherwise compelling logline, you’ve instantly burned that bridge and wasted an opportunity by handing over work that just isn’t ready.
Make it the best it can be. Don’t use script marketing as a litmus test to see if your script is ready. Send the script to some peers, mentors, and maybe even a consultant, to test the waters. You can even use the contest, competition, and fellowship market to test your screenplays as well.
Just be sure that it’s ready to impress the script reader. They’re more objective than you think.
5. There Are No Hollywood Secrets to Success
Iconic screenwriter William Goldman famously stated, “Nobody knows anything.”
All that you can rely on to better your odds of getting into the Hollywood conversation is following the general guidelines and expectations. And even those can be bent from time to time.
Right now, people will tell you that X Current Trend is the way to get your script read and considered. Tomorrow, that statement will prove to be false or misleading.
You can’t write a screenplay by following a particular beat sheet while having your protagonist save the cat in whatever metaphorical way and expect that script to be a success. Sure, that may offer you a way to tell your story. But in Hollywood, nobody knows anything and hindsight is always 20/20.
If there were a single secret, it would be just to do the work. And what that entails is choosing your concepts wisely, taking your time to hone your craft before submitting your work, embracing rejection and learning from it, stacking your deck to the point that you have multiple quality screenplays to offer as samples, and then just bust your butt trying to get people within the industry to read them.
The fates will decide everything else.
Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.
He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies