The 8th annual ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship is upon us and it’s a truly special opportunity for up-and-coming writers. Open to both film and television writers, the winning Fellow gets seven days of intensive professional meetings and three months of career consulting. ScreenCraft competition manager, Neha Dutta, hosted a panel of recent Fellows on February 18th, called Screenwriting As A Career: Tips From ScreenCraft Fellows. Here are highlights from the panel.
In meetings with managers, be yourself.
2014 Fellow, T.A. Snyder, who signed with a manager at Zero Gravity and is directing his first feature film called Panther Creek, said being authentic in meetings is key. “Be your weird, wild self because it’s a connection you’re making with a person,” said Snyder, adding this warning: “Otherwise, you can wake up two years from now and be in a toxic relationship with a manager you don’t even like who’s putting you up for things you don’t even want to do. You won’t get those two years back.” Snyder also shared that he’s been through three managers since 2014. “I love my current manager, but it took some bad relationships to get there. I wish I had known to be myself and not think about what they want to hear, what the industry is currently chasing. Tell them what you want to do, how you want to grow in this business, and find someone who fits that.” The general consensus on the panel is that it’s better to not have a manager than have a bad manager because you’ll end up working that much harder for yourself.
Even if you sign with a manager, you still have to hustle.
2017 Fellow Anya Meksin, a staff writer for the Netflix series, In From the Cold, said she thought getting her manager meant she had finally broken into the biz. Instead, she spent the next seven years struggling to get her feature film off the ground. “We were greenlit three different times with three different production companies – how many times I rewrote it, I can’t tell you, or how many different people we had attached. It was the project that would never die, and it would never live. At a certain point I had to realize that wasn’t me breaking in. I had to keep hustling my ass off. I kept applying to fellowships.” Meksin emphasized there isn’t one singular event that’s going to make your career and recommends having a side hustle for stability.
It’s important to have both an agent and a manager.
Tevin Knight, the recent 2020 Fellow, signed with an agent at Gersh and managers at Kaplan Perrone. Though he admits he didn’t understand the difference between an agent and a manager at first but feels strongly about having both. “You need that web. You need to have a player at each base – you need someone covering each position.” He described the difference between an agent and a manager this way: “If you’re being bullied, and you have two older brothers, the manager is the brother who will bandage you up and the agent is the one who’s going to go kick that kid’s ass
Don’t take rejection personally.
Lucy Luna, the 2019 ScreenCraft Fellow, currently works on the staff of the TV show, All Rise after signing with manager Kailey Marsh of Brillstein Entertainment Partners. Luna admits there is a lot of rejection in Hollywood, but you can’t let it bring you down. “I always see the ‘no’s’ as life telling me that’s not the way. To me, a closed door is a wake-up call from life, telling you to look in another direction,” said Luna. The important thing is to keep moving forward.
Don’t apply to a ton of expensive competitions with your first script.
2018 Fellow, Davia Carter, currently a staff writer on USA’s Queen of the South, was asked how many scripts you should have written before you apply for a Fellowship. “A lot! Unless you’re some kind of super genius, your first script probably isn’t the best one,” Carter said. “So just keep writing. Submit the fifth one or the sixth. Submit the one you know in your gut there’s something here,” she said.
Always have your script proofread before you submit it anywhere.
Everyone makes typos, but not taking the time to fix them can really offend the person reading your script. Remember any reader’s time is valuable and you need to show that you are a professional from the jump. “A smooth read is invaluable, said Knight, adding, “No one wants to get distracted by the wrong ‘there.’”
It’s all about networking.
Especially if you’re in Los Angeles, you need to get out there and build relationships with people in the film and TV industry. That’s hard to do during a pandemic, but it’s worth going to film festivals and going to industry events when those in-person opportunities return. Synder agreed, saying, “I wish someone had told me [about networking] early on, because when I was on the precipice and I knew my writing was improving, I thought, ‘When I get a manager, that’s going to change everything. It’s going to get me in rooms, it’s going to get me jobs!’ But that’s not how it works. It starts and stops with you and what you do.”
Fall in love with the rewriting process.
Every good writer knows that writing is rewriting, and it will serve you well if you’re good at it. “If you want to make money in this business,” said Synder, “you will rewrite, rewrite and rewrite and you’ll need to do it fast.”
Writing shouldn’t be the only thing you do.
Knight understands how torturous staring at a blank screen every day can be, so he recommends having, “another outlet that’s not writing.” Whether it’s music, becoming a “plant mom” as Ditta claimed to be, do something else that will allow your creativity to restore itself.
Both with yourself and the industry. Many writers expect things to happen quickly – oftentimes they do – but that’s not always going to be the case. Some projects will take years to set up and it’s likely you’ll spend a lot of time pitching your project around town. If your writing is really good, it will eventually find a home. In the meantime, just keep writing.
Enter the 8th annual ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship. The final deadline is February 28th!