7 Ways to Prepare for the 2021 ScreenCraft Writers Summit

by Kevin Nelson on April 7, 2021

The 2021 ScreenCraft Writers Summit is almost here. Are YOU ready?

In a few short days, thousands of screenwriters will be pouring into an online event venue to attend the ScreenCraft's unique virtual conference, the Writers Summit.

It's a whirlwind weekend full of panels, top creators (Jay Roach! Damon Lindelof!) craft intensive sessions, mixers with industry professionals, networking and even ScreenCraft Pitch Competition Finalists pitching live in front of a panel of judges à la The Voice. And when there's not an event going on, attendees are free to explore the virtual space and stop by different booths in the Expo.

It goes without saying, but the Writers Summit is -- a lot -- in a good way, for sure -- but still -- a lot. Especially for first-timers. Much like an in-person event, the Summit will go by way too quickly. Still, there are ways to prioritize and capitalize on the limited amount of time by making a plan of action. 

Personalize Your Profile

Before you enter into the public space, personalize your profile. It’s no different than getting dressed before heading out to an in-person event. Considering that you’ll have the option of being visible in networking rooms, that ain’t too bad of an idea either. 

Upload a clear profile picture that speaks to your character. Feel free to add links to websites, social media accounts, and your Coverfly Profile. Include a brief bio that highlights your voice and preferred genre/format. 

Your profile is the first thing anyone will see when they meet you at the Summit, just like picking out clothes, or a first email or the first page of a script, the introduction matters! Think about what you want people to see about you. The whole weekend is meant to connect creatives from across the world, so stand out from the crowd by being yourself.

Prioritize Your Topics of Interest

I encourage you to take part in every discussion, panel, and networking event that the weekend has to offer -- but I get it. Life can get in the way. 

With that in mind, and with such a breadth of topics scheduled to be discussed over the course of 2 ½ days, consider categorizing and prioritizing based on the topics that are most important to you as a writer. Look over the full Summit schedule and make a mental (or written-down!) list of what will serve you where you are in your craft and career. 

Are you looking to improve your skills and knowledge of the craft? Then perhaps the panel discussion on Creating Great Characters paired with the Craft Intensive How do I create SMART Character Goals? will help hone your skills. 

Here are some craft topics that will be discussed during the event:

  • Crafting Intensive | The Myth of Three-Act Structure
  • Writing with "Voice"
  • Building Worlds in Action, Horror, & Sci-Fi
  • The Showrunner Sessions 

Are you confident with your portfolio and feel ready to take the industry by storm? Check out the Critical Career Tools: Networking, Meetings, and Breaking In panel presented by Road Map Writers. 

Here are just a few of the career topics that will be covered during the weekend:

  • Critical Career Tools: Networking, Meetings, and Breaking In
  • Breaking Barriers to Breaking-in: Women in Television
  • Inside Screenwriting Competitions & Fellowships, presented by Coverfly
  • Selling Scripts: What Works and What Matters?

If you have questions about the craft or business of screenwriting, there will be a panel or speaker that can answer them. 

Start by dividing the topics into categories. From there, list out the topics of discussion and prioritize them based on importance. 

Research the Speakers

This year’s lineup of speakers has been curated to inspire and educate. Learn from the leading voices in the industry as they share their expertise and experiences through their own unique perspectives.

Are you a pre-WGA writer on the verge of a breakthrough? Perhaps you may want to pay attention to the knowledge that returning speaker Adam Kolbrenner delivers on such topics as client and manager relationships, breaking into the industry, competitions, and more. 

Are you having an issue with character development in your current work in progress, or simply want to look deeper at the craft? Then maybe you should move Meg LeFauve to the top of your list. As displayed on her podcast The Screenwriting Life, Meg has the ability to teach about writing compelling characters, story structure, and development by easing a writer into the heart of the story.

Are you focusing on Television writing?  You can't miss The Showrunner Sessions, which will break-down what it means to pitch, create and bring to life an entire TV series. The schedule is full of showrunners, not just Jac Schaeffer (WANDAVISION) or Malcolm Spellman (FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER). There's also Lang Fisher (NEVER HAVE I EVER), Liz Tigelaar (LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE, CASUAL), Liz Feldman (DEAD TO ME) and more.

All of the speakers attending the 2021 ScreenCraft Writers Summit bring their unique perspectives and a breadth of knowledge that is aimed at improving your own abilities. I started listening to Meg’s podcast with Lorien McKenna after last year’s ScreenCraft Virtual Summit and have enjoyed weekly lessons of their wisdom ever since. I also still think of Wendy Calhoun comparing the ingredients of a story to a pot of gumbo. 

You will undoubtedly take away some nugget of truth that will help you in your career, and you won’t want to miss any of the speakers because there is so much to be gained. 

But if you must choose, find the speakers that speak to you.

Make a Schedule

Since the 2021 ScreenCraft Writers Summit is an online event, there’s no need to pack for the weekend or deal with the headache of travel and securing lodging. Yet, as anyone raising children or working from home can attest — that comes with its own set of challenges.

If you’re only available for certain blocks of time because of life’s responsibilities, you can dive in at any time and experience novel advice from great speakers. Figured out which events you can make. Does your daughter have an appointment in the early afternoon? Maybe you can catch the happy hour later in the day.

Here is the current schedule:
View the ScreenCraft Writers Summit 2021 schedule & directory.
Plan the events you want to attend based on your availability, and engage with intent. Before you know it, the weekend will be over. Make the most of your time at the summit.

Be Prepared to Take Notes

Have a pen/pad or an open document ready because there will be plenty of jewels and quotes that may end up guiding you when you’re feeling lost. I probably filled up four or five pages last year.

During a previous event, the ScreenCraft Virtual Pitch Panel, Wendy Calhoun went into intricate detail on what makes a powerful pitch. I definitely use that information when preparing my own pitches. Wendy will be back to offer her insight -- and, I'm sure, more pearls of wisdom -- as a judge in the 2021 Virtual Pitch Competition Finals. 

Take notes, because some advice is priceless.

Engage and Interact

There are three different networking events, one each day of the summit, that allow you to interact with other writers and industry professionals. You can also network one-on-one at any point during the event. The virtual space is making these types of questions easy as everyone who is present in a networking or mixer room is there because they want to chat!

Take advantage of every opportunity to engage. Ask questions for the moderators to relay to panelists, take part in chat groups, mix it up at the networking events. Get your name out there. Share social media handles, organize a writers group, share something a panelist said that moved you. Get involved.

There’s no need to be afraid when interacting with other writers and industry professionals during the event. You might even recognize familiar names and faces from other online writing communities. Say hi! 

The writing community is a welcoming and accepting group. Feel free and comfortable coming as you are — as your truth. Everyone will be there for the same reason — their love for screenwriting. It’s all about support and building community. 

Just be careful what you say about sluglines. 

Kidding (kinda). 

Sharpen Your Pitch Skills

The finale for this year’s summit is the coveted Virtual Pitch Competition Finals. Finalists will be announced on March 31st. Until then, sharpen your skills by practicing until it comes naturally. 

This year’s judges include Ben Cory Jones, Eric Heisserer, Tovah Silbermann, and Wendy Calhoun. Don’t let these big names psyche you out. If you're going to be pitching, take a deep breath and keep practicing. Print out pictures of the judges and have them stare you down if you have to. Pitch over zoom with friends, in person with your spouse. The more comfortable you become pitching in front of others, the smoother your delivery will be on the night of the competition.

Remember to make it personable. As Wendy Calhoun notes, “Think of yourself at a dinner party. You want it to be that intimate.”

She also stresses the importance of aiming to evoke the emotions that match the tone of your script. If you're pitching a comedy, make them laugh. If you’re writing a drama, make them cry. 

There's even a Craft Intensive: The Art of the Pitch to help you break-down and determine what makes a great pitch. And then at the Pitch Finals you'll see the best of them!

Regardless, you’ll make the entire screenwriting community proud. I’ll be cheering all of you on. 

Bring a Positive Attitude

The goal of the 2021 ScreenCraft Virtual Writers Summit is to promote a positive space for attendees to be able to build a strong community and foundation for their career aspirations. With this in mind, the best way to build strong relationships in the industry is to prove that you’re easy to work with. 

How do you do that? Simple. Be kind and respectful.

Producers, directors, managers, and agents want to know that you’ll be a courteous collaborator. The truth is, there is importance in appearances, and your words reverberate. As is the case with all social media and public forums, be mindful of what you put out there. People are watching and paying attention.

The goal is for everyone to feel welcome. Inclusivity is paramount.

The 2021 ScreenCraft Writers Summit is shaping up to be an online event that carries on the traditions of an in-person weekend of events through a virtual platform. Each day promises to provide opportunities to expand your creative community while developing the skills and perspective necessary to advance your career.

Are you ready?

I sure as heck am. 

See you there.

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