How a ScreenCraft Writer Sold Her Film 'Wedding Season' to Netflix
Shiwani Srivastava is a screenwriter whose star is on the rise. Back in 2018, her script Wedding Season placed in multiple screenwriting competitions, including the Academy Nicholl Fellowship, Final Draft's Big Break, and the ScreenCraft Comedy Competition.
After winning the ScreenCraft Comedy Competition, the ScreenCraft team introduced her to an executive at Netflix, as well as her literary manager at Affirmative Entertainment. As a direct result of those introductions, Wedding Season was sold to Netflix and is premiering on the steaming platform this month!
We sat down with Shiwani and discussed the path she took toward success, as well as her approach to the craft. Watch the full interview below and then continue on for our favorite takeaways.
Table of Contents
There is No Timeline for This
Shiwani received a master's in South Asian Studies, had a different career, and had kids (twins), but still pushed herself to pursue her passion — screenwriting. There is no right or wrong way, no right time or wrong time. The fact of the matter is if you care about it and constantly have it on your mind, even if you have not written for ten years, you can still go for it.
“It wasn’t at all an immediate success. I don’t think [my script] broke through to quarterfinals or semis or anything, but I think what was helpful, especially being off in San Francisco, there was not a lot of people to get notes from and people who had already seen it. I used the contest to get notes and keep revising. And I think it had been...probably four years of that before I submitted to that ScreenCraft contest.”
Wedding Season was actually the first screenplay Shiwani finished. She did not let her inexperience stop her. She learned as much as possible about the craft first, then she wrote her script. But even after that, she spent a lot of time getting notes (from Screencraft) and polished up her script until she felt truly confident enough in it for competitions. Finally, she started submitting. But even after all that, it was her second/third time submitting when she started to find success. Now, her movie is being released on Netflix.
So, remember, there is no right or wrong time, and it is never too late. Focus on yourself, your process, and the craft. Patience is key.
Most importantly, never give up. You never know when an opportunity will come.
Get External Motivation
Shiwani took a remote UCLA screenwriting class while in San Francisco where she learned the ins and outs of the craft, but the most valuable aspect of it was the community. She found people who could give her outside feedback on her work. Plus, having the deadlines and the accountability from other people gave her great motivation to continue pushing.
“...it was like — this semester we are finishing the first half of act two, then the second half of act two, then act three. That’s really how I finished the first draft — was by being forced. By signing up, I forced myself to turn in pages every week. Because otherwise, I just found there wasn’t the incentive with everything else that was going on. I think some people are more self-motivated, but at the time I needed the external motivation.”
It can be very hard and lonely to work on this alone, so make sure to find a community you trust to support and motivate you — and you do the same for them.
Oh, and do not take criticism personally. Harder than it sounds, I know, but you will not make it far in this industry if you do not know how to take criticism and integrate it into your work.
Develop Your Voice
Finding and developing your voice is the most important thing you can do. Do not focus as much on what the market wants. Yes, it is important to consider, but what makes people want your script is that it has a unique voice that no one else has. Yours.
“I asked my manager once, ‘How did you know you wanted to sign me?’ And he said, ‘Well, I liked your voice.’ And I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘You know, it’s funny… You know when reading something that has it and you know when you’re reading something that doesn’t.’”
How do you find and develop your voice? Shiwani’s approach was by watching her favorite movies and figuring out the essence present in all of them — the essence that made her love them. Pull from the movies that influenced you the most. Emulate them. Practice and practice until you find your voice, then strengthen it every time you write.
Have Something on Deck
Shiwani found success through the ScreenCraft Comedy Screenwriting Competition, but even after winning, there is still work that needs to be done.
One of the key assets you need to have on deck is a second (and third and forth and fifth!) script ready to go. And no, it does not have to be in the same genre. Going back to what we touched on earlier, it should exemplify your voice. This is why it is so important to develop your voice over everything else. For Shiwani’s second script, she wrote a comedy pilot. Though she tackled the same genre, she showed her range and flexibility in working in a different format.
Most of the time, the first thing a manager, agent, or producer is going to ask you when they meet with you is, “Can I read something else?” They want to know that you are not just a one-hit-wonder. They want to know that you have something unique in you that will enable them to help you find more success, which in turn, finds them more success.
Shiwani's Pitching Process
So many of us writers are not even thinking about pitching our scripts or ourselves when we first start out, but the reality is that it is a prominent part of this business. Learning to pitch your story so that other people can resonate with it is a skill that needs to be practiced.
Here is Shiwani’s rough process for pitching:
- Yourself: Why are you the best person, the only person, who can tell this story? Talk about why you are passionate about it. Make a personal connection with the people you are pitching to, then lead that into the story.
- Theme: Delve into some of the major themes of the story and why they are relevant right now in our society. Why will people care about this story?
- Characters: Talk about the characters. Why are they interesting? Why and how will people connect with them? How will they resonate with people today?
- Story: Lastly, talk about the story. You can go chronologically if you want, but the most important thing you want to do is paint a picture. Capture the essence of the story, the tone, the style, and make the people you are pitching to see the movie in their minds. Most importantly, focus on emotionally impacting them.
A few additional tips Shiwani shared:
- 20 minutes is a good length of time to pitch, but this is relative and depends on the situation you are going into.
- The most important thing is to prepare but not become a robot. Leave room for improvisation.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up
“I think I read at some point that the average age of a screenwriter on a studio movie is 46, and I held on to that. I think we all love stories of young success, young geniuses, and of course, I think they are amazing, but I think the vast majority of people slog and don’t necessarily find their success until later. And I think that’s okay, and I think sometimes you have more to say when you’re older. Not expecting or needing it too soon and going because you have something to say is really important.”
That is a direct quote from Shiwani. It is so easy to get sucked into the social media machine that paints this picture of young people finding success, but that is not the reality for most people. Not only that, but so many of us are not able to give up everything to follow our passion, and that is okay, too.
Just look at Shiwani as a perfect example. Not until later in life, after going to school for something else, having a career in a different field, and starting and raising a family was she able to find success. And now, she is absolutely killing it.
So, if there is anything you can take away from the interview we did with Shiwani, it is that you can do this, too. Do not beat yourself up for not being where you think you should be. That will only hold you back more. Focus on what you can do right, find people you trust, work on your craft, and always look forward.
Don't forget to watch Wedding Season, which premieres on Netflix on August 4th!