Become A Successful Screenwriter: Break In, Break Through & Break Out

Joel Mendoza    Co-Founder Fresh Voices/ CEO Attraction Ent.

Break in 2First the depressing news! Hollywood is rapidly changing and the rules for screenwriting success are changing with it. Gone are the days of a Hollywood flush with development money, first look deals and discretionary funds. Agents only have time for established talent that earn top dollar. Managers are less likely to invest their time and energy trying to break new writers.  Producers want fully developed, high quality material, and financiers want to know the whole package before committing any cash. All this has placed an incredible burden on writers already straining to break in. 

And now the good news!

There are a host of services and competitions helping emerging writers breakthrough the Hollywood gridlock. You’ve written one, two, maybe three screenplays and you still can’t get an agent or manager to return your call. Established writers have a team of agents, managers, lawyers, publicists and producers advising them on every aspect of the business. How are you ever going to start your writing career let alone compete with the establishment?

If Uncle Harry isn’t a producer on the Paramount lot, check out the opportunities offered by screenplay competitions and coverage services. They are a great way to make sure your material is ready for the industry and some can really help break aspiring writers. Placing as a finalist or winning a screenplay competition is a great validation of your skills, and can open the doors to an Industry known for being closed to the uninitiated.  

Similarly, coverage services can really help get your material in shape. If you are lucky enough to get that agent or manager on the phone, chances are they’ll only give you one chance to impress and your material must be up to the task. Some may even help get that agent or manager on the phone!

That said there are lot of these services and competitions that purport to help emerging screenwriters but do your research first by asking these questions.

Who are the people administering the contest or service? Are they a part of the industry or merely periphery players just trying to break in themselves? What is their training? Do they know good material and do they know the industry?

Is your original idea being exposed to the industry? Does the competition randomly give out material to the industry to judge? There is a right way and a wrong way to introduce new material and writers to Hollywood executives. Agents and managers make a good living forming a strategy for each writer and every project they represent, and they take great care in making sure the material is ready before sending it anywhere.  

What do you get in return? The uncertainty of whether your material has even been read permeates most competitions. If you are not one of the winners, you’re lucky to get an email telling you so.  Seek out competitions that give free feedback. This way you know your material has been read and the feedback is worth the cost of entry alone. 

Is there a clear and transparent process and are you getting a fair chance? This is hard to know without participating in the competition, but most contests have an online presence. It’s important you make sure the website lays out all the information you want to know in an organized and easy to navigate way. Look at how they judge material and make sure every script is getting a fair chance. Feedback is one way, and knowing that all judges are making their evaluations based on the same criteria is another.

There are a lot of great competitions and coverage services out there. Enter a few and find the ones that work for you. Use these tips and you’ll be on your way to Hollywood success.