Screenwriting : The first step... by Ian Lynch

Ian Lynch

The first step...

I’m out of college a year. I’ve been writing and studying screenwriting for nearly three years now. I’ve nearly finished my fourth feature script. My first three scripts were decent concepts that were horribly executed, as you'd expect with a newbie writer. But with my fourth script, I feel like I’ve become, dare I say it, an almost decent writer. But I have no idea where to go or what to do. I’ve read so many articles and whatnot on how to get your first job as a writer. Yep, there’s no single way to make it as a writer, everyone has a different story, and so on and so forth. But I’m trying to look at genuine options. You could contact agents or managers, but most of them won’t give you a second thought if you haven’t gotten work before. You can send scripts to producers or studios, but 99.9% of them don’t read unsolicited material these days. You can try and get a low level job or internship with a studio or producer, but there’s always going to be hundreds of people more qualified than you also going for those jobs. They’re unlikely to hire you if you haven’t worked first. It doesn't help that I live in Ireland, where the film industry is quite small anyway. So what’s the only option left? Getting a soul-crushing office job, then putting every spare cent into script coverage and entering competitions, or saving up so you can make your own film? Perhaps I’m just being too pessimistic. I mean, I love writing, and I’m not going to stop any time soon. It would just be comforting to know about more genuine, practical options or routes. But I don’t think there are any. Any thoughts or advice that you more experienced writers could give me? How did you get your first writing job or sell your first script?

Mike Romoth

It is a lifelong effort. Some people get lucky with the right connections at an early age. For the rest of us, it takes slowly advance the pieces on the chessboard. Persistence is your greatest ally. Keep writing, and while you do that, keep trying to get your work out there. The hardship will make you sharp as a razor.

Kerry Douglas Dye

Here's how I sold my first spec script: I entered a script -- written with a collaborator -- that placed highly in the Austin FF Screenplay Competition. I attended the conference and met an agent who had no interest in my competing script (musical comedy) but asked if I had any horror scripts. I did have one. She read it, liked it, and then sat on it. Any time someone asked if she had something that met its criteria, she'd send it out. About two years after I met her, she sold it. The movie came out 5 years ago. It was terrible. Won a decent film festival award, played for one week in three theatres, played on Showtime. I sat by the phone waiting for CAA or WME to call. They did not. Long story short: nine years after meeting that agent, I'm still working my soul-crushing day job. This is, I expect, not a heartening story, but you asked. :) Promising epilogue: I recently sold another script scheduled for release next year... maybe the story will be better this time around.

Kent Williams

Kerry, you are a produced screenwriter. That's pretty cool. And now you've sold another script. That's more success than most people see. Ian, you should enter your script in some competitions, if you have the $ for entry fees. Unfortunately, a lot of the big competitions are already underway, but there are still some good ones left. You might also consider attending the Austin Screenwriter's Conference in October. It's a great way to meet people in the industry, like Kerry did. Also, if you can, you should move to LA -- if you must take a "soul crushing job" while you pursue your dream, you may as well have that job in the place where you can get to know other people who might help you along the way. Best of luck!

Ian Lynch

Thank you guys so much for all the advice. You've been honest and realistic with me, and I appreciate that. I'm never going to give up on writing. And once I get a paying job to support me, I'm likely going to save up and go to New York or L.A.

Shelley Stuart

You're young and presumably with few commitments tying you to one place. Live. Write. Live some more. Sure the Irish film industry might be small, but you're in a great position to volunteer on independent and college shoots when you're not responsible for filling other bellies and can work 12 hour days without repercussion. You've got plenty of filming being done in Britain; take advantage of that instead of setting your sights on the US. See if you qualify for the BBC's writing programs and contests -- there's one currently open. But mostly, live. Nurture your creative heart and soul. Don't look at a checkout job as "soul-crushing", but the opportunity to learn about how a grocer's or chemist's works (might help you out with a crime thriller) and how people are (you might find future characters). Learn how to communicate with (not just talk to) people. And if you end up in a gap, go hosteling. If I recall correctly, you can work at a hostel in lieu of payment for room and board, and the UK has a great hosteling network (or it did a decade ago when I traveled there). I met some of the coolest folks while hosteling! All these experiences and connections should help you with your stories, and it just takes the right connection to get the right script into the right hands.

Danny Manus

Ian, it sounds like you're on the right track. My best advice is - you're young, you're hungry, you presumably are not married or have kids yet - MOVE TO LA! Get a job in the industry, try being an assistant in a managers/production/development office, create your network while working on your own material. But do it from the inside. You're at the perfect age to do so. It's so much easier breaking in from the inside.

William Martell

Query managers (most are open to new writers, unlike agents)... and try not to think of the day job as soul crushing. I drove a forklift for 10 years and it was just what had to be done to pay the bills and support my writing habit. I went over scenes in my mind at work and wrote them the next morning before work. The great thing about day jobs is that they pay for your writing time.

Doug Nelson

Ian – Fortunately, screenwriting is still legal and once smitten, it’s addictive to many. You sound like one of the addicts and you must do whatever it takes to appease that addiction. An’ remember, it takes a lot of work, a lot of time and a lot of failure before you pop onto the scene as an “overnight sensation.”

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