By Lee Hamilton.
Pretty much no one walks off the street and immediately lands a job as a screenwriter. Being creative, imaginative, and mastering the craft of screenwriting is an absolute must, but crucially, you also need to be in the right place at the right time.
As with almost every other industry, most people inevitably have to start at the bottom and work their way up, but how do you get that all-important foot-in-the-door, and more crucially, where?
Finding entry-level positions at the very place you hope to eventually have your movie made by is a good place to start. Screenwriter Antwone Fisher was working as a security guard at Sony Studios when producer Todd Black heard his life story and was inspired to buy the rights and turn it into a movie, and it’s not unheard of for many successful screenwriters to have started off working as mailroom clerks, receptionists, or baristas somewhere in the studio system.
Most major studios are so vast that they have lots of non-film-related posts available and in multiple countries, so there’s a good chance that there’s something for everyone. They’re a great place to get daily access to industry professionals but thrusting your script into everyone’s face is a guaranteed way to get fired. Instead, be the best at the job they’re paying you to do, be friendly, approachable, and build some bridges before mentioning your writing or pitching that brilliant logline.
Internships aren’t just for students, but while some internships are paid, the majority aren’t. This is the payoff for getting some potentially invaluable hands-on experience in the industry, so you’ll need to juggle your ambition with the practicalities of having enough to live off here. The hours can be long, the work grueling, and you’ll be expected to already have a good knowledge and understanding of screenwriting.
You’ll be reading a lot of scripts, writing coverage, assist in development, research, and have administrative duties amongst other things. Entry is competitive, so you should already have excellent writing and communication skills, be proactive, and be hard-working. There are countless benefits from doing an internship, not just from the networking perspective, but by reading scripts, it’ll also help improve your writing too.
The assistant has played the gate-keeper role in Hollywood for a long time now, working directly under the people who can make it happen for you. These jobs can be extremely demanding, with quickly changing time schedules and long hours of work. This might impact the time you have to work on your own projects, so keep that in mind. The upside is that you’ll be in a great position of power, be mentored by high-up execs, and be around major Hollywood talent in the process. Assistant is a fairly vague job title, but working under anyone who has the potential to help your screenwriting career is advised. This could be a whole host of people, from an agent, manager, producer, script editor, or being a PA for talent, etc.
Assistants are usually trying to climb the ladder themselves, so they’re always looking for great scripts to promote (not just their own), great writers to become agents for, and ultimately, they’ll need assistants too, so becoming friends with one beforehand is a bonus. Find them at networking events or while you intern at the company, etc. This isn’t always an entry-level job, so you need to work your way up to it, but once you do, most assistants quickly advance even higher up the ladder thereafter.
A studio reader isn’t quite the same as an assistant, and it can be equally hard to get a job as one, so you may need to have previously worked as an intern or as someone’s assistant to get here. Unlike an assistant, the job mostly consists of reading scripts (or other content) and writing coverage, so none of the phone calls, photocopying, and office admin duties. While there’s less opportunity to network, the improvements to your writing will be immeasurable. Although the majority of scripts you read will be declined or “passed,” you’ll get to learn what works and what doesn’t when you are writing a script that engages an audience.
Moreover, you don’t need to be reading for a studio to reap the benefits of landing this role. It’s much easier to find work as a reader by contacting smaller production companies, talent agencies, coverage services, and screenwriting contests, all of which have a high turnover of scripts that need to be read and assessed. The bonus is that you can do this remotely, so you don’t have to live near a major film studio.
Regularly check company websites for open calls for reader positions throughout the year, but especially shortly before contest deadlines as readers will be more in demand. Again, you’ll already need to have good knowledge and understanding of screenplay format, story structure, and how to write constructive criticism, and you may have to work pro-bono until the quality of your work is good enough, but this is one of the best career paths to improve your writing ability.
If you are interested in joining Shore Scripts as an Intern or Reader, send your resume and a sample of your previous professional coverage to email@example.com!
Working directly in the film industry will almost always place you at an advantage. Being in an environment where you can network, learn, and experience the industry firsthand, you’ll be increasing your chances of success, so it’s absolutely worth looking into.
Lee Hamilton is a script reader, developer, and author. Lee was one of the original readers to join Shore Scripts and has since moved into education and development, penning numerous articles, workbooks, and writing courses.
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