Telling Stories through TikTok

By Lee Hamilton

The way people consume content is continually changing and for storytellers, that means more creativity! Busy lives, people being more on the go, and shorter attention spans have all led to a surge in short-form content being watched by hundreds of millions of people all around the world. As the ultimate goal of both screenwriters and filmmakers is to get as many people as possible to watch their stories, the popularity of this format begs the question: can the likes of TikTok, YouTube Shorts, and Instagram be a viable way to break in?

Traditionally, ‘breaking in’ meant selling a script to a Hollywood studio or pitching it to production companies in order to turn your pilot script into a tv series, but the boom in online content and streaming services has opened up many more doors to aspiring screenwriters. Yes, the old ways still very much exist, but not only are there now more places to pitch too, such as smaller independent studios and streaming platforms, the web has also enabled storytellers to write, produce, market, and distribute their own projects all by themselves, bypassing the big gate-keepers to the industry.

The internet has been populated by creators since its inception. Nothing new there. Web series, fiction podcasts, short film screenings, etc. They’ve all been around for a while now with varying degrees of success. Many successful careers have begun by uploading a viral YouTube video, by finding a niche audience that helped someone get noticed, or by people deciding to build their own brand online. In this business, there’s no single way to break into the industry, which is precisely why although it’s extremely tough, it’s also very exciting!

So, what makes short-form platforms like TikTok different, and more importantly, how can you use them to advance your screenwriting career?

Tiktok content usually comes in the form of pranks, dance, stunts, jokes, and entertainment lasting 15 seconds to 3-minutes (which has recently been boosted to a maximum of 10 minutes in order to compete with YouTube), all with the hope of going viral – which is the key here – getting many eyes on your work is the primary benefit of doing this.

Filmmaker, Madelaine Turner, is probably one of the best know examples of an aspiring filmmaker who’s used TikTok to promote herself. She took to creating mini-movies during the lockdown in 2020 as a means of staying creative. Using the props she had lying around, her own wardrobe, and her home as a location to come up with some “silly internet content”. Doing parodies and using her imagination, her content quickly went viral and she currently has 508.3k followers with her most popular upload sitting at 12.3M views!

With the ability to get 3 million views in a single day, as Madeline did with this collection of vignettes that accompanied audio from The Astrology Album by Gary Usher, maybe the question should be why wouldn’t an aspiring screenwriting/filmmaker jump on this platform and start creating!

It’s all about showcasing your talent. Promoting yourself. Building a portfolio of work. The attention garnered on TikTok has led to Madeline landing a manager, working with agents, and she currently has a TV pilot circulating in the industry, but filmmakers are also taking inspiration from influencers and advertisers by using the platform to promote projects still in development too.

Much in the same manner that crowdfunding can help you raise financial backing, a following, and support for a project, TikTok can be used for the same thing too, so you can utilize it to build interest in a larger project as well.

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Again, it’s all about creating content, but in essence, that’s also a form of storytelling too. Shoot small scenes. Talk about your main character and tell us why we’ll want to see them come to life. Show the world your life as a screenwriter. Give insights into your own creative process. Film a teaser trailer for your short film or feature project. Use it to advertise a screening of one of your films. The list is endless and the possibilities great. Screenwriting isn’t just about selling a script, it’s about selling yourself, and having an online presence, a following, and a proven record of people out there wanting your content might just give you the edge over someone else.

Another reason short-form video platforms can be extremely useful is that a new generation of filmmakers are also using them to showcase their process, meaning if you don’t want to publish content straight away, you can use it to learn about the craft instead. There’s lots of short content on there that can help you develop your skills and become more informed about filmmaking, not just screenwriting. One of the biggest channels on there is Filmmakers World, which as of publishing, has 412k followers and over 3.4M views. It’s a great resource for live on-set videos, filmmaking advice, tutorials that will help you to up your game, as well as simply inspire you.

If you’re going to jump in, do your homework first. TikTok tends to appeal to younger users with 41% of its users being between the ages of 16 and 24. Among these users, 90% say they use the app daily, so although there’s an extremely huge audience there, it’s well-worth understanding who your potential viewers are and what sort of content they might be attracted to. This shouldn’t be anything new to you. Knowing who your audience is is something you should already be applying to your screenwriting. That said, no one can predict what will go viral and what won’t. That’s part of the fun.

Get writing and get filming. Short-form stories might just help you hone your writing craft, force you to work to remits, help you to create to a deadline (creating regular content is a must) that leads to exciting results without the huge time commitment that comes with writing a longer project. You don’t always have to wait for people to come knocking on your door to start creating. Now go forth and go viral!

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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. Find her on Instagram @thescriptreader 

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