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The Effectiveness of Screenwriting Competitions and How to Use Them

By Advice

For screenwriters, one of the best ways to make inroads toward a successful and gratifying career is by participating in screenwriting competitions

 

More accessible than festival labs, easier to win than most studio writing programs, and more professionally rewarding than many fellowships, screenwriting competitions have become a must for screenwriters, from novices to mid-career professionals. But doubts about what they can do, and misconceptions about what they should do abound.

What follows is a point-by-point breakdown of competitive screenwriting programs—from what you stand to gain from them and how to weed out the competitions that aren’t worth your time or money, to how to leverage wins and placements into career gains. 

Screenplay

Set Your Expectations

There are plenty of reasons to enter screenwriting competitions, and plenty of reasons not to. For every Destin Daniel Cretton—whose career was launched when his screenplay for Short Term 12 won a prestigious Academy Nicholl Fellowship in 2010—there are hundreds of screenwriters who spend money every year waiting for a win to make it all worth it. And when a win doesn’t come, repeating the process without adjustment. 

One of the biggest misconceptions about screenplay competitions could be called the “golden ticket delusion.” This is a belief premised on a misunderstanding of the way competitions work: that winning a decent competition is a magic career fix-all. As if making those connections, getting that prize money or materials package, and taking that initial flurry of industry calls will set you up for a hustle-free future. The truth is the majority of screenplay competitions simply aren’t designed to launch careers. 

Cretton is a perfect case study. On paper, he went from an "unknown" filmmaker to indie darling overnight by winning the Nicholl Fellowship. In reality, by the time he entered the competition he’d already graduated from film school, interned at Nickelodeon, made a short that won the jury prize at Sundance, and signed to a manager, all of which helped him leverage that win into the career he has today.

The takeaway is not to somehow already be established before you enter competitions, but to know what you can expect to get when you do, and have plans in place to spin potential wins and placements into gold.

Destin Daniel Cretton

Destin Daniel Cretton (Credit: Jake Giles Netter)

Understand the Reality

So, what exactly should screenwriters expect to get from entering competitions? Competitions vary widely in how they stand to benefit writers. Coverfly curates unique profiles on each of its 150 qualifying competitions, including tabs on Prices & Deadlines, Benefits, and how the previous year’s winners fared. There are, broadly speaking, five types of benefits you can gain from screenwriting competitions:

Getting Representation

The best way to open doors in the industry is to get represented by a manager and/or agent. It’s amazing to see how many opportunities were invisible to you without a dedicated, well-connected industry professional by your side. After placing as a semifinalist in Final Draft’s Big Break competition, TV writer Amy Hartman signed with a literary manager at Anonymous Content and her pilot shot to the top 10% on Coverfly.

Managers and agents serve distinct purposes, so it’s important to assess what kind of partnership you want to forge and where you want it to take you. The industry-intensive ScreenCraft Fellowship has participation from all the top agencies and management firms, so screenwriters are supported at any stage in their career. Every previous Fellowship winner has signed with representation straight out of the competition, from Gersh to Zero Gravity and WME.

Other competitions, like the TITAN Awards, distribute a press release introducing you and your project to their list of industry contacts, including thousands of Hollywood agents, managers, producers, and executives.

Optioning

The most direct benefit a screenwriter could hope to gain from winning a screenplay competition is getting their script optioned for development. Though very few screenplay competitions guarantee development for winning scripts, there are exceptions. Winning the Narrative Feature Competition at the annual Austin Film Festival Writer’s Conference, for example, gets you a first look distribution deal with Gravitas Ventures.

But in general, look for clues related to how connected a competition is to the industry, who makes up their jury, and how hard they promote their finalists. These all increase the chances that post-win/placement buzz can be leveraged into a deal. 

Mentorship

Screenwriters can certainly be diligent about learning the craft, as well as the ins and outs of the industry, but acquiring that knowledge just hits different when you get it from a mentor. Competitions that feature mentorship opportunities with industry professionals, from notable screenwriters to development executives, give you the chance to work on your current project with someone who not only knows what they're talking about but who is also uniquely engaged with your work.

There are a number of competitions that do this. Shore Scripts, which offers mentorship to its Feature, TV Pilot, and Short Film Fund winners, helps writers create a portfolio piece to support their career development. ScreenCraft's optional add-on prize category, "ScreenCraft First Look Bootcamp," gives writers a chance to strengthen their projects with guidance from an industry professional.

Making Social Connections

Unlike virtually every other part of the filmmaking process, screenwriting requires quiet and solitude. You don’t have the luxury of networking all day on set while doing your job. Participating in screenplay competitions is a great way to expand your circle. Stowe Story Labs offer five unique writers’ retreats and narrative labs each year in which peer-to-peer development sessions, mentoring programs, meals, and rest times are all done in close community. Another great example of the retreat model, CineStory Foundation’s 12-month Feature Retreat, launched Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby into an Academy Award nomination for their screenplay for Children of Men

Beyond workshops, events like the Slamdance Film Festival and Cinequest Film Festival allow writers to meet in real life and make connections that could last a lifetime.

Receiving Feedback

Getting impartial feedback from fresh eyes can be an integral part of developing the ideas in your script. And you might find that many writers submit to screenplay competitions specifically for the feedback they provide.

Notes will mostly address the meat and potatoes of your screenplay—what does it say? How does it say it? Does it say it in the most effective or creative way possible? The Finish Line Script Competition employs a unique setup in which finalists receive comprehensive notes from a script consultant that they are asked to implement into the screenplay and resubmit before a winner is chosen. And WeScreenplay's contests all provide free notes with every submission.

Funding & Production Assistance

Brit Cowan

Brit Cowan

Lots of screenplay competitions simply offer a ton of cash prizes. The Academy Nicholl Fellowship, which has transformed many an aspirant duckling into beautiful, employable screenwriting swans, awards up to $35,000 cash for its top winner.

Cash isn’t necessarily king in this department. Whether it's a tech bundle or an intro to a potential financier, production assistance is key for those who are ready to dive head first into production. Brit Cowan, who won the WeScreenplay Feature Contest in 2019, signed a shopping agreement with an independent producer after being connected through Coverfly. 

How Does the Industry Use Competitions?

The democratic, merit-based approach to talent discovery practiced in screenplay competitions has displaced many of the industry’s traditional, inaccessible approaches to recruiting writers (i.e., Executive A knows a guy who knows a guy who has a script). That hasn’t just been good for writers, it's been good for the industry, too.

Coverfly has granted managers, producers, literary agents, and scouts access to a whole new database of burgeoning talent. With all the data centralized in one place, from genre, format, demographics, competition history, and average project score, recruiters can forego many of the meetings and phone calls it used to take to just get a script in front of them. Screenwriter profiles and submission/placement tracking are like a Fitbit and portfolio wrapped into one. 

How to Find the Right Competitions to Enter

As with all things, the moment it was clear there was money to be made off of screenplay competitions, a flood of legitimate, half-legit, and scammy operations descended upon the industry. It can be challenging for writers to tell what’s worth their time and what isn't. Determining which competitions are worth the entry fee is a two-step process: verifying that the competition is legitimate, and determining if it suits your particular needs. That's a problem Coverfly solves.

Is the Competition Legit?

From a pool of hundreds, Coverfly has whittled the field down to about 150 qualifying competitions. From intensive in-person workshop boot camps like the CineStory Feature Retreat to the bevy of genre-specific online competitions ScreenCraft offers every year, Coverfly only gives its stamp of approval to competitions that score high enough marks in the following four criteria:

  • Demonstrated Track Record of Success: Most decent competitions will have a page on their website for “success stories”—testimonials from alumni who demonstrably benefitted from the competition experience. It’s simple: if you want to get representation out of a competition, for example, you should be able to confirm that past participants have done the same. The information should be clear and able to be cross referenced with a cursory Google search. Don’t trust vague language like “X competitor’s pilot sold to a television studio.” Which television studio? For how much? How long ago did this happen?
  • Coverfly CompetitionsTransparency: The basic information should be crystal clear. When do submission dates open? When will you hear back? Will you be receiving feedback? Who are the judges? Coverfly not only requires that all programs provide this information but they also present it in a streamlined fashion on each competition’s unique page.
  • Communication: Competitions that communicate with participants throughout the selection process will advertise the fact that they do so because it’s unfortunately not an industry standard. The sit-and-wait game is agonizing and unfulfilling, ultimately lending itself to the cynical, suspicious view many screenwriters have of competitions. Even if a competition doesn’t send out progress reports, Coverfly has a tool that tracks your script’s progress through the competition. 
  • Programming, Prizes, Juries: In short, Coverfly looks for competitions that can boast prestigious juries, fabulous prize packages, and who can prove their winners actually receive what’s promised. We look beyond the marketing language to understand what kind of niche a particular program fits and how it might help writers at specific stages in their careers.

Is the Competition Right for Me?

This is all about understanding yourself. Are you mid-career or early career? Do you want to write big, Hollywood, Altman-esque ensemble dramas, or do you want to write microbudget horror films that would be at home in a Hulu x Blumhouse development deal? Are you looking to get a script off your hands via an auction, or do you want to attach yourself as a writer with an interested studio in the event of financing?

Screenwriting competitive programs aren’t going to say on their homepage the exact type of writer they’re best suited for; they want to appeal to as many qualified candidates as possible. You need to learn to read between the lines. Know where you are, what would best propel you up the next rung of the ladder, and match that as best you can to what competitions offer.

What Can You Do to Leverage a Placement?

You’ve finished your screenplay, you’ve submitted it to a batch of suitable competitions, and you’re waiting to hear how it fares. Even before you get the results, you should be thinking proactively about how you can leverage potential placements. By and large, your circumstances aren’t going to change from just having won some cash, taken some meetings, or enjoyed a few days of mentions on Twitter. Whatever buzz lands in your lap, you need to fashion it by hand into tangible opportunities.

Raise the temperature of the heat around you to a fever pitch. Reach out to contacts to tell them about progress updates, post about placements on social media, even list them on LinkedIn. You never know what connection of a connection is going to be instrumental in getting your work off the ground, and you’ll be surprised by the platforms that people will discover you on. It’s not all about Twitter. 

Organization and accountability are key to the period of intense interest that follows a win/placement. Keep a spreadsheet of who called, where they work, what you discussed, and what opportunities could come out of it. Develop a follow-up calendar. Circle back 3 weeks after each call—if you’re too quick, you’ll burn through your contacts, but if you don’t follow up, those connections will dry up. Prioritize this list not by what you want the most, but by what you think you have the best shot at getting.


Screenplay competitions are a radically fair and accessible intervention into the old, insider’s model of talent discovery. In part, they’re a spin of the wheel of fortune. But more so, they’re just another challenge that takes a particular set of skills to understand. The bottom line is to be proactive. Wins, placements, and even participation can and have transformed careers. But at the end of the day, whatever doors a competition can open for you, you still have to walk into the room fully prepared to sell your story.

How to Get the Most Out of Paid Script Coverage

By Advice

Getting paid script coverage? Here's how to make sure you're taking full advantage of your notes.

Quality feedback on a new screenplay can be crucial to increasing its quality. A skilled objective eye can spot flaws, weak spots, and hidden strengths that you might miss. Many writers send out each new version of their script to a paid service the way one would go in for a health checkup -- it’s an x-ray of the story’s bones and a critique of how it plays. 

There are several different types of coverage, notes, and feedback you can seek out. You can have friends tell you what they think, swap scripts with other writers, hire a paid service, hire a consultant or story guru, or get industry notes from a studio, production company, or agency. 

There are also studio-facing notes in which the strengths and weaknesses of the story are ruthlessly dissected, as well as writer-facing notes that are more encouraging, working constructively to identify the weaknesses and correct them, as well as the strengths and amplify them. 

Despite the myriad of coverage options available, let's focus on how to maximize what you can get out of paid services. But first...

Screenplay

Why Would I Need Script Coverage?

Screenwriting is much harder and more complex than most people appreciate. Writing drama in any genre is generally considered the most elusive of all the literary disciplines.

Dramatizing a Story is Notoriously Tricky

Not only does the story have to be good but it has to work as a visual and cinematic experience, performed by actors on a soundstage or set, and it has to grip the audience consistently, with no dead spots.

Always remember that 99% of all scripts are rejected. That’s a truly astonishing number. Imagine if 99% of commercial airlines crashed because engineers couldn’t consistently make them work. Most people are not good at making scripts work, and many don’t suspect that they lack deep craft in creating effective drama. 

And just because your screenplay has all the parts it’s “supposed to have” doesn’t mean it will work. Like a paper airplane that won’t fly right or a pop song that just doesn't sound right, that special something can be devilishly elusive. Some screenplays look great on paper but fail miserably on the big screen and no one knows why. 

Advantages of Paid Script Coverage Services

Paid coverage services have certain advantages over others -- studio notes, for example, read scripts with a mandate from their boss to find certain things or fill their production needs, so getting neutral feedback might be a challenge.

Here are a few things that set paid coverage services apart:

  • Anonymity: Being anonymous inspires more honesty
  • Neutrality: Paid services don't have a vested interest in your project, so notes tend to be a rigorous diagnostic by an experienced, neutral professional. 
  • Spotting Problems: These types of notes tend to focus on identifying problems rather than suggesting solutions. This can be quite helpful because getting a solid grasp of a problem can sometimes be half the battle. A complex script problem can be slippery and hard to pin down, but the very act of getting crystal clear on exactly what you’re wrestling with often leads to fresh clarity which can open new angles in the story. 

What You Should Know Before Getting Coverage

A Clear Understanding of a Problem Can Be Half the Battle

As you grapple with the feedback you’ve gotten, the very act of defining the specifics of the problem can shed light on potential solutions. The more clearly and specifically you can articulate a problem, the more you perceive or construct potential solutions. The old saying is that the better the question, the better the answer.

Getting Notes on Your Script Can Be Unsettling

Getting feedback on a script is not always pleasant. Not everyone has the experience that M. Night Shyamalan did when he turned in the script for The Sixth Sense. His producer told him to not change a comma and just go film it. Often notes that feel negative can be a gut punch after you’ve spent months creating, developing, constructing, and writing it. 

Feedback can be confusing, infuriating, depressing, misleading, and occasionally destructive—and it can be encouraging, constructive, clear, insightful, and deeply creative. You’ll probably encounter all of these throughout your career, and it’s good to be able to navigate the highs and lows. 

Cultivate a Professional Attitude

Learn to temper your responses to help stay on an even keel. Not wanting to ever get bad notes is like a boxer expecting to never take a punch. And while encouraging notes are great, bear in mind the old saying that Los Angeles is the only place in the world where you can die of encouragement. Cultivate a professional attitude and work to reinforce it in everything you do. 

To have a sustained career, you need to be a good writer, but it’s also important to be consistent, reliable, and good to work with. Think about the kind of people you’d want to hire and who you wouldn’t. 

The Best Way to Take Advantage of Coverage

Treat feedback as a general diagnostic that can help you see how other people react to your story. You’ve been wrapped up in it for so long that you have no objectivity left. You’ve willed it into existence and now it’s time to see if your writing conjures your vision in other people.

Be glad to get objective honest feedback. Your mother saying she loves it isn’t useful (unless she's a professional script reader). Even if notes don’t feel right, dig into them in case they’ve stumbled onto a problem you hadn’t suspected. But also lean into the notes that seem best able to steer you in the direction that improves your script.

Just Because Notes Can Be Subjective Doesn’t Mean They’re Wrong

If you select a coverage service that you trust, then you’ll get professional insight into what makes your script tick and how it plays in the world. Obviously, each reader is subjective, but they work hard to give your script an even read and evaluate it on its merits rather than on their personal tastes. But if a number of different readers hit on the same perceived weakness or flaw, then it’s not subjective. 

Each person will react to notes in their own way, but ultimately you pay for a practiced eye to give you their impression of how your story plays, and what they think are its strengths and weaknesses. It’s your responsibility to evaluate their feedback and make the best use of it. It’s your script, so take what you need. But be aware that notes with which you don’t agree can also contain dynamic insights. 

Some People Want Feedback, But Don’t Care If You Like Their Script

There's a story about an A-list writer who, if you read his script, only wanted you to recount back to him the story you just read. He didn’t care whether you liked it or not and he didn’t want any notes from you. All he wanted to know is if you experienced the story that he worked so hard to get down on paper.

Ed Solomon Has a Cool Take on Script Coverage

The screenwriter of Men in Black, Ed Solomon, is fascinated with how readers can misinterpret a story, describing this as a wonderful journey of discovery. What the readers “see” might be better than what you wrote, or can trigger new avenues or possibilities that improve the story, like a “happy accident.” He says if you can dance with their fortuitous ideas instead of clinging to your ego, then you can rethink how you’re telling the story.

How to Incorporate Notes into Your Script

Obviously, the more craft you have as a dramatist, the more effectively you’ll be able to utilize good feedback to make your screenplay work. A major league pitcher getting feedback from a top-level coach can incorporate that idea much more substantially than a little league pitcher can. 

Disruption Can Be a Game Changer in a Good Way

Allow yourself to be derailed here and there, to let a disruptive idea get inside your thought process and shake things up. It can be hard to get out of your own storytelling rut and see things outside your own perspective. Sometimes a hard kick is required to change gears and you should welcome it now and then.

You Can Experiment with Alternate Ideas Without Committing to Them

Work with the outline of your script as you contemplate changes. Print an extra copy of your screenplay’s skeleton and play with it. And because it’s an extra copy, you can experiment quite freely. If it doesn’t end up working, then just chuck it. Play, try new things, get in trouble, and explore. Be willing to adjust the bones of your script.

Make tentative choices and see where they might take you. Feel your way through new possibilities. Let the notes serve as a creative muse, as a catalyst that might trigger new ideas or fresh insight. 

How to Deal with Conflicting Notes

People’s opinions can vary wildly. Think about a movie that you consider to be genius, but others hate with a passion—or vice versa. Some people will “get” your story more than others. Also bear in mind that readers have different specialized skills, so they’ll notice different things in your script.

Imagine that you have a medical ailment and visit different specialists and alternative healers. You might get a variety of opinions, with people saying the cause is your diet, your hormones, your chi, your gut, your exercise routine, or your spinal alignment—and they might all be right. As a writer, you want to improve all the aspects of your story. 

Try to Gain Insight That Can Improve Your Screenplay

Remember that your main objective with feedback is to gain insight into how you can make your script better. If it didn’t need work then you wouldn’t have sent it out for opinions. So pay real attention to what they say, even if it feels wrong. Dig deep to see if they hit on a problem that you hadn’t suspected.   

Be confident about the process. Be brave enough to stare down the barrel of a gun that threatens your ideas, challenges your assumptions, and makes you rethink some of your story’s basic elements.

Learn to See the Note Beneath the Note

Learn to perceive the note beneath the note. It can often be difficult for a reader to clearly articulate a problem, especially if it’s a compound, complex problem. Dig into it and feel your way through what they’re trying to say in case they’re on to something. And even if you hate the note, take it as an opportunity to see how an objective perspective experiences your material. 

Even someone getting your story entirely wrong might open up a wildly unexpected new approach for you. Like Ed Solomon said, sometimes an offbeat interpretation will suggest a fresh path to explore. Keep a weather eye out for such fortuitous serendipity because it does happen regularly.

Stay in Close Contact with What First Electrified You About Your Story Idea

Keep in touch with your original intention for the story and follow the notes that move you toward the best version of that. But it takes work to stay connected with the original spark that drew you to the story. It’s easy to lose sight of it, and sometimes that first jolt of inspiration is the most vivid thing in the whole process, with every rewrite watering it down more and more.

Every once in a while, take some time to reconnect with the bolt of lightning that got it all started. A jagged raw story can have much more dramatic power than the refined thing it’s morphed into. Don’t let a dangerous wild animal of a story get turned into a domesticated house pet.

What Is the Process of a Typical Reader/Analyst?

When evaluating a script, a reader is going to look for three fundamental, basic things:

  • A progressing plot that gives the story an engine
  • A protagonist(s) that grow over the course of the story
  • An understanding of the genre the script is working in (as well as any clever ways in which the tropes of the genre are subverted).

This will serve as the foundation for the writer’s exploration of other areas of the script that are strong or could be improved, which can range from the script’s act structure to its marketability.

The more scripts an analyst has read, the stronger their work is. This is because they have seen so many different iterations of elements of scripts that work and do not work and can translate this information to new material. Analysts can take this context and use it to evaluate a script on its own merit, giving more informed feedback. Having a large library of scripts is a really helpful asset to have, and allows me to recognize things in screenplays that may or may not be working.

Arguably as important as generating and compiling notes and feedback is communicating it constructively. Tone is the mark of a strong analyst, as a tightrope must be walked between being sycophantic and giving genuine feedback. A lot of this comes from writing style (for instance, never use the word “unfortunately” and refer to actions that “we” should take), which is something that industry readers have to learn to adjust after giving notes facing the company they worked for instead of the reader.

Additionally, it's good for readers to start coverage on a positive note, which is something that is going to make the writer more open to the criticism that the script receives throughout the coverage. Readers try to be as specific as possible, citing micro examples of macro issues. Finally, giving suggestions on improvements can be a difficult task, as writers may reject notes if they are surprised by the suggestions presented by analysts. Readers consider many potential suggestions before putting them into the notes; even if a writer does not agree, hopefully, this can spark the change they want to make and allow the notes to be actionable in a positive way.

Why Is the Quality of Feedback All Over the Place?

It goes right back to how hard it is to create, develop, construct, and write screenplays that work. Whether it’s a goofy comedy, a brutal thriller, or an action story, it must work dramatically and visually.

Not everyone is a highly-trained script analyst, and they’re doing the best with what they know. But because these kinds of notes are diagnostic, you’re seeking an objective look at something with which you’re too involved to evaluate well.

An Expert Eye is Great, But Sometimes Any Feedback Can Work

You want a practiced eye on your script, someone who sees more than the normal person; but that’s not always easy to find. And even a crude sonar image can reveal a rich shipwreck on the ocean floor. It doesn’t have to be a state-of-the-art spectroscopic analysis to articulate your script’s problem.

Also, even people who perceive problems in your script may struggle to articulate what it is clearly. Some problems are complex with multiple factors, like the core idea is weak but still intriguing, while the structure is flawed but elusive, the characters are dynamic but lacking a certain something, and the ending is powerful but doesn’t ring true.

Beware of Charlatans Claiming Expertise

And just like people with no life experience advertising themselves as life coaches, people who only know the jargon of script readers claim to be qualified script doctors. Start with recommended entities and choose wisely to avoid grifters or charlatans.

How Useful Are Notes If They Only Point out Problems and Not Solutions?

Bear in mind that someone does not have to be an expert in plot construction, story, and character to know a bad screenplay when they see it. An 8-year-old can watch a movie and tell you it stinks, and be correct. Most doctors can tell you that you have cancer, but not many can cure it. 

Diagnosis is easier than curing, although some diagnoses are more discerning than others. But getting deeper notes is a consultation rather than feedback. If you need that, your paid service may offer that option. 

And again, clearly articulating a script’s problems can give you fresh insight and help you get a better grip on it which can make all the difference. A simple “aha” moment can sometimes be all that’s needed to catalyze a cascade of potential solutions.

Why Do Notes Keep Hitting Me in My Sore Spots?

Because your blind spots as a storyteller can coincide with your own blind spots as a person. Psychological aspects of your own personality that you need to avoid or lie to yourself about can crop up in how you tell a story. If it’s hard for you to look at a particular aspect of life, then other people might notice it in how you craft a story. 

Your Subconscious Fears Can Shape Your Writing

In the same way that a person’s fears can shape their actions and their outlook on life, their unconscious tendencies can shape the stories they tell. So, like actors, screenwriters should be able to face their fears and enter into a dialog with them, rather than bury their heads in the sand. 

When to Complain About Script Coverage and When Not To

If you dislike the notes, then you certainly have the right to complain, but it’s good to know when it’s okay to complain and when it’s not. 

When to Complain

  • If they clearly didn’t read the script
  • If they were disrespectful or derogatory
  • If they veer too far into personal taste and preference (Example: "The writing was good, but I dislike fantasy.")

When NOT to Complain

  • When they didn’t “get” what you’re going for
  • When your score is lower than you usually get
  • When they’re working hard to offer good suggestions, even if you don’t agree with them
  • When the reader isn’t specialized enough
  • When a reader doesn’t “get” a key moment because maybe it wasn’t on the page clearly
  • When notes vary because each reader brings different sensibilities and expertise

Fight for the Best Version of Your Screenplay

So learn to work with feedback, using those notes that help you improve your writing and exploring the ones that don’t feel right in case there’s something solid there. It’s very common to have blind spots about your own writing, and notoriously tricky to see it objectively. Welcome unexpected views about your script, with some misinterpretations offering accidental new options for how you shape your story. Cultivate professionalism, be brave, and train yourself to maintain an even keel. That way you evolve as a writer with whom people want to work. 

Listen to your story and see how it wants to grow and evolve, and listen to input from people whose opinions you respect. Value fresh eyes that see the obvious which you hadn’t yet noticed. And remember that the notes are not always what you want to hear, but learn to discern notes that can improve your story.

You’ll also discover strengths in your material that you hadn’t suspected and you can reinforce and amplify them to make your screenplay even better. Treat the notes as a catalyst or trigger that can launch you into the next dimension of your evolving story and you’ll tend to get the best out of them. 

Where Should You Go to Get Paid Script Coverage?

There are many paid coverage services out there and it can be difficult to find which ones not only offer constructive notes that address real problems in your script but are also worth the money.

Coverfly recently unveiled its Coverage Marketplace, which is designed to put all of the best, most trusted coverage service providers all in one place. You'll be able to see each service's unique features, like turnaround times, genre and format-specific options, and any add-ons you can get, as well as actual examples of what each coverage option looks like. Also, you can purchase coverage without ever leaving Coverfly.

Coverfly coverage marketplaceAnd, here's a great added benefit for those of you who are Coverfly members -- getting strong scores from these Coverfly-qualifying coverage services will have a positive impact on your Coverfly rank, which will help maximize your exposure to industry professionals.

CHECK OUT COVERFLY'S COVERAGE MARKETPLACE HERE!

How to Avoid Grifters That Target Aspiring Screenwriters

By Advice

[Editor's Note: The names and certain quotes in this article have been altered slightly to protect the privacy of those involved.]

Over the past few years, the screenwriting community has been a beacon of positivity and support for me as a writer. A place where, even though drama occurs every once in a while, people set aside their differences to cheerfully swap screenplays for feedback, share helpful advice, congratulate one another on accomplishments, and repost job listings, no matter if they’re an industry veteran or a newcomer. It’s an incredible, supportive community to be a part of!

But behind the positive tweets and writer networking events, there is a dark, predatory side writers should be aware of.

My Experience With a Grifter

This predatory side reared its ugly head in September when I stumbled across a UTA job listing. The listing called for a diverse female co-writer for an already sold project that needed the lead to be rewritten into a diverse woman. Seeing as it was paid and sounded interesting, I threw my hat in the ring. I sent over my resume, and the “professional” screenwriter at hand introduced himself (let’s call him “Bob”), and listed his incredible accomplishments. I was wowed.

When Bob asked for my bio and a writing sample, I sent it over as soon as possible and refreshed my inbox nonstop until I got a reply a day or two later. He let me know, “I read the beginning of your script and I’m confident you have a future in writing.” He continued to say, “The script that you sent looks like it is wonderful, but it has some issues on the first few pages that might keep a professional reader (like an agent or a manager) from signing you based on it. I’d like to talk about how I can help you punch it up. (For free, I just want to mentor and discuss it).”

This was an enormous red flag for me, as I had worked on my pilot with industry professionals and mentors and knew my opening pages were pretty darn solid. I also hadn’t mentioned I needed an agent or manager, so that also set another alarm off in my head. The rest of his email was him trying to get me to join his “brain trust session,” workshops he hosts to mentor writers while developing his showrunning skills, and “providing mentees guidance they can’t get elsewhere.” In other words, having a group of people who aren’t good enough to write alongside him, but somehow ARE good enough to help him work on his projects for free… right.

I laughed and pushed this encounter out of sight and out of mind for a few days until I stumbled across a Twitter thread by Cassia Jones (@AwkwardGirlLA) where she wrote about an experience she had that sounded eerily similar to the one I had. We connected, did research, and quickly realized that Bob was not only taking advantage of newer writers (women of color in this specific case) by getting them to work for him for free but also a number of his credentials were outdated or exaggerated.

Cassia and I realized we had to spread the word, so I made a thread detailing the experience I described above. What we weren’t expecting were countless DMs with stories spanning over a decade from people who had been “mentees” of Bob’s. Not only would Bob get his own “writers’ room” in which to make his work better, but he would also get mentees on a schedule to do non-writing-related tasks. These tasks involved doing chores around his house, such as cleaning up after his dogs and picking up his dry-cleaning in hopes of receiving professional guidance from him.

Writers. What I’m going to say next is extremely important: SITUATIONS LIKE THIS ARE NOT NORMAL OR ACCEPTABLE!

Writers are inundated with opportunities left and right. These opportunities often take the form of jobs, screenplay competitions, mentorships, paid consultations, or workshops. If you run into a job listing or opportunity that sounds like it might be someone looking to take advantage of your skills, time, or what’s in your wallet, please try to remember the following:

Don’t Work for Free

Professionals and/or companies in the industry will pay you for your time if you join them as an assistant or coordinator. If you’re in college and it’s a temporary internship, this may vary, but overall, you shouldn’t be cutting someone’s grass for free to potentially get them to read your work.

Beware of Paying “Professionals” With an Unverifiable Work History

If the company or the person you’re going to be paying a hefty sum for a workshop, mentorship, or a pitch, doesn’t have any of the credits listed in their bio on IMDb/IMDbPro or hasn’t added anything new in a decade, take note. Just because someone has written a book on screenwriting, doesn’t automatically mean they’re an expert.

Never Pay Fees for Representation or Options

If an agent or manager wants you to pay them for representation or to option your script, run. The same goes if you’re querying and the person you reached out to asks you to pay them to read your script because they *might* represent you if your work is good… run even faster.

Look at Screenplay Competition Prizes Through a Microscope

When it comes to screenplay contests, it’s important to look at whether or not it’s reputable. If the prizes don’t include meetings, a significant monetary award, a fellowship, or something else you’re specifically looking for, it’s best to avoid it. Although a printable certificate or trophy looks pretty, odds are, it’s not going to help you get where you want to be.

Talk About Your Experiences

If you run into a situation that’s sketchy, let others know. If you aren’t sure if it’s a slimy practice or not, talk to your friends or your connections because someone might know more or have had a similar experience. There’s strength in numbers.

Always Listen to Your Gut

If something sounds too good to be true or feels off, it probably is. It’s that simple.

I know this piece is a bit of a bummer, but there are a handful of different types of people and groups in the industry looking to take advantage of aspiring writers. The good thing is they are few and far between, and there are far more fair and kind professionals in the industry who don’t spend their time grifting newer writers. Hopefully, this article will give you additional insight on how to better navigate these waters, and help you avoid some of the more common predatory practices in the industry.


Ariel RelafordAriel Relaford is a screenwriter, podcaster, and digital marketer based in Orange County, California. Prior to her current role in automotive technology, she developed strategic marketing campaigns for clients including Netflix, Lionsgate, Disney, ABC, HBO Max, and STX Entertainment.

Follow Ariel on Twitter @ArielRelaford

How to Transition Into the Pro Screenwriting World

By Advice

Making the transition from novice screenwriter to pro can be a real challenge -- and I'm not even talking about breaking in and the whole gatekeeping aspect of it all. I'm talking specifically about the practical side of a burgeoning career in entertainment, from communicating with agents, managers, and executives to avoiding rookie mistakes. Getting started can be a little scary, especially without any insight

Luckily, literary manager and producer, John Zaozirny of Bellevue Productions, provided some in a series of recent tweets. He laid out four practical tips for making the transition into the professional screenwriting world, so we distilled each one to find the best takeaways from this great thread.

Work in Revision Mode

First, he says that all writers need to know how to work with Revision Mode in their screenwriting software. This allows every change in an existing script to be marked as a revision, making it easy for execs and reps to track what’s been changed. They see SO many drafts of various scripts, often separated by weeks or months, that being able to highlight what’s been rewritten is crucial. For writers, it’s an important skill to master. If you don’t already know how, you can quickly learn in a tutorial on your screenwriting software.

Become a Team Player

Second, John talks about going from being a solo writer struggling to get your work seen to being part of a professional team once you get signed. He says that change requires a philosophic and strategic adjustment because you need to align yourself with the group effort. Your representation will work with you to formulate your career strategy, and then you have to stick to the plan. 

Don’t Outsmart Yourself

It’s crucial that you adhere to that strategy and not do things on your own that you think are clever, but which are actually counter-productive. He says that, for example, sending your script off to some exec from a long-ago pitchfest or slipping it to your buddy who’s an assistant to a big producer can undo your representative’s strategic plan to make your writing feel exclusive and difficult to find. Likewise, don’t enter your script in some contest when your team is deliberately keeping your writing under wraps to make it more competitive. You think you’re being clever, but you’re really just outsmarting yourself. 

Allow Yourself to be Guided

Making a steady living as a writer in the entertainment industry is notoriously difficult and is plagued with mirages, false starts, and dead-ends. You knew enough to be able to get signed as a writer, but there’s probably still a lot you don’t know so listen to your rep. You may also have erroneous ideas about how the industry works, which can lead you astray. One of your reps’ central intentions in launching your career is to create the perception in town that you’re a rising star because that makes people sit up and notice. It creates heat, and played right, can help catapult you into the realm of sought-after writers. Let them guide you -- let them work their magic. 

The Fins on Your Rocket

A rocket without fins will fly wildly and crash. The fins keep it on track and fly straight. You are that rocket engine but it’s equally important to let your representative be the fins on your rocket. You need to understand how to let them help you, and how to be a conscientious, intelligent member of the team. In NASA, all the engineers, scientists, and astronauts work together on the mission. They’re all central to the process and they’re all working hard to do everything properly and at their top level. Let your reps do their job and be good at yours.

Don’t Make Rookie Mistakes

Focus on doing your job, consistently turning out scripts that work—one of the hardest jobs anywhere. If you have any energy left over afterward, don’t impulsively blunder into some bone-headed “career move” that might derail your reps’ game plan. Talk to your representative about everything, and don’t go off half-cocked and make rookie mistakes. Your rep will tell you what you need to learn. Don’t try to pretend to know more than you do. Your parents didn’t expect you to know how to ride a bike when you were born. Don't be a know-it-all. Keep it simple, be professional, learn as you go, and work hard to do things right. 

Communication is Mission-Critical

Communication is obviously important, and most people in every walk of life fail at it. In fact, it’s standard knowledge among experts that most communication is miscommunication. People get things wrong constantly, and it takes extreme deliberate discipline and focus to consistently communicate clearly and effectively. Top-performing executives the world over stress clarity of communication as one of their absolute central pillars, saying that each person must be 100% responsible for communicating reliably and effectively. A true professional listens completely, then thinks and communicates clearly, making sure they’re understood.

Talk to Your Management Team Constantly

Your representative wants more information from you rather than less. Don’t assume you’re overburdening them. Err on the side of telling too much. Email your rep after every meeting to tell (briefly) how it went and what got discussed. Then they can follow up and see who your fans are—and who you’re a fan of. Like your lawyer, your reps should know everything, and tell them before, not after. It’s harder to set the ground rules after you’ve, say, pitched someone who is bad to be in business with. Strive to be reliable, consistent, and collaborative, not impulsive, argumentative, and hard to manage. 

Saying No is a Crucial Skill in this Industry

John Zaozirny says this may be the hardest thing to master because rookie writers are so afraid opportunities will dry up that they’re driven to say Yes to everything. Even some veteran writers never get that fear out of their system, he says. But the industry is so harsh that it’s critical to say Yes only to those things that make sense for you. And not only does it have to hit your sweet spot, but you need to make sure you have the bandwidth to complete the quality work on the timetable that the opportunity requires. Being able to professionally evaluate how much work and time is really involved to turn out solid product is vitally important.

Executives Respect a Writer Who Says No

A writer who says No has a strong sense of what they want to work on and what they can do well. In an arena where people will say and do anything to get ahead, execs respect a solid writer who stands firm. John says that not every job has to be a perfect fit, but if you’re seriously considering it, then do the math and calculate whether it’s worth your time, effort, and focus. Like bidding on a construction job—if you miscalculate and bid too low then you end up doing way more work for the same money, so the job is a big loss. Be brutally honest with the numbers before you leap into something that’s more than you can manage.

Four Questions With Which to Assess Writing Opportunities

John says that he tends to ask his clients these questions when evaluating a potential job.

  1. Is this something you’re passionate about?
  2. Are the people involved worth working with?
  3. Is the (potential) money worth it?
  4. What are the odds this will get produced?

Saying No Can Be Terrifying

If you’re being offered paid work for a project that checks some of your boxes but doesn’t feel like a good fit, then saying No can be really scary. But, John says, “Just like in dating, saying no to the mediocre is all about saving space in your life so you can say Yes to something amazing.”

Be Professional, Savvy, and Reliable

In spite of what you might hear, the industry is starving for writers who are the complete package. People who can consistently and reliably deliver quality writing are extremely rare and are sought after, and people like that who are professional and a pleasure to work with are gold. So do a brutally honest self-check about the ways in which you can sabotage your own success and rigorously keep that troublemaker at bay. Being professional means you bring your best self all the time. Think about what you’d want if you’re hiring for an important position and work hard to be that solid and reliable. 

Model Yourself on Someone Extraordinary

Study the biography of an extraordinarily successful person that you look up to. See how fiercely intelligent, well-disciplined, visionary, and driven they are and draw inspiration from that. Look at how they use their critical thinking skills to cut through muddled thinking and obstacles. Use them as a role model, as a way to forge your own professional behavior and thinking as you navigate your career. “Character is the governing element in life, and is above genius.” George Saunders

Decision and Action in the Face of Crisis Reveals True Character

As a dramatist you know that decision and action in the face of crisis reveals the true character, stripping the mask away. People who stand up well under pressure are rare and sought-after. Show up for yourself and your team in the crucial moments. A great compliment among sailors is, “He’s a good man in a storm.” Turn yourself into that person and do your best work, and you can go far. 


Join us on Friday, November 12th for a FREE live event with literary agent David Boxerbaum!


Jeff Kitchen has taught thousands of writers from Broadway to Hollywood in the craft of the dramatist, with former students nominated for multiple Oscars and Emmy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. Jeff is the author of the bestselling book, Writing a Great Movie: Key Tools for Successful Screenwriting. He runs a two-year training program for writers at http://script.kitchen 

 

5 Keys of Networking Online for Screenwriters

By Advice

Building a network is one of the most important things you can do for yourself as a screenwriter.

Networking helps you connect with other writers to encourage and support each other; helps you meet with other creatives to start bringing your vision to life; or even meet with an executive, producer, or teacher to bring your work and career to a new level. 

Even without the strange year we all had, the world of networking was bound to expand into, and take place largely on the internet. While in-person and online networking have a lot of overlaps, going online allows you to leverage new tools to help you stand out and meet new people you could otherwise never meet in person. 

Without further ado, here are five tips to help you build your network online. 

Leverage Social Media

Social media sites like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook are great options for screenwriters to build their network. But not all social media is built the same. Each platform has and attracts a different audience and different content. You wouldn’t use Instagram the same way you’d use Twitter, so you shouldn’t use Instagram to network in the same way you’d network on Twitter. 

For example, Instagram is a great place to share pictures and stories about the projects you’re working on, and to see what others in your community are working on. Post pictures or stories of your writing space for today, online events or classes you attended, post what inspires you to write, ask your followers about the same. Use Facebook groups to have more intimate and focused discussions with like-minded (or nearby) writers. See what the audience is like on each platform and whether they’re aligned with your personal goals.

And if you’re serious about building a network, there’s no better option than Twitter. Increasingly, there are more and more people looking for writers via social call-outs on Twitter. Make sure you have your profile ready to share so it stands out for those call-outs. Use your Twitter account to interact with others through updates, questions, or asking for general advice. Ask the Twitterverse what they do when they have writer’s block, and retweet responses you like. Ask if anyone has seen any great films from the 70s recently. Make and respond to polls about when to outline or when to free write. 

Don’t limit yourself only to those social media platforms. Others, like Twitch, TikTok, LinkedIn, Discord, or Reddit are also great ways to meet with fellow writers and creatives in different ways. Explore and see which ones you enjoy using the most. And don’t forget to #hashtag your posts. 

Put Yourself Out There

If you’re networking to promote your scripts, you have to put yourself and your scripts out there. This means when using social media, share, retweet, or regram stories or articles that spoke to you, share useful links, show the world what you’re working on, follow people or topics you’re interested in, and engage! No one networks in person by lurking in a dark corner, so don’t do that online either! Reach out to and follow other writers with similar interests. You can network with everyone, but you can really start connecting and building your online community with like-minded writers, and you can only do that by putting yourself out there. 

Also, put yourself out there on Coverfly! It’s a great way to get feedback on your script and to meet peers. Coverfly has share options on your project page to help you promote your work. And many writers will screenshot their badges and post them on social media. This helps not only to get the word out but also to spark up a conversation with fellow writers on Coverfly. A big part of networking is not showing off what you’ve done but showing people what value you can offer and finding a connection.

Join in a (Free) Online Event

Especially in the last year, many in-person events have moved online, and many more have been created. Lots of organizations have online events, classes, and programs, many of which are free! As an example, check out the offerings from ScreencraftCoverfly, and the WGA for informative and useful sessions on the craft and business of screenwriting, with Q&As afterward. 

When you attend these events, don’t go with the intention to plug yourself. Go there to discover other writers and professionals. Listen and learn from their goals, passions, or struggles. This isn’t to say you should hide your accomplishments or not talk about what you’re working on, but that shouldn’t be the reason why you’re attending. Go with the intention to learn instead of brag; to listen instead of talk; to have a good discussion instead of monologuing. And if you feel like you’re talking too long or the conversation is slowing down, have an open question that everyone can participate in ready to go, like “has anyone read anything recently that sparked your creativity?”

Don’t forget to share your experience on social media!

Keep it Short and Personal

So you’ve posted on social media, gone to events or classes, and have a nice list of emails of people you want to reach out to. Fantastic! Follow up with them and nurture those connections. When you email them, keep it short and keep it personal. When in-person (or over video), a good conversation is hard to beat. But online, the last thing you want to do is sit down and read a long message. 

As the great bard said, “Brevity is the soul of wit”, so keep your messages concise, easy to read, and easy to understand. And when you reach out, don’t reach out with just a general ask or a generic message. Get personal and specific. See how the other person is doing and how their project is coming along. Think about the next steps you want to take to develop your relationship with the other person. It should be easy enough. We’re all writers. 

Be Yourself

Just like you need to write stories that speak to you, you should network the same way. Sure you may need to step out of your comfort zone from time to time, but that doesn’t mean you have to develop a new persona just to network with people. Find your own voice and be genuine when you network. 

Most importantly, as you network, think about how you can add value to your new connections. Don’t just reach out asking people to do things for you or pester someone incessantly to read your script. Offer to help others, ask to volunteer at an organization’s event, set up a monthly Zoom coffee break one-on-one or with other writers, offer to read scripts, think about how to connect your networks or how you can make it about the other person, not yourself. 

Networking is about finding and building your tribe. As you continue to move forward in your craft and career, these will be the people you will rely on and who will rely on you.

A Screenwriters Guide to Nailing Pitches, Generals, and Meetings

By Advice

While virtual industry meetings have become increasingly common over the past year and a half, they haven’t gotten any easier. Writers often come to Coverfly ahead of industry meetings with questions of what to expect, what to say or not say, do or not do, or what the point of the meeting even is.

Never fear. As we prepare for Pitch Week, an event that has seen writers staffed on series and sell their projects, we have compiled a quick guide for any virtual meeting based on the hundreds we consulted on.

Know what type of meeting you are having

Not all meetings are the same! Some will want you to pitch a project while others will want to get to know you as a writer, and you need to know the difference so you don’t waste the opportunity.

While meetings come in all shapes and sizes, here are the main types emerging writers have:

  1. A Pitch Meeting-- a producer or company wants you to pitch a project of yours or your version of a project they are developing
  2. A General -- while not considering a specific project, an industry member wants to get to know you and your work better to see if there is a way to collaborate
  3. Prospective Client Meeting -- a manager or an agent wants to discuss the prospect of working together with you as their client

If you are unsure, best practice is to treat every meeting like a general unless you were informed in advance that you'll be discussing a specific project.

How should I approach the different types of meetings?

It is important to approach each meeting type differently, and the best way to do so is to have a clear goal for the meeting and a clear next step you are working towards.

Pitch Meeting-- sell a specific project or your take on a specific project, so come prepared with your take on a story

General-- pitching yourself, your talents, and your body of work for any current or future collaborations, so know what you have to offer

Prospective Client-- have a clear idea of your career goals + ambitions to see if working together with the potential rep makes sense for both of you

What can I do to prepare?

Research! Research! Research!

For the company you are meeting with, look at the types of projects they have made or are currently making. Do they have a website or mission statement? Credits? How and when were they founded? Are there recent articles or interviews about them in the trades?

For the individual, likewise understand who they are, what their job is, what sort of responsibilities they have + problems you can fix, their own personal interest or passions, what they like to work on, if they have any social media or previous interviews.

For both, it is important to show that you are informed but also allows you to cater your presentation to be as personalized and relevant to them as possible.

WARNING: DO NOT MAKE ASSUMPTIONS. Just because they made horror films last year does not mean that is their focus. The best way to learn about them and their company is by asking questions. Obviously don’t ask questions you know the answer to for the sake of asking questions, but to learn more or get clarification.

Baby Steps: Set Reasonable Expectations

We understand the pressure to squeeze every ounce of opportunity out of the meeting whether it is 15 minutes or two hours. There is only so much that can be accomplished in the set amount of time, so don’t make it any harder on yourself by cramming everything in or trying to take five steps at once. Remember, the goal is NOT to sell or package a project or even sign with a rep during the meeting; the goal is to make a connection and keep the conversation going. 

The Do’s and Don’ts of the Meeting

Finally, the part you’ve all been waiting for! While there are exceptions to any rules, these are the best practices we have found:

    • DO NOT over-rehearse or recite a presentation word for word, approach this as you would a conversation
    • DO ask them questions and always leave room for them to ask questions
    • DO Clearly articulate your writing style in a thematic, stylistic, or philosophical sense, to avoid pigeonholing yourself to a specific genre
    • DO NOT pitch a project until you have a sense of what they prioritize and are looking for— then tailor accordingly
    • For reps, DO clearly articulate your career goals to see if they align and if it makes sense for you to work together
    • When pitching a project, DO focus on what the audience will feel and experience, not scene by scene what happens
  • DO NOT spend the entire time talking about craft. Get to know one another as people and talk about yourselves, your interests, and working together!
    • DO Be concise in discussing your bio or background. Always great to talk about yourself and your experiences so long as it informs or contextualizes your writing in some way.
  • When pitching a project DO NOT name all of your characters if you can help it. Usually too hard to keep track of and really who cares what the lead’s support character’s friend’s name is?
  • DO NOT panic or pander. Cliche but calm down and be yourself. The goal here is to have a good convo and form a genuine connection
  • DO BE CONFIDENT! There are thousands of writers and projects and this person CHOSE to meet with YOU!

What to do after the Meeting

So you had an awesome meeting and made a friend but don’t have a super clear next step. Now what?

Find ways to stay in touch with them so long as you are not asking them if they read the sample you sent. Trust me, if they read and loved the sample, they would have reached out to you. Plus, it is perfectly acceptable if not preferred to check in to see how THEY are doing and if there is anything you can do to help them.

Keep them updated on your developments. Placed in a contest? Have an upcoming meeting and want their advice? A project you discussed in your meeting is drawing interest? Shoot them an email so long as you aren’t pestering them. Keep them informed and trust that, if and when it makes sense for you to collaborate, you will

When in doubt…

Email Coverfly! We’ve seen it all before and are always able to answer any questions or help however we can.

Contact us here.

How to Write an Impactful Logline

By Advice

People struggle to craft a logline for some of the same reasons that they struggle to make a script work. 98% of all scripts submitted in film, TV, and stage do not work, so the mechanics of how scripts work are not well understood. Not only is dramatic writing considerably harder than most people think it is, but writing a script is radically different from writing a novel. The underlying storytelling is much the same, of course, but that story must be translated into actions that can be performed by actors and which will grip an audience.

A script is a raw blueprint for a theatrical performance, whether a movie, TV show, or stage play. Even though the actors only interact with each other on stage and not the audience, this indirect form of storytelling, done properly, keeps the audience on the edge of their seats wondering what happens next. This dramatic tension is the necessary ingredient, an indication that a story is working dramatically.

And with that, let’s dive into nine ways to writer a killer logline.

Table of Contents

The More Craft You Have as a Writer, the Better Your Loglines Will Be

So, the fact is that the more you understand the deep mechanics of how to make a script work, the better you’ll be at crafting good loglines. It’s the same tools and techniques. If, for instance, you’re a master homebuilder, then you’ll also be great at building a front door. Loglines focus on a story’s central conflict, as does a powerful tool for plot construction that utilizes logic to pull all a story’s diverse elements together into one coherent whole by focusing on its core conflict.

Focus on Your Story’s Core Conflict

Conflict is central to drama, or more specifically, unresolved conflict, because the audience is rooting for the protagonist to overcome the antagonist, and cares how it turns out. It’s essentially two boxers in a ring in a fight to the finish. The oldest Greek theater was just two actors onstage, and your plot needs to work at that level—two dogs fighting over a bone. And this is true for any genre. There’s just as much conflict in Liar Liar as in Silence of the Lambs, even though they’re quite different.
A simple technique for isolating the central conflict in a developing story is to look at the three-quarters point in the story where the final showdown occurs. What action by the protagonist touches off the fight to the finish? If this doesn’t exist, then you should create it because we want our protagonist to be proactive. Then look near the end of Act I where there should be some kind of conflict between the protagonist and antagonist, but not a fight to the finish. This sets up a potential fight, which will build to a fight to the finish before the end of the story. You’d want to know what action by the protagonist sets up this potential fight.

Conflict in Training Day

In Training Day, it’s when Jake (Ethan Hawke) challenges Alonzo (Denzel Washington) on the side of the highway about robbing the money from the Sandman’s wife with the fake search warrant. They do fight, but it doesn’t erupt into a knockdown-dragout fight, and you can see that these two will go at it before the story is over. By isolating these two central actions (and creating them if they don’t exist), you identify the story’s central conflict, which is crucial to making the plot work and to writing a good logline.

Make Sure the Stakes Are High

Now make sure the stakes are high enough because if they’re not, then the audience doesn’t care who wins. It must pass the "So What" test, and if it doesn’t, then you can turn up the amperage. Try different variables to make us care more, to make it more of a challenge, to make the consequences of failure more intense. And remember, we can get just as caught up in the fate of a goofy loner trying to woo a cheerleader in a romantic comedy as we can a retired hitman trying to save his daughter from a psycho kidnapper.

Keep It Simple

Another crucial aspect of crafting a compelling logline is focusing on just one aspect of the script, rather than presenting a confusing array of story elements. One definition of Dramatic Unity is "a single action, a single hero, and a single result.' Keep it simple. Humans are often overwhelmed with information, and people regularly misconstrue communications and interpret them according to their biases, assumptions, beliefs, habits, and mental models, so keep the focus on the absolute core of the story.

Most Communication is Miscommunication

Clarity of communication is crucial, and it is widely acknowledged that 60% of all communication is miscommunication. You see it all around you daily. To counter this tendency, be explicit and uncluttered so that your vision for your movie can be conjured in the mind of a producer or agent. If they don’t see the movie you’re describing, then you’re off to a bad start.

Tell Me the Story You Just Read

I know of an A-list screenwriter who only wants one thing when you read his latest script -- he wants you to recount to him the story that you just read. He does not want notes and he doesn’t care if you like it or not. All he wants to know is if you’re seeing the exact same story that he worked so hard to get down on paper, because if those are misaligned then he’s not communicating it clearly enough.

Is Your Story Any Good?

And of course one of the biggest factors is whether your story is good or not. Many writers try to sell substandard scripts and spend so much energy trying to turn bad grapes into good wine. As a professional writer, you must be able to evaluate the quality of your writing. You have to know the difference between quality and crap. Mere technique won’t fix that because well-structured crap is still crap.

Has your story been done a thousand times? Are the stakes low? Does it fail the "So What" test? Are you making safe choices because you don’t have the writing chops to pull off a more complex story?

Learn to recognize weak material and constantly challenge yourself as a writer. Master your craft as a dramatist and master your pure storytelling skills. Read one great script per week to build your ability to recognize quality when you see it.

Study the Best Loglines

You should also study loglines from great movies and TV shows. Steep yourself in them. Each movie listed on IMDb features its logline front and center beneath its poster and preview. Read them by the hundreds. Soak your head in them and internalize their simplicity and elegance -- their ability to present a simple yet compelling explanation of the story. Let’s look at the loglines from some top films.

AMERICAN BEAUTY
A depressed suburban father in a mid-life crisis decides to turn his hectic life around after becoming infatuated with his daughter’s attractive friend.

TAXI DRIVER
A mentally unstable Vietnam war veteran works as a night-time taxi driver in New York City where the perceived decadence and sleaze feeds his urge for violent action, attempting to save a preadolescent prostitute in the process.

HOME ALONE
An eight-year-old troublemaker must protect his house from a pair of burglars when he is accidentally left home alone by his family during Christmas vacation.

THE GREAT ESCAPE
Allied prisoners of war plan for several hundred of their number to escape from a German camp during World War II.

THE TERMINATOR
A seemingly indestructible android is sent from 2029 to 1984 to assassinate a waitress, whose unborn son will lead humanity in a war against the machines, while a soldier from that war is sent to protect her at all costs.

KILL BILL
After awakening from a four-year coma, a former assassin wreaks vengeance on the team of assassins who betrayed her.

GHOST
After a young man is murdered, his spirit stays behind to warn his lover of impending danger, with the help of a reluctant psychic.

TOY STORY
A cowboy doll is profoundly threatened and jealous when a new spaceman figure supplants him as top toy in a boy’s room.

THE LION KING
A Lion cub crown prince is tricked by a treacherous uncle into thinking he caused his father’s death and flees into exile in despair, only to learn in adulthood his identity and his responsibilities.

AVATAR
A paraplegic marine dispatched to the moon Pandora on a unique mission becomes torn between following his orders and protecting the world he feels is his home.


About the Author

Jeff Kitchen has taught playwriting on Broadway and screenwriting in Hollywood, with former students nominated for multiple Oscars and Emmys. A top-rated teacher, he taught for thirty years and wrote the book, Writing a Great Movie: Key Tools for Successful Screenwriting. Jeff adapted his training program into a comprehensive online apprenticeship available on his website, script.kitchen.

how to get an agent

I Wasn’t Supposed to Get a Literary Agent During the Pandemic. Now I Have Four

By Advice, Inside Look, Success Stories

I wasn’t supposed to get a literary agent in 2020. Seriously, I mean...

  • I don’t live in Los Angeles
  • I'm homeschooling two small boys
  • I have a full-time day-job
  • In my abundant free-time I advocating as a refugee volunteer
  • Oh, and there's a global pandemic happening that's shuttered much of Hollywood

Becoming a working screenwriter just wasn’t in the cards for me this year. Everyone told me to forget about it. 2020 wasn’t going to be my year. Turns out, everyone was wrong. Because not only did I recently land a manager; I just signed with not one, but a whole team of literary agents at Verve (four to be exact). For a little context, here are some of Verve's current clients:

  • Milo Ventimiglia
  • Anna Chlumsky
  • Willa Holland
  • Leah Remini
  • James D'Arcy
  • JJ Feild
  • Nia Long
  • Nicholas D'Agosto
  • Morris Chestnut
  • Aaron Guzikowski
  • Colin Trevorrow
  • Olatunde Osunsanmi
  • Sydelle Noel
  • Greg Russo

This is the story of how my entire screenwriting career took off this year, and how you can hopefully make the same thing happen for you.

My first screenplay

Like a lot of you, I had a lot of ideas for films and television. They were just waiting for that bit of motivation to get from brain to paper (computer screen). One day, inspiration struck and I finally decided to make good on that promise to myself. I researched, wrote, edited, made charts, and then rewrote again. Finally, I handed it out to friends and people at the office. That was the scariest part.

I got enough positive feedback to move forward. I’d go all in and write my screenplay.  But what does “all-in” look like, exactly, and where do I go from here?

My screenwriting schedule

Officially, my writing routine is to write from 9:00 pm - 4 am Sunday-Friday. You read that right. 9 pm to 4 am. I sleep until 7 am then run one of my kids to school, then go back to sleep until 8:15 am, and then haul-ass to work.

I do a little screenwriting and research in the Lyft to work, start work at 9 am (maybe 9:15 am), write on my lunch hour (if no friends can meetup), haul-ass to pick up my kids around 4:30 pm, and I squeeze in a few social calls to friends on my way home. By 5 pm, I try to be ready to cook a homemade meal and be totally devoted to my kids (when screenwriting was really bad -- we’d order out). After that, they go to bed around 8:45 pm.

I clean my house like the Tasmanian Devil from 8:45 pm-9:00 pm then start screenwriting again. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I fit in an hour of volunteering from 4 pm-5 pm. And on Sunday evenings I prep for another night of screenwriting while also preparing my kids folders for the week ahead.  

Saturdays I’m with my kiddos, but at night I try to see friends and then write some more when I get home — even if that means starting at 1 am or 2 am. Bring on the black tea and Doritos.   

How to avoid screenwriter burnout

Keeping this schedule for the last few years really did a number on how I process my emotions. I’d get anxiety and then double-down on my vacuum (using all the attachments). You have to hustle to make it as a screenwriter, but it's also important to take care of yourself. 

I only had one friend in the industry, and she didn’t even work in screenwriting. My odds of becoming a professional screenwriter were slim to none. Luckily, my sunny disposition prevented me from processing the reality of my situation.

How to handle criticism as a screenwriter

Many people blew me off. But just as many said they’d love to read my work. It was actually amazing how kind some people were. Still, the reality is, that everyone is going to have input on your script. And some of it is going to be harsh:

  • One reader said they thought it was “stupid to have a female killer that wasn’t likable, women have to be likable.” That day hit me on so many levels, as the reviewer was a fellow female screenwriter
  • Another told me “girls shouldn’t write gritty dramas.”
  • An industry friend finally got around to reading my stuff and said, “Sorry. Do you have anything more focused on like cooking or traveling pants? I like that type of stuff.” I had waited five months to hear that?!

One memorable experience was when an exec invited me to meet with them in New York. I bought a plane ticket and paid the deposit on a hotel room only to have them cancel on me two days before the meeting. I had to look at my tiny kids and think, “Well, I just spent our fun money on my whimsical dream to be a screenwriter — for nothing.

But the worst was when a producer — who loved my work asked to meet with me in LA. I flew out to LA and he suggested a few tweaks he wanted to see. Then he suggested that as an “Asian female writer” I shouldn’t be in the room.“The room doesn’t look like you, no offense.” I went back to my hotel room and screamed into a Dorito bag. I decided to choke down his words and choose to believe he was wrong.  

Screenwriting is a tough business

I’d used all my paid-time-off, my mom was watching my kids, and I’d flown to Los Angeles, despite my fear of flying, only to be told “you can’t” and “you won’t”. People were asking if I could change my projects to be more about cooking or traveling pants?! It would’ve been easy to quit.

Criticism and callous rejections are just part of the screenwriting business. Seriously, you have to accept that. Plan for it. Prepared to be dismissed and written off. Be okay with it, because as hard as each rejection is, it really is just part of the process of becoming a working screenwriter. Accept it as the cost of doing business, and get back to work!

Delusion is your friend

When my parents adopted me as a little girl, they told me I could be anything I wanted. But, that was then. This was LA. If you want to “make it” you have to stop looking for praise and move forward with your dreams, no matter what.

Sometimes I’d get good news like I placed or won a festival or competition, and I’d feel like all my hard work was all worth it. But there are still ups and downs. And that’s ok. In fact, it’s how almost everyone does it.

Every screenwriter’s journey is different

I heard story after story of contradicting experiences from my screenwriting friends and colleagues:

  • A friend had been on multiple popular dramas and had a manager, but getting work was a struggle after those gigs and they couldn’t get an agent
  • Another friend had won incredibly prestigious awards, but couldn’t get a manager or an agent to read their work
  • Then you hear about someone who hasn’t really worked or won a recognized award getting a manager(?!) while another friend had won major awards, interned at two large production houses, and couldn’t get read

You will hear stories of writers getting an agent and manager after winning a major competition. And you’ll hear frustrations from another writer who won the same competition last year but still can’t get a manager or agent. There is no one path to screenwriting success. You just have to keep trying things like submitting to competitions, networking, pitching, and sending out query letters. That’s the boring secret to success. Never give up.

How I got a manager from 2000 miles away

I sat through all these stories as I networked on the phone, on social media, and in-person. And then, one day, I got a notification from Coverfly that I’d been picked for Pitch Week. I couldn’t believe it.

Through Coverfly, I met my manager online in a Zoom call. He was very easy to speak with and gave interesting insights into how he read things and what he saw in writing. We signed together a week later!

My television pilot continued to do very well competitively, and networking was getting easier. Then about six months later, a connection that had become a friend asked if I could help with a project. I was reluctant but thought it’d be great to do this for someone who had given me so much advice and education on the industry.

That encounter led to my meeting an agent. We chatted indirectly through the group we were in.  Afterward, I wondered… “How horrible would it be to try and get his input on a project?”  

How I got an agent during a pandemic

I told my talent manager I was hoping to expand our team and that I planned to inquire with an agent.

I sent the agent an email asking for some input. He responded promptly, saying that he’d be cool to jump on a call. We chatted for maybe 20-30 minutes ultimately with him saying he wanted to read my stuff!

If you’re a struggling scribe you know how exciting that is to hear!

Before we hung-up, he admitted it could be a while (I’d been prepared for months) and that he appreciated our chat and looked forward to reading my work. I must’ve caught him at the right time because two days later he let me know he loved it. He wanted to know right away when we could chat!

I was so used to the process-of-the-process. But then, one evening my phone rang. I’ll never forget it. I was in the kitchen wearing one shoe — my kid had taken the other to use as a “boat” — and I was in the middle of burning our “Hello Fresh”! I saw an unknown California number pop-up on my phone, and answered reluctantly.

The voice on the other side directed me to the agent!

He let me know that they loved my work and that they'd wanted to assign me a team of agents, four to be exact. He couldn’t hear it, but I was crying. They'd already called my manager to set up a Zoom call to make it official.  

He doesn’t know this, but after we hung up I went into my children’s room and hugged them so tightly. Then I bawled my eyes out.

How to become a working screenwriter

Dinner was burned and I only had one shoe on, but I was elated! A working, homeschooling mother, in Chicago, during a pandemic got signed to a team of agents in LA. If you’re in the middle of your own struggle to become a screenwriter, breathe and believe. You are not alone.

Focus on content, embrace both positive and negative engagements, and avoid transactional moves choosing instead to be a good listener and a kind member of the writing community. Accept obstacles as the cost of doing business and move on. Seek mentorship and advice from those that can empathize with the fickle process. And most importantly, don’t view managers or agents as the end of the story.

You have to keep being your best advocate and keep hustling, listening, learning, and putting in the time because the truth is “Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity."

So many thanks: To my agents at Verve, and Eric Borja at Alldayeveryday. And, to the entire Coverfly team, with extra thanks to Tom Dever and Emily Dell. And, special thanks to my “go-to” David Rabinowitz. I couldn’t have done any of this without you all.

Take the next (big) step in your career. Apply for Coverfly Pitch Week and get your script in front of the industry professionals that can make your dreams of becoming a screenwriter a reality.

coverfly pitch week

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LeLe Park is a screenwriter. Her original drama pilot "The Bliss Killer" has won/placed in several competitions including Screencraft, Final Draft, Scriptation Showcase, Script Summit, and Shore Scripts. Her short screenplay, "ACHE" has also won/placed in various screenwriting competitions including Austin Film Festival, The Bluecat Screenplay Competition, The Golden Script Competition, Rhode Island International Film Festival (RIFF), and The Richmond. She was the pitch choice at Coverfly, staff pick at ScriptD, a guest speaker at Bucknell University, and moderated Coverfly's Career Lab. She recently finished her biographical feature script, "Visceral Fatherland", as well as, her prestige limited series "Night vs Day". She is represented by VERVE Talent & Literary Agency and Eric Borja at Alldayeveryday.
https://lelepark05.wixsite.com/lelepark

screenwriting pitches

How I Landed Six Pitch Meetings in One Week

By Advice, Inside Look, Success Stories

Being selected to participate in Coverfly’s Fall 2020 Pitch Week event was a great experience for me! I'd missed out on the previous cycle in the spring, so I applied sort of last-minute on a whim after seeing a reminder email from Coverfly about the final deadline. When I was notified that I’d been officially selected to pitch to at least one company, I was definitely excited. But when I learned that I’d been chosen by industry executives to take part in six separate pitch meetings, I was equal parts nervous and ecstatic!

I immediately started preparing. Here's how I landed six pitch meetings in one week, and what I did to prepare.

How to prepare for a pitch meeting

I was fortunate enough to have some prior experience with pitching going into Pitch Week, in the form of a few general meetings and some great programs I’ve attended. Shout out to the CineStory Feature Retreat for the tutelage sessions on pitching!

I've also been able to observe a lot of pitches during my days in the trenches working as an assistant in development. But I approached this challenge of pitching virtually the same as I would any other pitch-related scenario — research. Lots and lots of research.

What it's like to pitch your script virtually

As soon as I knew who I was going to be pitching to, I started by trying to learn as much about those individuals as I could:

  • What is their current job title?
  • Which kind of projects have they or their company produced or been attached to recently?
  • Do we have any common connections (people, studios, jobs)?

Which is all just a nice way of saying that I did some heavy internet stalking! But, respectfully, you want to be able to tailor your pitch to each room as much as possible, especially in situations like this where you only have twelve minutes a session. Every second counts!

How to get the most out of your pitch

For example, if you have multiple projects and you know you’re pitching to a television exec at Netflix, they’re most likely going to be interested in hearing about your original pilot first, and not your feature. Plan accordingly.

The best advice that I can offer on how to pitch successfully (even virtually or on your first try) is simply this:

Know. Your. Stories!

And get right to the point.

6 simple tips for your next virtual pitch

  1. Think of your logline. Now make it more conversational.
  2. Don’t try to memorize or rehearse what you’re going to say. Just have a few key bullet points in your head (or create a cheat sheet if you think you might get nervous and freeze. But put it somewhere that doesn’t require you to look away a lot, and never read directly from something! It'll show.)
  3. Share the heart of your story and what makes it unique. Why should they be excited about your story? What about the characters? Include a personal connection if you can, like why did you write this story, and what makes you the best person to tell it?
  4. Don’t explain the entire script. The goal of a pitch is to get them interested!
  5. Learn how to use the program (in most cases, Zoom) to help prevent any technical difficulties. And test it right before every meeting. Make sure that your video and sound are working properly, that you have sufficient lighting (never backlit!), and that there’s nothing *ahem* inappropriate or distracting visible in your background.
  6. Finally, it goes without saying that you should be polite, don’t be late, know when to listen, and keep an eye on the clock so that you can thank them and wrap up your pitch professionally.

How to answer questions in a pitch meeting

It's tempting to "use up" all 12 minutes on your pitch, but that's the wrong approach. Leave time and space for them to ask questions. And you should ask questions in return, to try and get to know them a little. It’s hard in twelve minutes, but honestly, most people will acknowledge the fact that pitching is a bit of a weird situation. Just be yourself and try to maximize the time as much as you can.

Be ready to answer questions that might go beyond you and your writing by staying (as current as you can) with the industry. You should know who’s making what and where, and also expect that ever-important question, “What else do you have?”

A pitch meeting might initially be set up to talk about a specific project, but you should always be prepared to share other ideas with them and to sell yourself in general as a writer. Pitching is really all about building relationships. You never know what could come from any given meeting or connection.

How to pitch your script post COVID

We’re living in strange times! But everyone is genuinely trying to find new ways forward, and we’re all figuring it out together. In my experience, the fundamentals of pitching have not – and probably won’t ever – change, and there are pros and cons to doing it virtually.

The pros are that it allows work to continue safely. And from a scheduling standpoint, you can get more pitching done faster when you don’t need to spend hours fighting traffic all over Los Angeles in-between meetings. I'm one of the people who feel that they are “better in the room.” There's a certain element that gets lost by not being physically present with someone. But even with the luxury of a longer in-person meeting, you still have to hook people right away, so being able to do that even under the added pressure of a strict time limit is an essential skill that I think all writers should strive to master regardless.

How to get six pitches in one week

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

The best way to succeed at something like Pitch Week is to think of the application process like pre-pitching. Because you’re essentially pitching to pitch!

  • Take the time to get your Coverfly profile up to date, and make it short, punchy, and compelling.
  • Keep generating interest and accolades for your projects, that will help in building a viable track record that you can then utilize as a form of professional vetting when promoting yourself and your work – especially if you don’t have other avenues of direct access to the industry or the means to move to Los Angeles.

Personally, I don't think that the need or benefits of in-person pitch meetings will ever go away completely. But events like Pitch Week are great tools to help writers get discovered. More so in the case of Coverfly, because they don’t charge any fees to apply. For me, that element made me feel more confident in the fact that they really do put writers first, and that I had nothing to lose.

What I learned from Coverfly Pitch Week

Pitch Week for me was a total whirlwind! It was both nerve-wracking and very rewarding, and I grew even more comfortable pitching than I had been beforehand – specifically with pitching virtually.

Virtual pitches are a reality of screenwriting today. And while most writers tend not to be social creatures by nature (I liked to joke during the beginning of quarantine that I had been training for it my whole life) the more you do it, the better you’ll get. And the more you get your work out there and the more exposure you receive is only going to benefit you. With the current state of the world, there’s really no better time to take advantage of virtual pitching opportunities. So keep writing, and keep fighting!


screenwriter success story pitch week

Alexandra Amadio was shaped by a unique upbringing in Maui, Hawai'i. She moved to Los Angeles and started working in production when she was just 17 years old, going on to work in development for such producers as Mike Medavoy, Denise Di Novi, and as an executive assistant for director Rob Cohen. Her feature script, “All-Star”, recently attached Wendey Stanzler (Sex and the City; Carnival Row) to direct.

Alexandra's goal is to get "All-Star" into production and find writing representation. She'd also like to write on Amazon's Lord of the Rings series.
screenwriting career WGAW

Screenwriting Career Advice: WGA Committee of Women Writers

By Advice

Recently the WGA West invited Tom Dever, Coverfly's Director Writer Development, to speak with their Committee of Women Writers. The WGA Committee of Women Writers represents the interests of female WGA writers who are seeking WGA-covered work. They sponsor events designed to increase our knowledge of the craft and the marketplace, discuss the role of women as storytellers, and foster networking and collaboration between women in all Guilds, as well as increase opportunities for education, employment opportunities, and creative expression.

Tom spoke about the state of the industry, opportunities for veteran women writers in development and representation, and general conversation on the craft and career of screenwriting. The event was private and for WGA members only, but here's a quick rundown of what you missed, and how you can take the next step in your screenwriting career

Be your own best advocate

You do not need somebody else’s permission or contacts to pursue the career you want for yourself. You don't need a manager or agent to set generals or meet with execs. Don’t be afraid to generate those opportunities for yourself any way you can (without breaking the law!).

Accelerate your career through self-generated opportunities. The time has never been better to promote your skills and your work. Enter competitions, promote your writing and get your name out there.

Be confident

Never apologize for your goals, ambitions, passions, ideas, or strengths. Someone has to do your dream job so it might as well be you! You are smart, capable, resilient, and talented enough to do it. Believe that you can be a working screenwriter and you can be.

Don't chase trends

Film industry trends change faster than you can write. If you pitched John Wick, Stranger Things, or Get Out ten years ago, you’d have been shown the door and without getting your parking validated. So don't try to write what you think other people want, because it's a waste of time. Write what you want instead.

Write what you’re good at, no matter which genre it might be. And stay focused on what you want to do; not what you feel you’re expected to do. Not only will it make you happier, but it will likely lead to more professional writing opportunities than just following the crowd.

Be open to feedback in all forms

There is no universal metric of quality for material, especially not screenplays. Sure, there are common screenwriting conventions you should follow, but everyone scores scripts under subjective criteria. One reader could think you're a genius, while another thinks your script is trash. That doesn’t make either of them right or wrong.

Take feedback and criticism in stride, because even bad feedback can help you grow as a writer. And remember, you’re neither required to take all of their feedback nor should you dismiss their opinions as a vendetta. Reviews and critiques are just data points on how someone responds to your material. Hear it. Heed it. Hopefully, you can use it.

Where you go from there is up to you.

Look in the long view

Despite a handful of "success stories," nothing happens in Hollywood overnight. Script deals take time. Finding the right agent isn't a one-shot thing. Even if you nail your first general meeting, you still have a lot of work left to do and a lot of time before you see the results of your hard work. And that's ok.

Screenwriting is all about hurrying up and waiting. Things take time here to go from script to signing to screen. Learn to love the in-between times. And if you get impatient, just remember what your ultimate goal is. You can have a day, a week, or a month, where you don’t make the progress you’d hoped for. But when you trace your progress over the past 6, 12, or 18 months you should discover that you’re moving in the right direction. If that isn't the case, then it's time to rethink your strategy.

How screenwriters get discovered

Take advantage of Coverfly. Sorry I had to plug. Coverfly is here as a platform to help screenwriters at every stage in their career, whether you’re just starting out or you have multiple credits and still need a little support finding industry partners or pitching projects. Through our programs, initiatives, products, services, and community, we’re here to help take that next step in your career whatever it is.

Create your Coverfly Screenwriting profile today and see what taking the next step in your writing career really looks like.

screenwriter profile