Or, ‘Don’t be Fussy’.
Ooh, step 8 in the professional screenwriter series. That’s quite a lot. Surely you’re well on your way to screenwriting riches by this stage? Um, not yet. While each of the steps is important in the overall picture, there’s one that’s an absolute must if you’re to earn a crust at this writing lark: you’re going to have to get a paid writing gig.
Now, at this point in your career, you’ve got a few important decisions to make about the kind of work you want to do, and what you won’t get out of bed for. A small fork in the screenwriting road lies ahead. Turn left, and you stick to the area that you’re passionate about, not compromising for a second until you’re clutching your Oscar. Turn right, and you take any writing gig going, from corporate videos to computer games, whilst working your way to higher climbs, possibly clutching that Oscar after your long haul.
There is no bad choice here. Just stick to your guns, and what you want to write, or what you're willing to do to succeed. However, if you’re going to draw a line between the medium of your choice and the other opportunities that are out there, then a word about each of the main areas, and what you might expect.
Most new writers are lured by the cinema. This is where it’s happening. The bright lights, the silver screen, the big bucks. However, contrary to what you might expect, IT IS EXTREMELY DIFFICULT to make any money from film. If you’re a new film writer in the UK, and won’t consider doing anything else, prepare yourself for some financial frustration. Piddly option fees and treatment costs won’t pay the bills, and films take an age to get developed and produced. Sure, some are fast-tracked, and some are even written by new writers, but you’ve got a better chance of standing on a golf course during a thunder storm and waiting for lightning to strike. If you start to rely on even slimmer possibilities or faint enthusiasm: “Working Title are reading my script this weekend”, “the Film Council’s feedback was very positive”, then you know you’re in trouble.
This is where it’s really happening. Lots of drama and comedy. Loads of broadcast hours. Tonnes of programmes actually being made, and vast opportunities for writers to get their break and make some dough. However, as you’ve probably figured out by now, IT IS EXTREMELY DIFFICULT to break into TV. But not impossible. And if you’ve been following these steps, then you might have a better chance than others. Don’t be snobby. Swot up on the soaps. Get your spec scripts read by the right people. Bish, bash, bosh, your first commission. Work your way up the pole, and you’ll be surprised what other doors open because of your TV career.
BBC Radio 4 have a good site here, where you can check out all the relevant details. Radio 4 is also where a lot of comedians get their break, either through sketches or comedy series, so it's well worth considering. There's also Radio 3's The Wire slot, which is specifically targeted for new writing. Radio is a good place to get a credit, and the writer has a lot of say in the finished product. Research/be aware of when the commissioning rounds come up, and get your proposal in on time. Even better, try to get your script attached to a radio producer first. Have them submit it on your behalf, and that gives it a better chance.
All the rage at the moment. Find out what’s going on. Storygas is a neat site that keeps track on what’s out there. But who to approach? Where are the opportunities? Hmm, it’s hard to say exactly. Dedicated multi-media companies would be a good place to start, and most independent TV production companies are developing their own ‘interactive arms’, so get your name in there. I got Sofia’s Diary by going to Cannes, which highlights the benefits of step 3: network.
Some good opportunities here, too. If you don’t have an agent, or any contacts whatsoever in this field, you’ll simply have to cold call or query letter the production companies involved in making your favourite games, and convince them what a great writer you are. More and more games are narrative-driven, which means they need a good story, and that’s where you come in. Alternatively, you could get hired to write the dialogue for whatever in-game play is going on. A couple of years ago, I wrote the in-game dialogue for Colin McRae: Dirt, a gig that was sourced by my agent, but I enjoyed every minute.
A lot of people turn their noses up at corporate video, but while it may seem a bit dull and dry (in terms of subject matter), it has a few benefits. One of them is that the more creative or entertaining you can be with the subject matter, the more fun you can have, and the client will love you (depending on the brief, naturally). Most people involved in making corporate videos have aspirations similar to yourself (film, TV, etc), so it can be a good way of making new contacts, and opening up other opportunities further down the line. The main benefit is that there’s good money in writing corporate videos. But where are the opportunities, I hear you cry? Again, it’s about approaching corporate production companies and networking, and letting the chips fall where they may.