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Become a Screenwriter

Too many writers do the following: immediately begin writing, or immediately begin trying to learn how to market scripts they don't even have yet. They worry about how to format, which is the easiest thing in the world, really. While the first option is perhaps okay, there are even better ones: know your craft.

First of all, have you ever read an actual script? Ever bought one or downloaded one off the Internet? There's a huge difference between merely watching movies and reading a script. Have you ever analyzed a script? Do you know what to look for?

Okay, you've written a first draft, now what?

Write another script. The more scripts you have, the more the biz will take you seriously. To protect copyright, mail registered copies to you. You can also get them registered with the WGA or a registration service. There is a lot of argument as to whether or not to get this done, but better safe than sorry.

To fine-tune your script, there are often script doctors available who will read and critique for a fee while they wait for their own scripts to catch someone's eye.

Okay, you're ready to sell! How do you get someone to buy your scripts?

By making tons of phone calls, prepared with a one-sentence synopsis that catches their attention. That's all they'll listen to. Send for a list of WGA approved agents and start dialing.

There are tons of books and services that will tell you they have the answer. The only real answer is to write a script of unsurpassed quality. Someone will always recognize quality - they desire it, need it, they just get tired of searching and constant disappointment.

I'd caution you to avoid reading books on screenwriting and marketing. They make more money for the authors than they ever will for you, and most say the same things in different ways.

Definitely get to know the business. Variety will help you do just that. Entertainment Weekly is a good way to give your brain a rest, be entertained and still be reading up on your industry.

And keep writing.

Think back to last weekend. There is a good chance you saw a movie. If not at the theater, then you rented a video or DVD, or caught one on TV. Movies are one of America's favorite pastimes, appealing to all ages and all tastes. And it doesn't stop at our shores. Films are loved by people all over the world.

There is a constant need for good movie scripts (also known as "screenplays") to feed this demand, and somebody has to write them. As a screenwriter you can develop those daring stunts, decide how the lovers will meet, create alien worlds and come up with the lines that leave them rolling in the aisles. You could even adapt a favorite book for the screen.
Your work can bring enjoyment to millions, and acclaim to you. If you make it to the top, you could hang out in Hollywood, hobnob with movie stars, attend film festivals, go to premiers and maybe even win awards. All that and you get to work at home, be your own boss and make your own hours!

Writing screenplays is one of the highest paying jobs a writer can do. In the 1990s, Joe Esterhaus made headlines when he earned $3 million for writing Basic Instinct. Since then, screenwriters have gone on to earn fees that previous generations could only have dreamed of.

It doesn't stop there. A successful screenwriter can write his or her own ticket in show business. Many go on to direct, produce, even act in their screenplays.

The story of how Sylvester Stallone wrote the Rocky movies for him to star in is now legendary. Spike Lee, Woody Allen, Quentin Tarantino, Oliver Stone and Cameron Crowe are other examples of writers who maintain creative control over their own work.

Screenwriting can also be a great way to collaborate with others in a dynamic and creative atmosphere. For example, Karen Lutz and Kirsten Smith wrote the recent hit Legally Blonde together because both had a fondness for teen movies, while Ben Affleck and Matt Damon won an Oscar for their collaboration on the screenplay for Good Will Hunting.

1. Consider applying to film school for both the experience and the contacts.

2. Seek an apprenticeship under an experienced and successful screenwriter, if possible. Do this through networking and letter writing.

3. Go to a film or theater bookstore and buy a book on screenwriting, such as "Screenplay" by Syd Field.

4. Complete one to three scripts and submit them to agents as "specs". Literary agents are listed in directories in New York City and Los Angeles.

5. Make the screenplays fit different genres - comedy, action, drama or romantic comedy - depending on your strengths.

6. Apply for a job working as a story editor at a film studio. You'll read scripts that are sent to the studio, report on the plot and tone, and help determine if they're worth producing.

7. Send any industry contact (producer, actor, cameraperson, etc.) a copy of your latest screenplay. You never know who knows who in the film industry, and to improve your chances of getting your script produced, you want to expose your work to as many people as possible.

Register your screenplays with the Library of Congress and the Writers Guild of America to protect your ideas as your own property.

Network! Meet as many people in the film industry as possible.

A position as a story editor gives you the opportunity to read lots of different scripts; it's an excellent way to research your craft.

Screenwriter Links
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Hire A Screenwriter

Top Screenwriters
Hollywood screenwriters will typically receive 2-3% of a film's total gross as salary.

George Lucas
Movie: Star Wars III
Gross: $848,000,000+
2-3%: $22,000,000+ (aprox)

Bryan Singer
Movie: Superman Returns
Gross: $368,000,000+
2-3%: $9,500,000+ (aprox)

Peter Jackson
Movie: King Kong
Gross: $547,000,000+
2-3%: $14,000,000+ (aprox)

James Cameron
Movie: Titanic
Gross: $1,835,300,000+
2-3%: $46,000,000+ (aprox)

M. Night Shyamalan
Movie: The Sixth Sense
Gross: $661,000,000+
2-3%: $16,500,000+ (aprox)