[The question below is one I’ve been hearing in one form or another my entire career – not just from screenwriters, but novelists, marketers, and public speakers – anyone hoping to break into a career involving storytelling, creativity or independence. So the message contained in my answer is one you must remind yourself of repeatedly – especially in the face of those who will assure you you’re going to fail.]
Q: I’m two months away from getting my BA in Creative Writing for Entertainment. Throughout the two and half years in this program, I believed I’d someday have a career in screenwriting, until one of my professors, who has worked in the television industry for 30 years, told the class, “There is no such thing as a career in screenwriting. If you write a script, you’re just a scriptwriter. There is no specific career.”
It broke me in half. I felt like I’ve wasted two years on a career that doesn’t exist. My question is, what are the odds of a new writer getting their idea picked up by one of the major networks? If the idea is original and marketable will it matter if I don’t have any established credits to my name?
A: Nikki –
Your professor sounds like a bonehead, and his statement would come as a shock to Aaron Sorkin, Shonda Rhimes, Christopher Lloyd, Vince Gilligan, Robert & Michelle King, and hundreds of other movie and TV writers who are making a very good living with their screenwriting careers. Pay no attention to him.
My answer to your question is to stop thinking about odds and statistics. If you’ve stuck with this college program for 2½ years, and you’re already working on your series idea, then it’s fairly obvious you love writing. So keep at it!
Keep writing what excites you, as you improve your craft and study the business of film and television. Eventually it will pay off.
Selling an original idea is indeed tough – though not impossible – if you’re unproven. But your ultimate goal is not to sell an idea or even to sell a script – it’s to get work as a screenwriter. That will lead to other work, and more money, and ultimately the opportunity to sell your own ideas, or produce your own television series.
But the first step is always to have outstanding work to show the people in power: compelling, commercial ideas that are superbly written. Without exception, this is how every working screenwriter or television writer – and they are legion – began her career.
I’d also recommend my book Writing Screenplays That Sell, which covers the process of breaking in to Hollywood in depth. But most of all KEEP WRITING!