One of the most common questions I'm asked by aspiring
screenwriters is How do I break into the business?
What I'm going to
suggest you do is
actually fairly easy. But it
does takes a degree of
talent and a lot of
First of all, before you
try to break in you've
got to have a goal. And it's a good idea to really focus
on what that goal is. I'm assuming your basic goal is
to break into live-action or animated feature or TV
screenwriting. Doesn't matter which. The process is
But there is also a purpose that is driving your goal,
and that's important to know. Do you want to
entertain? Enlighten? Make people laugh? Make
lots of money??? Whatever you want, fix it in your
mind and align what you do to that goal. You've got
a much better chance of succeeding—and enjoying
what you do—if you stay true to your purpose.
There's one last thing you have to have in order to
promote yourself. A sample script. You can tell
people you're a writer, but they're going to ask you to
prove it. That's where your sample comes in. Ideally
you should have a sample for any media or genre you
intend to write for: film, TV, video games, action,
comedy, drama, animation, live action, whatever.
Write the best sample(s) you possibly can.
Once you've got all that you're ready to break into the
business. To do this there are only four steps you
need to take: contact people, promote yourself to
them, find out what they need, and write it.
Everything you need to do to break into the business
will fall under one of these four steps.
Now, before we get into these, there's something to
consider: Are you going to try to break into the
business yourself? Or are you going to try to get an
agent to do it for you? You can apply these steps to
either one, or both. It's up to you.
STEP #1—CONTACT PEOPLE
The questions are: Who? and How? That reminds
me of the famous line in Hollywood, “It's not WHAT
you know, it's WHO you know.” This is true in any
business, but more so in Hollywood. People feel
most comfortable hiring people they know and
trust, or friends of these people. So the first thing
you want to do is find out if you know anyone in the
business, or know anyone who knows anyone. If you
do, you're lucky, so don't be too proud to use the
contact. Your friend's gardener works for Ben
Affleck? Contact him!
If you don't happen to have a friend in the
business—and even if you do—you've got to contact
as many people as possible. To do this, I suggest you
mine the rich ore of the Internet. Invest the $15.95 a
month it costs to become a member of IMDb Pro. If
you want be an animation writer, check out the
Animation Industry Database. Call or email
companies and ask them what projects they've got in
production and the names of the producers and
story editors. If they don't have anything in
production, ask them what they're working on. Find
out their needs and offer to fill them.
If you're looking to get an agent check out Tinsel
Town Literary and Talent Agencies
(everyonewhosanyone.com) for contact info. But be
careful! Pestering agents could get you a bad rep.
STEP #2—PROMOTE YOURSELF
You can try calling the producers and story editors
(or agents) you found in Step #1, but hopefully (for
them) they're busy working on shows, and so may
not have the time to talk. Here's where your
promotion comes in. You write them an email or
letter, introduce yourself, and find out what they
need in the way of writing. Be professional and keep
it short and to the point. If you have any kind of
writing credit or other relevant experience, mention
it. But above all, be creative! Don't forget you're a
writer. You need to stand out from the crowd. So
don't just write a dry résumé with facts and dates. Be
funny! Be different!
STEP #3— FIND OUT WHAT THEY NEED
Now, there's one small Catch-22 with regard to your
sample script. Do you write one before you find out
what's needed or after? If you write one first, it may
not be right for some producers and story editors.
On the other hand, each producer may give you a
different wish list, and you can't write a sample for
One way to find out what production companies
need is to do an informal survey—otherwise known
as going to the movies or watching TV. By learning
what's in the marketplace, and what's hot, you'll get
a pretty good idea of what might be best for your
I suggest you write a script for your favorite genre so
it's your best, most passionate work. Send it out and
tell them it's not your only genre, and that you'd love to write for their show as well. After they're
interested in you, then decide whether writing a spec
script for their show would be wise.
The secret is to contact as many people as possible.
Believe it or not, the key to success is simply
persisting with your promotion. The more people
you contact, the more letters and scripts you send
out, the greater the chance of success.
STEP #4—WRITE IT!
Once you find out what they want, either in terms
of a sample script, a story pitch or a job assignment,
you write it. Can't get simpler than that. But you can
make one fatal mistake. You can write what YOU
want instead of what THEY want. The secret to my
success is that I have always given producers
exactly what THEY want, not what I think they
I constantly hear producers and story editors say,
“There aren't enough good writers.” So if you do
Steps 1-4, your sample script is good, and you don't
give up, you should eventually hit pay dirt.
Emmy and Humanitas-winning screenwriter, Jeffrey Scott, has written
hundreds of animated and live-action TV and film scripts for Sony,
Warner Bros., Disney, Universal, Paramount, Columbia, Marvel,
Nickelodeon, Sesame Workshop and Hanna-Barbera. He is author of
the acclaimed book, How to Write for Animation. If you are in need of
live or animated feature screenwriting or animated television
development and writing , contact Jeffrey at