Everyone has experienced THAT movie, the one which transported you out of your world and changed you in some unfathomable and irreversible way. The art of writing for the screen is a form of magic that few narrative forms can match, and the industry draws in many aspiring great screenwriters. However, screenwriting is far from a get-rich-quick scheme and is deceptively difficult to master. 

It’s hard to become a screenwriter because it’s a competitive industry and it takes practice and hard work to create a script that sells. Screenwriters need an in-depth knowledge of the screenwriting craft to develop engaging and true-to-life characters in a manner that appears effortless.

If you have a passion for the big screen and wish to see your name in lights, there are a few things you need to consider in pursuing your dream as a screenwriter. The movie industry is notoriously difficult to break into, and success is never a given, despite your talent. While anyone can write a screenplay, here are some reasons why writing a successful script might be a challenge. 

Why It’s Hard To Become a Successful Screenwriter

For every famous screenwriter sipping Cristal on a yacht, there are several hundred screenwriters flipping burgers and serving drinks. Due to the fact that such a small percentage of screenwriters make it past the slush pile, it might seem to be an act of sheer courage even to try. 

However, if movies are your passion, and you have the talent and determination, there is nothing to stop you from achieving some measure of success. But if instant fame and fortune are your goals, screenwriting may not be your best option. 

Let’s look at the many reasons why it can be hard to break into screenwriting.

The Competition Is Tough

In the cutthroat movie industry, many much-loved scripts’ only fame is a brief spell in the MGM recycle bin. The sheer volume of writers with dollar signs for eyes is staggering, who register 50,000 scripts a year with the Writers Guild of America alone.

With only an estimated 150 of these produced a year, you can see just how bare-knuckle the fight is to get your work noticed. Production companies usually employ front persons who select promising scripts. 

Before the producer even views your writing, the first filter is to get rid of scripts that don’t make the first read.

A Moving Screenplay Takes Exceptional Skill

While your favorite movies may seem organic and effortless, it takes incredible skill to create a seamless visual narrative where the characters seem more real than in real life. Behind every scene that transports you from your humdrum world is an immense amount of craft and an in-depth knowledge of the industry.

Unlike a novel, the screenwriter has only an average of 20,000 words to fit the story, so every word, line, and the scene must have a purpose and integrate seamlessly into the script. A movie that appears to play itself out effortlessly belies the immense effort it takes a writer to create the semblance of real life.

Balancing action and dialogue is somewhat like juggling bowling balls and delicate crystal glasses. It’s not easy to keep everything in the air. 

Screenwriting Takes Hard Work

If you are out to make a fortune, you are better off investing or going to vegas than writing a screenplay. Famous screenwriters do not emerge onto the scene successful and rich without a considerable amount of dedication, perseverance, and practice.

Writing a successful screenplay can take between a month to a decade, depending on the story’s scope, how often you write and how long it takes to revise and rewrite your script. 

Once you’ve honed your manuscript to perfection, you may encounter multiple rejections and accumulate a rejection pile while still working on new scripts. Your work may take years to reach the public. 

It Takes Time To Learn the Screenwriting Craft

Where novelists have unlimited words to paint an elaborate picture in a reader’s mind, the screenwriter does not have such a luxury. Screenwriters need to consider the physical reality of filming their narratives in a movie format. 

They need to be highly detailed in terms of character, setting, and dialogue because their goal is a real-life production. 

Professionally formatting your script can also make the difference between a successful script and the recycle bin. Screenplays require their particular conventions, including scene headings, to break up the physical spaces into interior and exterior, setting, and time of day. 

The screenplay also includes transitions, character introductions, and visual and audio actions. Then there is the process of setting up your scene beats, dialogue, characterization, and integrating your exposition. 

Unlike novels, the art of creating a visual and physical world requires a blend of both creative and technical skills that takes time and considerable practice to master.

Here is a great youtube video that breaks down the correct way to format your screenplay in a professional manner:

Successful Screenwriters Need To Network

It’s a much-touted adage, but it really can be “who you know, not what you know” in the movie industry. Call it nepotism, but it’s human nature to collaborate with people you know rather than unknown entities. 

It takes time to build up a network in the industry. Attending industry gatherings and parties can be part of ensuring your screenplay gets into the right hands.

However, successful screenwriters engage and create their networks organically by showing genuine interest and a willingness to learn from those in their field. Being humble and focusing on building relationships is equally important as trying to leverage every person you meet to achieve your own ends.

Thus building a name and a network can take some time and a good dose of genuine interest and humility, which won’t happen overnight. You can start by joining online communities, attending workshops and screenings, and working your way up from there. 

Closing Scene

There is arguably no greater feeling on earth than seeing your creative vision come to life on the screen. The road to success if often challenging, and you’ll probably need to prepare yourself for the long haul. But if you follow your passion and learn to foster determination, your talents may lead you to the stars.

Categories: Screenwriting

Oliver Adams

Letter Review was founded by Oliver Adams, who is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing, casual academic, and guest lecturer at the University of New South Wales. Oliver Adams has had short stories published in leading literary journals such as Overland, Southerly, Seizure, and TEXT. He has had novels long listed for major awards such as the KYDUMA, has received government funding to produce plays from Create NSW and screenplays from Screen NSW, and has performed / produced professional work at major theatrical venues such as the Sydney Opera House.