We’ve all heard those sensational stories about movie studios shelling out millions for movie scripts and the tragic tales of broken dreams from perpetually unpublished screenwriters. Unfortunately, these confusing and conflicted extremes make it difficult to discern the industry’s actual climate. Is the demand for screenwriting high enough to justify and encourage you to pursue the career? 

Screenwriting is in high demand, as it has been for decades, and will likely continue to be for decades to come. However, many find it difficult to get steady work and maintain a lucrative career. Still, plenty of opportunities are available for screenwriters who write marketable screenplays. 

In this post, I’ll explain more about the demand for screenwriters and what it takes to break into the industry. I’ll also define what makes for a marketable screenplay and provide tips on how to write one. 

To Be or Not To Be a Screenwriter: A Case of Supply & Demand

Major networks and studios produce hundreds of feature films, movies, TV shows, streaming series, plays, and other productions each year. Most pay for multiple developed scripts every time

The film industry, in particular, has seen a fairly steady rise over the last two decades in the number of movies produced in the US and Canada annually, peaking in 2018 at 873 movies released. Like most of the world, the industry was hit hard in 2020 and saw a drastic drop in movie production, falling 37 films short of the total number released 20 years prior. 

Notwithstanding, the industry seems to be back on track, bouncing back to release just over 400 movies in 2021. It’s expected for this upward trend to continue rising in the coming years. 

Similar stories are true for TV studios, whether primetime or cable. 

Furthermore, technology and streaming networks, like Netflix, have changed the craft of screenwriting, offering more opportunities to aspiring screenwriters. Not to mention Bollywood, Nollywood, and the many independent, religious, industrial, and educational markets that are also eager to produce new content. 

From this alone, it’s safe to say there’s plenty of demand out there for screenplays and, thus, screenwriters. This means the challenge isn’t finding a job but rather landing one. 

How Hard Is It To Break Into Screenwriting?

It can be hard to break into screenwriting at first, especially if you’re unsure what type of content is currently in demand. Nonetheless, with enough persistence, commitment, and a marketable screenplay, you’re likely to get a foot in the door somewhere. 

Understandably, not everyone is as optimistic or generally positive in their response to this question. 

Despite the industry showing a demand for screenwriters, jobs are relatively few when you consider the endless line of screenwriters also gunning for a chance at this highly-desired career. And if that’s not bad enough, most jobs are limited geographically to NYC or LA.  

Besides, there’s no single, surefire path beyond being an exceptional writer to obtaining success in screenwriting. For instance, having formal education and certifications doesn’t ensure steady employment, and three MFA’s mean nothing if you can’t produce content that sells

So, in an incredibly competitive field that requires extraordinary craftsmanship for basic entry-level gigs, where only a select few earn crowns of employment, how does anyone get their screenplay to stand out? 

The answer is to write what sells

What “Marketable” Actually Means in Screenwriting

It’s easy to misinterpret a low demand for decent screenwriters considering the untoward battles a spec screenplay is up against these days, including: 

  • A never-ending cycle of sequels and reboots. 
  • Directors who don’t bring the work to life in the way you would like.
  • Script readers who don’t perform your vision for the piece.
  • Cautiousness amongst producers. 
  • Writers and filmmakers get ahead by producing more commercial and less artistic content.
  • *Insert your grievance here* 

However, it’s arguable that we sometimes see productions on our screens that are of a lower quality not due to a lack of original content but because the spec pile lacks marketable screenplays. 

Yet, what does it truly mean to be marketable in this industry? Well, as a writer, you’ll likely appreciate, and recognize the irony, that, in this case, “marketable” means its literal definition per the dictionary. 

Marketable; adjective:

  • Fit to be offered for sale, as in a market. 
  • In demand/wanted by buyers or employers; salable. 

It’s important to note that the “buyer” of your work and potential “employer” isn’t usually searching for a screenplay desired or preferred by them, personally. They’re after what their audience wants and is demanding at the moment. 

If you don’t have something they can sell to their audience, then they’re likely not going to buy anything from you. It’s as simple as that. 

Unfortunately, this isn’t some grand challenge for you to conquer with your unique stories and talents, but rather, it’s a fact you need to accept and learn to work to your advantage. This means it’s vital for you to stay in touch with current trends and popular themes if you hope to even have a chance at writing a marketable screenplay

How To Sell In-Demand Screenplays Without Selling Out

So, how do you write a marketable screenplay that complies with audience trends and Hollywood agendas without compromising artistic integrity or killing the passion for art and creativity inside your very soul? 

Try the following: 

  • Write what you love. The rest follows naturally. 
  • Do market research. Half the battle is knowing what’s in demand. 
  • Test your concept. If your idea isn’t rock-solid or the story lacks passion, forget it. 
  • Write awesome characters. Take heed to hone in on what audiences want. Know when to follow trends and when to break them. 
  • Invest time in creating a good structure. Producers trust writers who can create plot and structure well, and that’s who they hire for the job. 

Conclusion

Despite what some may tell you, screenwriting is in high demand. Moreover, screenwriting jobs are available practically all the time. So long as you’re committed to your craft and dedicated to having a successful career as a screenwriter, you’re halfway there. 

Categories: Screenwriting

Ol Adams

Letter Review is currently edited by Ol Adams, who is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing, casual academic, and guest lecturer at the University of New South Wales. Ol Adams has had short stories published in leading literary journals such as Overland, Southerly, Seizure, and TEXT. Ol 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.