How to Break Into Screenwriting

Screenwriting How-Tos: Screenwriter David H. Steinberg wrote “Slackers” and “Puss in Boots,” among other films, and recently made his directorial debut on the romantic comedy “Miss Dial.” This is the first in his series of articles for Yahoo! on the craft and business of screenwriting. And no, he won’t read your script. — The Editor

You had an idea for a movie and thought, “I could do that!” so you sat down and banged out 100 pages. You revised, edited, and polished your screenplay till it shined and even your mom says it’s taut. Okay, so now what? How do you get it into the hands of the Hollywood players who can turn it into an actual movie? There’s a lot of information online and in bookstores about how to break into screenwriting. Unfortunately, they’re usually written by people who don’t work in Hollywood and don’t know how it really works. So here the short and sweet guide to breaking into Hollywood from an actual professional screenwriter.

Ranking the usual choices from best to worst, you can…

Go to film school Move to Los Angeles and get an entry-level job in Hollywood Try to get an agent from afar Enter screenwriting contests

Film School

While this choice isn’t going to be an option for most people, it’s still the best way to go. Just because a degree in screenwriting isn’t required (or frankly helpful) to breaking in doesn’t mean it’s not a good use of your time and money. Learning the ins and outs of the system is invaluable to navigating the confusing Hollywood playing field. And meeting people who work in that system is crucial. Hollywood is a small industry and it’s all about relationships. So if you can afford to go to school, it’s a great jump start on your career.

Get a Job

If you can’t afford school, why not get a job instead? It’s a tried and true method for making relationships, getting on-the-job training, and learning the ropes. Apply for a big agency’s mail room program. Sure, the job is going to suck but you’re paying your dues, remember? You can also work for a producer, get an internship for a studio, or work for a management company. Just being in Los Angeles will open your eyes to how things really work.

Get an Agent

Can’t leave Iowa? Got a family to support? Join the crowd. That’s the most common complaint people give for not plunging head-first into the deep end of the business. But that’s okay, some people have real responsibilities. If that’s the case, you can still make it. You just need help from a legitimate and well-connected manager or agent. Once you get someone to take you on, you can fly in for meetings once a month until you’re making enough money to quit your day job.

But how to get an agent? Most books will tell you the ancient practice of sending out query letters. For the most part that doesn’t work. While it fills the aspiring writer with hope, waiting by the mailbox for that reply, it’s usually not very successful. Some scripts just aren’t easily explained in one sentence. But the real problem is, agents just don’t care. What you need is a referral.

This is where you need to rack your brains and figure out who you know who knows someone in Hollywood. An email from someone the agent actually knows will put your script on the top of the pile. So don’t waste your time with query letters. Fine someone to make a phone call.


This is the absolute worst way to go. Many contests are scams, and even if you win one that isn’t, no one in Hollywood cares. It’s just a waste of time. Trust me.

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