How to Start a Screenwriting Business
Screenwriters write scripts and stage directions for the film industry. Screenwriters may either write their own original stories, or they may adapt their scripts based on previously written stories (e.g., from books, short films, etc.)
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Learn how to start your own Screenwriting Business and whether it is the right fit for you.
Start a screenwriting business by following these 10 steps:
- Plan your Screenwriting Business
- Form your Screenwriting Business into a Legal Entity
- Register your Screenwriting Business for Taxes
- Open a Business Bank Account & Credit Card
- Set up Accounting for your Screenwriting Business
- Get the Necessary Permits & Licenses for your Screenwriting Business
- Get Screenwriting Business Insurance
- Define your Screenwriting Business Brand
- Create your Screenwriting Business Website
- Set up your Business Phone System
There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple guide to starting your screenwriting business. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
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STEP 1: Plan your business
A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How much can you charge customers?
- What will you name your business?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
What are the costs involved in opening a screenwriting business?
Screenwriters can get started with practically no tools at their disposal, all you really need is a computer and your ideas. Some screenwriters pay professionals for advice about how to alter their writing to make it more attractive to studio executives, but that is a personal choice for each writer.
What are the ongoing expenses for a screenwriting business?
Ongoing expenses are almost negligible (e.g., computer maintenance, transportation money to and from meetings, etc.) However, screenwriters generally don’t get paid until they have a completed work that’s been purchased. This means that all general living expenses from rent to food will need to be covered by the screenwriter during that time.
Who is the target market?
The target market is typically producers, or those who finance films. You're looking for someone who will read your script and then pay you for the rights. Some screenwriters may choose to get their scripts turned into films on an independent basis, though this is much more expensive and difficult to do successfully. In this case, screenwriters may be asked to star in, direct, or finance the film on their own or with the help of a small team with a limited budget.
How does a screenwriting business make money?
Screenwriters make money by selling their scripts to producers, or by producing their own films for a cut of the eventual profits.
How much can you charge customers?
Most screenwriters start out making little, or by selling their work based on eventual sales. However, top screenplays that attract millions of movie-goers can draw huge numbers. It’s not unusual for the most successful screenwriters in the business to earn up to a million dollars for each screenplay.
How much profit can a screenwriting business make?
Since upstart costs and ongoing expenses are so small, screenwriters make extreme profits. For the top sellers in Hollywood, they may be able to make up to four million a year or so.
How can you make your business more profitable?
You may want to branch out to directing your own movies to increase profitability. Screenwriters who take on fluid roles in the movie industry become that much more indispensable. It also gives you a greater degree of control over the fate of your story and vision.
What will you name your business?
Choosing the right name is important and challenging. If you don’t already have a name in mind, visit our How to Name a Business guide or get help brainstorming a name with our Screenwriting Business Name Generator
If you operate a sole proprietorship, you might want to operate under a business name other than your own name. Visit our DBA guide to learn more.
When registering a business name, we recommend researching your business name by checking:
- Your state's business records
- Federal and state trademark records
- Social media platforms
- Web domain availability.
It's very important to secure your domain name before someone else does.
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
The most common business structure types are the sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC), and corporation.
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your screenwriting business is sued.
Form Your LLC
Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC
You can form an LLC yourself and pay only the minimal state LLC costs or hire one of the Best LLC Services for a small, additional fee.
Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!
You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.
Learn how to get an EIN in our What is an EIN guide or find your existing EIN using our EIN lookup guide.
Small Business Taxes
Depending on which business structure you choose, you might have different options for how your business will be taxed. For example, some LLCs could benefit from being taxed as an S corporation (S corp).
You can learn more about small business taxes in these guides:
- LLC Taxes
- Sole Proprietorship vs LLC
- LLC vs Corporation
- LLC vs S Corp
- How to Start an S Corp
- S Corp vs C Corp
There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Additionally, learning how to build business credit can help you get credit cards and other financing in your business's name (instead of yours), better interest rates, higher lines of credit, and more.
Open a business bank account
Besides being a requirement when applying for business loans, opening a business bank account:
- Separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- Makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank or credit union.
Open net 30 accounts
Net 30 accounts are used to establish and build business credit as well as increase business cash flow. With a net 30 account, businesses buy goods and repay the full balance within a 30-day term.
NetMany net 30 credit vendors report to the major business credit bureaus (Dun & Bradstreet, Experian Business, and Equifax Business Credit). This is how businesses build business credit so they can qualify for credit cards and other lines of credit.
Recommended: Read our best net 30 vendors, guide and start building business credit.
Get a business credit card
Getting a business credit card helps you:
- Separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- Build your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money later on.
Recommended: Apply for an easy approval business credit card from Divvy and build your business credit quickly.
STEP 5: Set up business accounting
Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
Make LLC accounting easy with our LLC Expenses Cheat Sheet.
STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses
Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a screenwriting business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
For information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
STEP 7: Get business insurance
Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.
There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.
Learn more about General Liability Insurance.
Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.
STEP 8: Define your brand
Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.
Recommended: Get a logo using Truic's free logo Generator no email or sign up required, or use a Premium Logo Maker.
If you already have a logo, you can also add it to a QR code with our Free QR Code Generator. Choose from 13 QR code types to create a code for your business cards and publications, or to help spread awareness for your new website.
How to promote & market a screenwriting business
The best thing a screenwriter can do is to be as active as possible in the industry. You really only need one connection to make it big, so it becomes a numbers game to make sure you have the right contacts. Independent groups like The Blacklist in Los Angeles give screenwriters a way for their work to be seen even if they don’t have an agent or a studio behind them. They also host networking events for people to find and connect with studio execs looking for new talent .
How to keep customers coming back
Screenwriters are usually judged by how much money their movie makes. Even though the script is only one component of a movie, it’s difficult to gauge interest level in the screenwriter's work if no one wants to see the film. However, it is possible to get more work just by consistently producing interesting work even if the final projects turn out to be flops.
Still unsure about what kind of business you want to start? Check out the latest Small Business Trends to help inspire you.
STEP 9: Create your business website
After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.
While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.
Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:
- All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
- Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
- Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.
Using our website building guides, the process will be simple and painless and shouldn’t take you any longer than 2-3 hours to complete.
Recommended: Get started today using our recommended website builder or check out our review of the Best Website Builders.
Other popular website builders are: WordPress, WIX, Weebly, Squarespace, and Shopify.
STEP 10: Set up your business phone system
Getting a phone set up for your business is one of the best ways to help keep your personal life and business life separate and private. That’s not the only benefit; it also helps you make your business more automated, gives your business legitimacy, and makes it easier for potential customers to find and contact you.
There are many services available to entrepreneurs who want to set up a business phone system. We’ve reviewed the top companies and rated them based on price, features, and ease of use. Check out our review of the Best Business Phone Systems 2023 to find the best phone service for your small business.
Recommended Business Phone Service: Phone.com
Phone.com is our top choice for small business phone numbers because of all the features it offers for small businesses and it's fair pricing.
Start a Screenwriting Business in your State
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
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Is this Business Right For You?
This business is excellent for someone who loves film and understands how a movie comes together on the big screen. They should love to put their own creative twist on stories, whether they're new and bold or a tale as old as time. Writers need to understand what audiences are looking for, and how to merge their creative vision with public demand.
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What happens during a typical day at a screenwriting business?
Screenwriters may have the following to-do list on any given day.
- Developing outlines for scripts
- Researching/developing characters
- Finding/managing an agent
- Attending meetings with producers
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful screenwriting business?
Screenwriters need to really understand what makes their audience enjoy and relate to a movie. Film school may help with this, but is by no means a requirement. Producers are going to be looking for what each target demographic wants, whether you're writing romantic comedies or hard-core horror. The quality of the writing isn’t always as important as the value of the story, though screenwriters should enjoy the act of writing as well.
Some screenwriters write for character development, some write to project action and adventure onto the big screen, and others write to tell a larger story, such as a documentary about climate change. You should have an inherent sense of how to create characters and situations that will connect with the viewer on a deeper level, or at least offer them an entertaining break from reality.
What is the growth potential for a screenwriting business?
There will always be demand for talented screenwriters who can create stories that spark audience’s emotions and imaginations. The growth potential for someone who can consistently attract audiences is practically unlimited.
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Take the Next Step
Find a business mentor
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
Learn from other business owners
Want to learn more about starting a business from entrepreneurs themselves? Visit Startup Savant’s startup founder series to gain entrepreneurial insights, lessons, and advice from founders themselves.
Resources to Help Women in Business
There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:
If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a screenwriting business?
Screenwriting is a very competitive industry, made even more competitive by the number of writers who are trying to get into the industry from every corner of the world. However, it is generally easier to meet, network, and connect with the right people if you live close to the studios (e.g., Burbank, Hollywood, etc.)
Some screenwriters suggest churning out about several scripts a year regardless of whether or not they’re bought by anyone. The idea is that you’ll eventually learn the cadence and pace for movies as you writer. You'll also get into the habit of pushing through creative blocks when the words won't seem to come to you. There are a few people who can write screenplays without any formal education, but most people suggest reading a few books about story structure and tone before getting started.
Many cities around the country have groups that meet to review and critique each other's screenplays. This can help you understand how to close story gaps, flesh out characters, and punch up dialog for better dynamics. These groups can usually be found with through popular search engines.
Finally, the way the movie industry is today, the market is oversaturated with original movie scripts. It’s sparked a trend of turning to source material from books rather than original screenplays. Some insiders even suggest that writers pen a novel first in the hopes that it will eventually be purchased by a studio.
How and when to build a team
Screenwriting is usually a solitary process if you’re planning to make this your business. A writing partner would normally be considered a co-owner rather than a part of a team. Some screenwriters may eventually hire assistants to help them with their errands, but only after hitting major success.
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