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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.)
Who is this business right for?
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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 steps to start a screenwriting business?
Once you're ready to start your screenwriting business, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your screenwriting business is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your screenwriting business keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- 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.
- 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.
- Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
- 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.
- Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I 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.
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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 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 .
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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.
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.
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, check out our informative guide, 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.
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.
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.
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.