Start a screenwriting business by following these 9 steps:
You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. 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.
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 very important. Read our detailed guide on how to name your business. We recommend checking if the business name you choose is available as a web domain and securing it early so no one else can take it.
After registering a domain name, consider setting up a professional email account (@yourcompany.com). Google's G Suite offers a business email service that comes with other useful tools, including word processing, spreadsheets, and more. Try it for free
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC prevents you from being personally liable if your screenwriting business is sued. There are many business structures to choose from including: Corporations, LLC's, and DBA's.
Form Your LLC
Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC
Check out the Top Business Formation Services from our friends at StartupSavant.
You should also consider using a registered agent service to help protect your privacy and stay compliant.
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?.
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.
Open a business bank account
- This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Recommended: You can get $300 when you open a Chase Total Business Checking® account with qualifying activities. Learn More.
Get a business credit card
- This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
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.
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.
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.
STEP 9: Establish your 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.
Start A Screenwriting Business In Your State
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
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.
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.
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.