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How Screenwriters Can Survive the Recession

While times are tough for everyone, the creative industries have been hit particularly hard. With fewer opportunities and more people going for them, pitching your scripts can often feel like an uphill struggle… if you get to pitch them at all. So here are some top tips for surviving the economic downturn without having to resort to waiting tables…

1.      Don’t be Afraid to Diversify

While you may have penned the most amazing explosive, high-octane action movie that’s ever been written, it’s no good if you can’t get the film made. Good opportunities don’t come along every day, so you have to make the most of them – even if they’re not exactly up your street.

  • Radio Drama – BBC Radio 4 regularly commissions independent radio dramas. A short guide to writing for radio can be found in Radio Drama by Tim Crook.
  • Stage Plays – Local theatres and art houses often commission works by unknown writers or hold open submissions to develop new talent. Check out The Playwright’s Handbook for some help with your scripts.
  • Commercials and Online Videos – While these jobs may not be particularly glamorous, writing commercials and online videos for small businesses can be a good source of income. Check out elance for the latest scriptwriting jobs.

2.      It’s All About Networking

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know… and in the world of screenwriting, that couldn’t be more true. Scriptwriting opportunities are becoming more and more scarce, so shaking hands with the right people could be enough to set you apart from your competitors.

  • In person – Visit local art houses and theatres to interact with other writers. After-show events are often packed full of agents and producers… people who could make a big difference to your career.
  • Professional Organizations – Joining a professional organization has a number of benefits, the most important of which is meeting other members. Groups such as the Writers Guild (UK) and Writers Guild of America hold regular meetings for their members – attending these can give you the opportunity to rub shoulders with some major players on the local creative circuit.
  • Social Networking – Where would we be without social networking? Thanks to the magic of the internet, you can join professional groups, chat with like-minded individuals and even get yourself (and your writing) noticed. It’s always worth scouring Facebook for local screenwriting groups and following local names on twitter. Don’t forget LinkedIn for the more professional-oriented discussions.

3.      Grants and Competitions

In times of hardship, special grants can be a great way of financing your latest script. The Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting award up to $35,000 to five talented new screenwriters every year and the British Arts Council regularly fund the writing and production of independent films. Of course, there are plenty of competitions that can help you find funding, such as the Blue Cat Screenplay Competition. You’ll also want to keep your eyes peeled for the opening of next year’s Red Planet Prize, giving new screenwriters the opportunity to work alongside Tony Jordan – the creator of BBCs Hustle and Life on Mars.

4.      Calls for Submissions

Every now and then, the big studios will put out a call for submissions, basically saying that they’re willing to look at any and all manuscripts sent their way. While this certainly eliminates some of the cat and mouse of networking, you could find your star-studded script at the bottom of the slush pile. Nevertheless, it’s a great opportunity which is being embraced by many production companies, including:

  • BBC Writers Room – Twice a year, the BBC opens to submissions. Get your script in fast and you could wind up writing with some of the top TV talent in the UK.
  • Film4 – Throughout the year, Film4 accepts submissions for new short-films across a range of subjects and budgets.
  • Tumbleweed Productions – A low-budget production company, this could be the foot in the door you need to make a big impression.

Even Amazon are getting in on the act and have recently put out a call for submissions, offering lucky screenwriters a $10,000 to $200,000 budget to get your movies made.

5.      Managing your Finances

Even the greatest scriptwriters and directors in the world can have trouble managing their finances. Whether it’s understanding taxes or finding the best ways of protecting your income, there’s a whole variety of financial concerns that can leave your head spinning if you don’t know what to do. Thankfully, there are plenty of free resources to help you sort your business finance.

  • Smallbusiness.co.uk – A comprehensive guide to starting and maintaining a small business in the UK.
  • Freelanceuk.com – Helpful information for anyone considering life as a freelancer.

Are there any helpful hints you can give to potential screenwriters? Do you think it’s more difficult to break into the industry these days?

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