The Qualities You Need to Succeed as a Screenwriter

04.04.2018 |

Episode #1 of the course Getting started screenwriting by Jurgen Wolff


Welcome! My name is Jurgen Wolff, and in this course, I will share with you the most important lessons I’ve learned in more than 30 years as a TV and film screenwriter and script doctor. We’ll get into the details of creating great characters, writing powerful dialogue, and all the other key skills. But first, let’s look at the qualities you need in order to have a successful career as a screenwriter.


You Have to Think in Terms of Images

Movies are a visual medium. To write powerful screenplays, you have to think in terms of images, as well as dialogue and action. Eventually, a director, cinematographer, set designer, and costume designer will help create the actual images on the screen, but it all starts with your script.

While in a novel, the author might spend a paragraph describing how lonely a character feels, in a film, you can convey the same thing in a single image. As an example, this might be showing your teenage protagonist eating lunch alone while all the other tables are full of pairs or groups of kids chatting and joking.

Try it now: What’s another image that would reveal a character’s loneliness?


You Have to Be Willing to Collaborate

There will be many others involved in turning your script into a film, and you have to be willing to collaborate with them. This will include making changes requested by the producer or director. Certainly, you can discuss changes, but the final decision will be made by the producer. Sometimes, you won’t like the changes. You have to be willing to live with that.

If the thought of changing anything in your work is not acceptable to you, you should probably write and self-publish novels instead—or be prepared to produce all your scripts yourself.

Ask yourself now: Are you willing to collaborate?


You Have to Be a Salesperson

Often, writers are not the most outgoing types (I’m not), and you don’t have to become a smooth talker or super salesman. But you do have to be confident enough to express your ideas well, initially to get an agent and eventually to producers.

Becoming more confident and presenting well can be learned. Ask yourself now: If you’re shy or lack confidence, are you willing to learn how to overcome that?


You Have to Be Willing to Travel to Another City

In every country, there’s a city where most decisions about filmmaking are made. Los Angeles is still the center of the American filmmaking world. It’s not necessarily where the films are actually shot, but it’s where the decisions are made. In the United Kingdom, it’s London. In France, it’s Paris. You don’t have to live in these cities, but if there’s interest in a script you’ve written, you’ll be expected to have meetings where the filmmaking decisions are made in your country. The studio or production company may pay your way, though you might have to take on the cost of your first trip—for example, to meet agents who have expressed interest in representing you.


You Have to Be Determined

The creative and financial rewards of being a screenwriter are great. Movie scripts sell for $50,000 to $250,000 and up, not to mention the enjoyment of seeing movie stars speaking words you have written. Because of that, there’s a great deal of competition. However, many people try writing one script, and if that doesn’t lead to immediate success, they give up.

The serious contenders are those who are willing to keep learning and keep writing. You may need to write several scripts before one of them sells or lands you an assignment. It took me three years to break into the business; some of my friends did it faster, some took more time. Are you willing to be patient and keep writing and learning?

Now you know the key characteristics you need in order to be a successful screenwriter. If you have or are willing to develop these, you’re on the right path. In the next lesson, we’ll get down to the craft of writing screenplays, starting with how to come up with great screenplay ideas.


Recommended book

Lew Hunter’s Screenwriting 434: The Industry’s Premier Teacher Reveals the Secrets of the Successful Screenplay by Lew Hunter


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