Today is the final post in my “Planning Your Screenwriting Career” series. I’ve talked about generating material, crafting a brand, and building your network. Today I’ll discuss how to pull this all together into a specific plan for the next year or so.
As I mentioned previously, one of the challenges is that we can’t always determine the outcomes of the things we try. If we plan to get a script produced or to win an Academy Award, our success or failure will be dependent on things we don’t control. However, we all have those kinds of goals, and we should acknowledge them because we won't reach them without taking purposeful actions.
For the purpose of this post, I’m going to define “goals” as the dreams we have that have caused us to pursue a screenwriting career, and “objectives” as the achievable things we can put in a plan that don’t depend on anybody else.
Before formalizing your plan, spend a few minutes thinking about your goals. Be specific, but not limiting. So, rather than just saying, “My goal is to be a professional screenwriter,” say something like, “My goal is to write studio action/adventure films,” or, “My goal is to write independent character-driven comedy films,” or “My goal is to create and run dark cable television dramas.”
Once you’re clear on what your goals are, break down the steps and milestones that will be required to get there. What is the next step you have to achieve, and the step after that? Do you need to build up strong sample material? Get your material to buyers? Change your brand? Widen your network?
It will probably also be helpful to inventory your assets and resources. What do you have going for you already? What are the strong scripts you’ve written that support your brand? What contacts have you already built? Do you have representation? Can you leverage your assets to help you achieve your goals?
The first part of your plan will involve writing. Plan the things you will write over the next year (or maybe two… but going beyond two is probably pointless as your situation will likely change in unexpected ways. More about that in a minute.)
Set realistic deadlines for when you plan to finish each draft of your work. You should also probably incorporate a couple of pitches into your plan so that you are ready if you get a meeting or if a spec script does well. While you work on one script, you might develop the pitch for your next one. When choosing the material you will write, keep an eye on the brand you want to create. You are building a portfolio with purpose.
If you don’t have enough ideas to plan out what you’re going to write, the first part of your plan should be to develop half a dozen ideas to the treatment level, then pick the ones you think are best. For the time being you can use “Spec 1” and “Spec 2” as placeholders in your plan, then fill them in once you know what you want to do.
You might set objectives based on process as well, such as writing a specific amount of time each day, or working on a certain writing skill. If you are fortunate enough to have writing jobs currently, incorporate them into your plan.
The second part of your plan is getting your writing sold and produced. Of course, those are goals. You need to create objectives. Your objectives will depend on your resources. If you are just starting out, maybe you will select several contests to enter. If you have representation, maybe you will write a spec and target half a dozen new buyers for them to get it to.
Other objectives could relate to networking. You could join an organization or an Internet forum where film industry people are active. Or you could target a few good networking events to attend throughout the year – writers’ conferences or film festivals or pitch fests. Don’t put quantity over quality. Plan time beforehand to do your research and get prepared, and time afterwards to follow up with the people you meet.
If you have an agent or manager, be sure to include them in your planning. Tell them what ideas you are planning to work on and what brand you’d like to create. Elicit their input – it’s part of what they’re there for. And if your reps aren’t on board your plan, they will not do as good a job helping you fulfill it.
(Be aware – agents these days have limited time for this type of career planning. Don’t bug them with it more than once a year, and make sure they know you want fifteen minutes of their time and schedule the call/meeting when it’s convenient for them. Managers typically work more closely helping you develop the plan.)
Finally, your plan should be flexible and subject to change as things succeed or fail. You might even build some alternative pathways into the plan based on the outcome of certain events.
But having a plan will help you react to things that pop up. Let’s say a producer offers you a gig writing an adaptation. You’ll know the right questions to ask: does it fit my brand? Will it move me forward toward my goals? How much does it pay? (Sometimes you do need to just put some money in the bank to finance your career progress.) It can be hard to say no to a job, but sometimes it’s the right choice for the long term.
So, with that in mind, here’s a hypothetical plan a writer might create for the rest of 2014:
Goal: Write mid-budget studio thrillers
Feb – Apr: Write first draft of spec, “The Murder of Molly”
Feb: Develop two thriller pitches, including “The Death of Dan”
May: Write second draft of “The Murder of Molly”
June – Aug: Write first draft of “The Death of Dan”
June: Pitch completed spec “The Killing of Kevin” at the Great American PitchFest
Follow up with new contacts from PitchFest
September: Write third draft of “The Murder of Molly”
September – December: Take Character Development Class
October: Send out “The Murder of Molly” to industry contacts.
October – November: Write Second Draft of “The Death of Dan”
November: Develop two new thriller pitches
December - January: Write first Draft of Spec 3
All year: Follow Done Deal and the Trades and identify potential thriller producers
All year: Write two hours every day Monday through Friday
A plan like this can keep you focused and moving forward. But only if you follow it. If you make it and forget it, it does you no good. So put a reminder in your calendar at the end of every month to check your plan, evaluate your progress and revise.