How To Pursue Your Writing When You Don't Live In Hollywood

Friday 28 June 2019

I believe that many screenwriters fail not because they lack talent or drive, but because they’re swayed by unfounded opinions, or because they think moving to LA is the starting point for any level of screenwriting success. Spoiler alert: it’s not. Being close to the Hollywood sign won’t require any less time and effort from you.

I want to be a screenwriter, but I’m not in LA. Now What?

First things first, screenwriters aren’t defined by professional industry insiders who have at least one produced script on their resume.

They’re screenwriters from the moment they go “you know what? I want to write screenplays”.

They might not be professional, but they are writers.

A bad writer is still a writer who can improve. 

I just want to make sure you start reading with the right mindset.

Now, let’s go ahead and tackle the main point of this article. 

I’ve always wanted to be a screenwriter. Like many passions, this one started out as a hobby, but I grew fascinated by it.

My main goal was to learn everything I could, and write the best scripts ever.

That probably sounds familiar to you. 

In the course of 2 years, I had written two feature-length screenplays and three shorts.

I have no idea if they suck or if they don’t—all I know is that I got them written. Like most amateur screenwriters, I showed them to people, entered competitions, didn’t win any. Yet.

The main difference between me and them is: I’m nowhere near the United States.

Heck, I’m from a small city in Brazil, where cinema isn’t relevant, and there are no film schools or screenwriting teachers anywhere. Moving to Rio or Sao Paulo is a valid alternative, but it’s not easy nor cheap in my case.

Also, I don’t need to.

I just need to keep writing for now. 

You can pursue a screenwriting career from anywhere in the world, regardless your mother tongue or your background.

However, keep in mind that there’s a lot more to it than just writing.

Write well. Not perfect, but good enough. 

If you want your script to be read and interpreted the right way, then your English must be fluent enough to be understood clearly.

You don’t have to be erudite or learn fancy words to tell your story, but you’ll need to write in good English.

That’s rule number one. 

I’ve been learning English since I was 7 years old, but just so you know, I’m an EXCEPTION. Of course you don’t need this many years of learning to write a banging script. Besides, I only learned to write once I sat down and wrote—that’s because theory and practice aren’t intertwined. I remember sitting down to write and being absolutely clueless!

It felt like I had learned absolutely nothing all these years. Years or weeks of understanding are nothing until you put the words to paper and fail, fail a hundred times more, until you see progress.  

Even acclaimed screenwriters make a ton of mistakes, but that doesn’t make them any less Oscar-worthy. Do you think Quentin Tarantino was meticulous with his words?

Think again.

Typist Linda Chen described Tarantino as a “functional illiterate” when perusing his nearly unreadable handwriting and combing through over 9,000 grammar mistakes per page

You’re a writer, but above all, you’re a storyteller.

Revision and editing services are available online, and you can use this help if you find suitable. But no one can write your story for you. 

In a recent interview with Netflix’s FAUDA screenwriter Michal Aviram, I’ve tackled the subject of non-English screenwriters. Click here to read it. 

Master the rules 

It’s only natural to feel overwhelmed when you know nothing about plot, character development, screenplay structure and format, or how to sell your screenplay.

You could be the best bilingual writer in the world, but without script savviness you won’t get anywhere. 

The best part is, there are several podcasts and free online platforms (like the one you’re at right now) that will help you not only learn about practical screenwriting tips, but also about industry insights from all kinds of professionals.

This way, you’ll gather knowledge from writers who are experts in the path you want to follow, how they got started, and how they keep thriving. 

Learn from those who made it and study, study, study.

This post abounds in lessons ranging from “how to write a screenplay” to writing kick-ass endings. 

Enter Competitions

If you have a finished screenplay but are unsure on how to proceed, I’d definitely recommend entering US and UK screenplay competitions, or festivals with a screenwriting category.

Most of them accept entries from all over the world, as long as your work is written in English and you’re over 18 years old.

Always make sure to thoroughly read the guidelines of every competition you enter. 

Despite them being competitions, I prefer not to think of them as such. I’d rather see them as stepping stones towards maximum screenwriting progress.

It’s impossible not to grow as a writer when entering competitions since some of them offer constructive feedback for all participants, who can learn from their mistakes and get even better for the next round.

Also, there’s a deadline, which means unwavering focus on your writing and no procrastination. 

One last tip is to enter the “early bird” deadlines.

There’s a fee for every date, and usually the earlier you enter, the less you pay. 

Read, write, read, write. 

Stephen King once said: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that”.

That’s correct. 

This tip goes hand in hand with the previous one.

When I read my first script (which was The Shining, by the way) I thought I’d never be able to write one myself. But the truth is, the more scripts you read, the more you’ll expand your vocabulary and learn about screenplay format.

I mean it. Be sure to keep a dictionary handy and look into what you don’t understand (e.g. how often should I use parentheticals?).

One mistake I made, however, was to read excessively and write very little for months on end. It was a nice procrastination tactic, actually—I thought I should read as many scripts as I could before finally being able to write an award-winning script on my first try.

As you may have guessed, that didn’t happen. 

You won’t be perfect on your first or second screenplay, and that’s a fact. It’s an arduous process!

I have all of my early drafts of my first attempts and I cringe at how bad they were.

One common mistake we often see is that writers feel the need to create a stockpile of knowledge before putting the words to practice.

Don’t do that—learn along the way instead.

That’s how you get better, day after day. 

"Allow yourself to write badly in the beginning. That’s good tried and true advice. And then let it evolve as you rewrite." – Sue Monk Kidd

Not only American shows and movies are successful, FYI.

Open your Netflix, Prime Video, or the platform of your choice. 

Do you see Money Heist? Fauda? Blue is the Warmest Color? Most Guillermo Del Toro movies? 

Foreign films and shows can be renowned worldwide, and you’ve probably watched many of them. Their scripts are translated and adapted to the English language, and some of them are English dubbed, because the whole world deserves to experience those stories. 

This is yet another example to prove my point.

You can write your script from anywhere in the world, in any language. Do language or country of origin matter?

Not at all. Leave that mentality behind.

What matters is a solid story structure, and, of course, how you tell it.

If your screenplay is outstanding and worthy of worldwide recognition, language will never be a barrier. 

Stand up for yourself and what you believe in. 

This last topic is just as crucial as the previous ones. 

I’ve been rejected from jobs and many writing opportunities simply for being Latina, and I know I’m not alone in this. 

Your ethnicity, your background, your skin colour...none of this matters when it comes to how successful you can be.

Know yourself, and depend only on your ambition and hard work.

Know you’re capable of achieving goals and breaking patterns regardless of where you’re from. This is just a reminder so you don’t let the wrong people drive you into the wrong decisions.

Being a successful screenwriter requires effort time, and patience.

For EVERYONE. It takes a lot of hard work, whether you’re in LA or not. What you’re doing doubles your gains: the more you write, the better and more fluent you’ll be in another language, and that’s badass.

You’re learning a language while perfecting your screenwriting skills, so don’t be hard on yourself.

The time will pass anyway.

Laila shares all of Into The Script's news on her Instagram page (@lailarsnde) and Facebook.

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