Award-winning author and Hollywood insider John Morgan Wilson tell what it takes to progress from Hollywood hopeful to powerful film-industry player:
What counts, both in features and TV, are writing samples — completed scripts — and who reads them. Patience, passion for the material, the ability to "pitch" a compelling story, a good agent and some luck also help. Youth is another valued asset; rightly or wrongly, very few screenwriters become established past the age of thirty-five or forty. Most pros get started while living in L.A. It is extremely difficult to make the needed connections while living far away from the center of action, though some have managed it. Although many successful film and television students come from film-TV schools, perhaps just as many learn the craft on their own or develop it as an adjunct to another writing field, such as novels, the stage or narrative journalism.
If screenwriting sounds daunting, remember that many opportunities exist for film-industry writing beyond peddling your scripts to indifferent producers — positions such as staff writers, teachers at screenwriting workshops and "script doctors" (hired guns who rework specific areas of the script). As Wilson says:
Most screenwriters, in fact, make their livings not by selling original screenplays, but by rewriting the scripts of others, just as their own are being rewritten by someone else.
For more insight into and explanation of the world of movies and TV, take a look at John Morgan Wilson's Inside Hollywood. This book is not a how-to, but a reference for writers writing about the world of Hollywood.