Getting Published: Scriptwriting

Are You Ready to Submit?

Before sending your work out, you should have a completed script which is not a first draft, and a synopsis and pitch alongside this. Make sure you proofread your work carefully and do your research before submitting. It may also be useful to have several other developed or partially written pieces of work to hand in case you are asked about any future or alternative ideas you have.

Submitting Your Work

Writing for television, film and radio can present an exciting challenge to writers but, as with all writing, it is difficult to break into, with very few commissioned scripts actually getting made. However, there are regular opportunities available for unsolicited scripts. Adaptation can also be a good way to generate income and to learn more about writing for different formats, as well as giving you a ready-made story to work with. With upwards of 300 hours of radio drama being commissioned each year, radio work is also a good way to break into the industry.

Adaptation can also be a good way to generate income and to learn more about writing for different formats, as well as giving you a ready-made story to work with

Read Submission Guidelines Carefully

As with all writing submissions, make sure you read the submission guidelines carefully, especially if submissions are invited for a specific genre or format.

You Don’t Necessarily Need an Agent

When it comes to screenwriting, you don’t necessarily need an agent in order to find success when you’re first starting out. In fact, many agents will be more likely to be interested in taking you on if you’ve had some success such as an option or commission for one of your projects. Decent production companies should also be able to recommend a good agent for you.

Don’t Forget Independent Production Companies

Once you’ve completed your script to a high standard and done your research, you should know which channel it would be most suited to, and the process of submitting to them. However, don’t forget about independent production companies, as you may have more luck with them than major broadcasting houses. Research and find out which ones make the kind of show or play you’re writing and contact them from there. It’s worth keeping in mind that their resources may be limited, so a phone call may be the best initial approach. 

Send a Brief Synopsis or Pitch First

It isn’t always appropriate to send your script in straight away. Some companies may only be interested in seeing a brief synopsis or pitch first before asking to see the rest of the script. Again, read the guidelines carefully and abide by them. If nothing else, a short, sharp synopsis or pitch will really help you get to the heart of your story and this will help you stay on track when you’re deep into your writing.

Keep Your Sample Short

Even if you believe your film or sitcom is the next big thing, no-one will want to read a 500-page script which lands on their doormat. Keep your sample short and make sure it showcases your writing at its best.

Target a Particular Producer

Because producers have a broad role, it is often wise to approach a suitable producer directly. Their involvement with a project can be intense so they need to have a strong personal interest and enthusiasm for a project. For a number of broadcasters, writers are expected to already have a relationship with a producer in order for their work to be produced or commissioned. However, it can often be considered bad etiquette to approach more than one producer at a time so tread carefully. Equally, be fair with your approach. Discovering new writing is only one small aspect of the job, so make sure you’re very familiar with a producer’s work before you approach them. Let them know why you’ve chosen them and how your work fits into their back catalogue. This extra research and work will help you have more confidence in your submission.

Developing Your Work

Watch What You’d Like to Write and Learn From It

What do you want to write? Once you know this, make sure you watch or listen to as many examples of it as possible. This will give you a good grounding when approaching your own writing and also help build your awareness of what’s currently out there. Use these examples in both a positive and negative light, assessing what works and what doesn’t. Make lots of notes and think carefully about what you want to achieve with your script before sitting down to tackle it. You could even try re-writing an episode or scene from your favourite show. No-one but you will see the end result but you’ll learn a lot in the process.

You could even try re-writing your own episode or scene from your favourite show

Study Script Structure

In scriptwriting, arguably more than any other writing, it’s important to know your structure well. How should your script be laid out? Save yourself lots of needless editing by researching these things now. Equally, use available scripts, courses and writing groups to examine and discuss the dramatic structure. You can break the ‘rules’ of course, but you need to know what the rules are in order to break them! Acknowledging and using these rules may be particularly helpful for writers new to the genre. It’s important to read a lot of scripts as well as watch productions, using them to inform your own dramatic structure and layout. The BBC Writers Room in particular has a great selection of scripts available to download for free.

Know Your Medium

Like script structure, it’s important to have an awareness of the medium you’re writing for. It may be increasingly common for people to be a writer/director hybrid, but this isn’t essential. Instead, network and speak with other professionals and amateurs to get a better understanding of how they work. While these considerations shouldn’t dictate your script, they should help you approach the project with a more informed mindset.

Do Your Research

Like the first point, it’s important to have an awareness of what’s out there, both in terms of the industry and the audience. What do people respond to the most? What opportunities are out there? Take a look at blogs reviewing film and television. Like all writing though, it’s important not to write specifically in response to trends, unless they happen to be something you’re very passionate and knowledgeable about. Anything which is popular now probably won’t be by the time your script goes into production.

Get Feedback

Whether from peers, tutors, script reading services or well-watched friends, feedback is crucial if you want to see your writing improve. Ask a variety of trusted people and take their feedback on board. If they suggest edits, give it a try, even if it doesn’t feel quite right: you never know, a small change could transform your script entirely. Work hard on your script and make sure you get it into the best possible shape before sending it out anywhere.

Bring Your Work to Life

This doesn’t mean that your work has to go into production; it could be as simple as getting some friends to do a read through with you. Doing so will help you immediately see what works and more importantly what doesn’t work within your writing, whether it’s structure, narrative or characterisation. At the very least you should be reading your work aloud to yourself to get a good idea of the rhythm and the voice coming across.

Key Organisations

Screen Academy Scotland

Scottish Screenwriters

BAFTA in Scotland

BBC Writers Room

BBC Commissioning

Euroscript

IntoFilm

ETVB Screenwriting