Freelance TV Writing Career – How to Land Your First

Freelance TV Writing Career - How to Land Your First

If you wish to land a freelance TV writing career in 2018, the first thing you should be aware of is that a lot has changed in the freelance realm since 2011, that things have to be taken a little more seriously and a lot more cautiously.

A career as a freelance TV writer doesn’t mean you have to write away in solitude. You can make your freelance TV writing career very exciting as you can choose to work with other writers at an office on project basis.

In fact, we guess this is the right time to write for TV, especially when DVR has created the perfect opportunity to never miss a serial, show or episode. Writing for TV has evolved from its ideologies and limitations.

It’s even more interesting…but a lot more overbearing…

Many productions houses and recent shows have ushered new eras of story-telling, production scope and audience attention. But that doesn’t mean the competition is weak; breaking into television, like any other media industry often requires entry-level job experience.

Landing your first freelance job as a TV writer will take a lot more than what’s written in this post. However, we have mentioned 3 essential steps to get you moving in the right direction.

Step No 1: Learn the Work

Like any other professional career, you have to study the art of TV writing. TV scripts adhere to more strict formatting guidelines. You have to be aesthetic. Here’s how you can do it:

  • Enrol in a degree course that’s committed to Entertainment Industry specifically. Most can be completed online. (OR) sign-up for a non-degree program that offers certifications.

If you are good at writing, the media industry will not question whether you have a degree or not. Since you will work with really experienced people, learning the craft is important for making connections.

  • Read reference books such as The Screenwriter’s Bible’, 5th Look out for recommendations and new publications. Heed advices from experienced as they will tell you about dialogues, stage directions, formatting and directorial suggestions.
  • Actively watch TV from a writer’s perspective, and ask questions. Look at character development, plot, structure, dialogue and how everything can be applied to your work. If you find a script of your favourite show, you are lucky. Transcribe each show as you watch – episode length, number of acts, commercial breaks etc. 
  • Buy a scripting software to help you squeeze your skills in to an aesthetic format, acceptable for reading. Few suggestions include Script it! and Celtx.

You can also go for the industrial standard software, Final Draft. If you want to learn the craft, immerse in the process. Watch interviews of TV writers, know your competitors and be confident. 

Step No 2: Write your Dream Spec Script (Rewrite, Edit, Modify)

Spec scripts are speculative scripts, which can be written for original shows or episodes of existing shows. No one asks for it and no one pays for it. It acts like a Resume or a writing sample. Your aim should be writing an episode for an existing show.

  • Select a show you like for your Spec Script. Pick a show that is more popular and not something which is in its first season. This will help you draw more insights and your employers will be more likely to have heard about the show.

Don’t choose a show that’s been around too long. Don’t stick with the mundane and classics, as most writers would have used them for their spec scripts.

  • Do not reinvent the wheel; follow the structure, character, plot and tone. If the original story has four intersecting story lines, you don’t add a 5th in your spec script. If your script has 22 pages, don’t include more.

Improve the main character and keep the sides on the side. Don’t develop a new character, don’t recycle a plot and don’t violate the show’s tone (such as adding drama or sentimentality).

  • Write the thing, share the thing and accept criticism. Show your spec script to your trusted friends first and get their opinions. Some will like your idea and some wont, especially in writing rooms where shows are written by assembly. Most will take some part of your idea and create own scripts, without giving you any credit.

Find writing groups and expose your skills, however amateur they seem to you. You never know who will get your first gig to you, so network as much as you can.

  • Try again and write another spec script for another show or another episode. Choose a genre and refine your skills in it. Just don’t jump from comedy to drama to thrillers and so on. If an agent likes your work, he will want to see more.

So, be ready with more samples. The key of writing perfect script is editing and re-editing. Remove layers, add layers and improve everything. Review after couple of days, fresh eyes brew fresh ideas.

Step No 3: Team Up with an Agent

Media industry is very busy; they usually don’t go for unsolicited manuscripts. So, unless you have direct connections, find an agent for job. They don’t get paid unless you do and usually make a living by selling your skills.

No agent will ask fee other than the standard 10-12 percent share. So, be sceptical as well.

  • Research and find Agencies that suit you. Check if they accept new writers, how they can be contracted and what do they represent. You can either choose a full agency or an individual agent, who represents you alone. Don’t be dramatic in your approach, be straight and to the point. Focus on newer agents who will believe in your work.
  • Communicate agents with an intriguing Query letter. There’s an art to write a letter. Read books and take classes on query letters meant for entertainment industry. Research on Google articles.

Usually Query Letters are lesser than one page, brief and to the point -a simple introduction of you and your work. Request them to read your spec script. Don’t be afraid to stand out and be unique in your approach.

  • Don’t go back to depression if you are rejected. In fact, media and television industry will reject you many times before lifting you up. Agents will either not respond at all or respond negatively.

If that’s the case, move on to another one. Keep a track of all agents you have sent queries and got rejected. Be polite, thank them and move on. Its better you don’t burn the bridges.