The ever lovely Mr Scott Castle asked me yesterday how I go about getting work as a writer. This is a very good question because the answer is I don't. Let me explain...
All the work I have been commissioned for so far has been the direct result of two things; networking like a beaver and having a great, highly polished calling card script that people love.
I have found by years of trial and error that the best way to get work is to put yourself out there and by that I mean you need to network like a fanatic, getting to know everyone and showing genuine interest in what they are doing. When I say everyone do I mean just producers and directors? No...I mean everyone, everyone even remotely connected to the entertainment industry, actors, casting directors, script editors and fellow writers at all levels. And you have to show a genuine interest in their work, because if you don't they will know and think you're sucking up to them just to further your career. I don't have that problem because I have a passionate love of film and TV and a general curiosity about people, so I find it a pleasure to talk to others (even if it does terrify me sometimes) and find out what they are working on. Remember it's about them, not you, so never, ever go begging for work. Remain helpful, polite and never pushy. If like me this comes naturally to you, then it's a great advantage, otherwise you'll have to work very hard at it.
I find it helps to keep a spreadsheet of the people I meet detailing when we last talked and what about, as it can get quite confusing when you have met literally hundreds of people, especially if you are as rubbish at remembering names as I am. Some days I even need help remembering my own name.
Signing up to social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn help with the process, but you must remember everyone will read what you write so keep a separate account for personal use and gobbing off, and one for professional. You are what you write after all. Personally I chose to only have one account on each site, as it would take too much time to keep up with separate accounts. Therefore I have to be very careful not to Twitter or Facebook when I come home from the pub and think it's funny to post a picture of my bum. General personal stuff is fine, it makes you appear human, just as long as it's not offensive.
Writing ten or fifteen short scripts and offering them free to up and coming directors is a great idea to get your name and work out there. Plus if any are made it will give you something to be proud of and a credit on your CV. A good place to find directors is on Shooting People. Always remember to check out the directors previous work first to see if it's of the quality you want your short to be and if they are intending to place the finished film in festivals. That last bit is important as this will increase your exposure.
THE CALLING CARD SCRIPT
This is the one that best showcases your writing. It is not designed to ever get made (you're lucky if it does) but to show others what you can do. Make sure it is the best it can be before you send it out, as a sloppy, poorly written script will not impress anyone. And you need to send it out...to everyone - production companies first and places like the BBC Writersroom and Industrial Scripts, and then to smaller producers and directors and actors and just about everyone, but with this second group of people only if they request to read it first.
And this is where the networking comes into its own. If you've done your job properly people will also be genuinely interested in knowing what you are up to and might ask to read your script. If they like your work they might even offer you some work.
It's really all about building relationships and an awareness of your work. Do this and eventually people will come to you when they need a writer and one day you might even get paid for it.