January 3, 2018

Screenwriting is the most competitive profession in the film industry

Reading the trades, I discovered that only about 1100 writers worked on films in Hollywood last year.  Sure, more than that worked on TV, but most elite members of the WGA only work about one year in three (if at all).  And, when they do find work, their pay is still less than many less glamorous roles.

(I know Squanto.  You were unemployed long before I made that discovery.)
In fact, you’re more likely to make a living as a professional athlete than a screenwriter.  Last year, over ten times as many people who made their living as pro-athletes as professional screenwriters.  (The upside is screenwriters can work longer, but that just means the competition is around for longer.  During your lifetime, you’re probably around 80 times more likely to spend at least one year as a pro athlete than you are as a pro screenwriter.)

In fact, many film schools produce enough screenwriting graduates to saturate the market from one class alone.  If all the screenwriters in the world died, except for those who graduated from my university (within three years of me), the majority would still be unemployed.

So, why are there so many screenwriting courses?  Because there are so many unemployed screenwriters available to teach them.  Secondly, because it doesn’t cost the university (or website, or other organisation) very much to organise a screenwriting class.  And thirdly, because people are ignorant enough to think that screenwriting is something easy, that anyone can do from home.

For similar reasons, there are so many screenwriting contests.  Judging films in a festival demands the kind of hardware needed to exhibit them.  Screenplays don’t take up much space and can be read on even the cheapest phone or oldest laptop.

I suppose in that way, screenwriting is like yoga: you’re a thousand times more likely to find work teaching it than doing it.

But, aren’t all films roles as competitive?  Not even close.  Watch the credits of any film.  Just read the job titles.  A lot of these positions are hard to fill.  A good 3d artist can get preferential immigration status.

If you’re screenwriting to break into the industry, try something else.  Read the credits of a film that you liked.  Most of those jobs (except for director) are easier to break into.

Some of you may be thinking, with all those available screenwriters, why do some many bad films get made?  Surely, the studio could just hold a contest, and only use the best writers.  Well, the more I look, the more I see a few trends.

  1. Arrogance.  People want to add their own touch to a good screenplay, and they ruin it.
  2. Rushed productions.  Scripts are produced before they are ready, or the actors and others are too rushed to read the scripts.
  3. Nepotism.  It’s possible, even in such a competitive industry, for someone with connections to get further than someone with talent.
  4. Fear.  Many producers recognise great scripts, but are afraid to produce them, opting instead for known entities.

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