How to Break into Hollywood as a Screenwriter

As a TV writer/showrunner, people often ask me how to break into Hollywood. But it’s the wrong question to ask.

Writers assume that if they could just get their script into the right hands, the doors to Hollywood will fly open. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Even if your script is thrown out of a helicopter and lands in the lap of Steven Spielberg, what’s he going to do if the script is mediocre? He’s going to toss it into the bowl of egg salad his butler carries at all times.

Yeah, but if he likes part of it, maybe he’ll help you develop it, right?

Keep dreaming. Why would he waste his time developing your script when he could just as easily option a script that’s already in great shape?

I’m not even the tiniest fraction as successful as Steven Spielberg, but the same logic holds for me when staffing for one of my shows. A few years ago, my partner and I were hired to be showrunners on a streaming network. The show didn’t have a big writing budget, so the network suggested we put together a staff of unknowns. This would’ve been the perfect opportunity for someone like you. You’d gain experience, earn a decent credit, and have a chance to work with two industry veterans.

I’m not some heartless jerk. I like the idea of helping someone break into Hollywood, but hiring an entire staff of unproven writers filled me with anxiety. The job of showrunner is stressful enough without the added burden of a writing staff that can’t turn in a solid first draft.

I spent weeks reading submission after submission, and 99% of the scripts I read were mediocre at best. And these were from writers who had already cleared the first hurdle of getting signed with a reputable talent agency.

We didn’t need mediocre writers. We needed a great writers.

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There’s no demand for mediocre writers

One day, one of the executive producers of the show handed me a script. I put my feet up on the desk, barely missing the tub of egg salad that I have to carry around all by myself, and cracked it open. I got about fifteen pages into it, when I tossed the script aside and excitedly yelled, “Bring him in for a meeting. He’s hired!”

And I meant it. I could tell that, despite having no experience as a professional screenwriter, he knew how to write. I didn’t even need to finish his script. (Although I did finish it later. Or maybe it was the egg salad I finished. It doesn’t change the story, though.)

Shift the power dynamic

Because he knew how to write, the power dynamic shifted. No longer were we the ones doing him a favor. Instead, he’d be doing us a favor because we needed him.

Instead of trying to break down the doors to Hollywood, Hollywood was breaking down the doors to him.

Truthfully, I don’t know how his script found its way onto our executive producer’s desk. It’s likely that someone read it, really liked it, but wasn’t in the position to offer him a job. So instead, this person passed the script along to a friend who could. That’s what great scripts do. They get passed around. Mediocre scripts get thrown into the egg salad.

So aspiring writers shouldn’t be asking, “How do I break into Hollywood?”

They should be asking, “How do I write an amazing script?”

It’s so much easier to complain about the cruelty of Hollywood than it is to work on your craft. But for those of you who want to have more control over your destiny, I offer an online screenwriting class. This is your chance to write a script so amazing, it shifts the power dynamic.

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Author Details
For the past 25 years, Michael Jamin has been a professional television writer/showrunner. His credits include King of the Hill, Beavis & Butthead, Wilfred, Maron, Just Shoot Me, Rules of Engagement, Brickleberry, Tacoma FD and many more.