This week I have gone back to school, kind of. The world-renown Vancouver Film School has invited me into their Summer Intensives classes, which are brief crash-courses, each representing a slice of a full multi-month program and course load. The intensives run for eight hours, five days this week and should they desire, students can then sign up for the full program in the fall. I’m getting a sneak peek (a few hours a day) in a different Summer Intensive each day this week. My course on Tuesday was The Business of Screenwriting.
“As soon as you have a full time job, you’re not a full time writer — and that becomes a problem,” instructor Kat Montagu told the Business of Screenwriting class. Writers want to write and financial independence, while being a writer, is the ultimate goal. However, writing doesn’t usually come with a steady paycheque and if it does, it’s not often one with which you can purchase a house full of bling. Kat, who is a writer, screenwriting teacher, and story editor, started off the class by giving a real-world talk about how to work while being a writer and how to get work as a writer. Shifting the conversation to film and television writing specifically, pens were bobbing as students feverishly jotted down notes about the ins and outs of the industry.
Income for Writers
With freelance and traditional media gigs starting to dry up for writers, there are still some excellent ways to keep your bank account in the black using your talent as a wordsmith. Kat explained positions and gigs that ranged from script reading and story editing, to web writing, web mastering (helping someone write the content for their site), event producing, video game writing, and researching for unscripted series (documentaries, reality). “You have to be an entrepreneur to be a professional writer,” she added and handed us an outline of the course. It covered the Writers’ Guild, development and funding guides, copyright, producer’s agreements, agents, accounting and tax-deductible expenses, writing competitions, paying your dues with grunt work gigs, and much more.
Lifecycle of a script
Moving away from my familiar realm as a writer and toward screenplays, guilds, agents, and Hollywood (North), Kat illustrated the lifecycle of a script using the classroom’s dry-erase board. As in my first Summer Intensive at VFS, terms and definitions flew through the air and landed on my notepad. “Specs”, adapted material, commissioned work, chain of title, royalties, green light, composing, and the explanation of the seemingly matrimonial relationship a writer will have with a producer.
“You need to be part of a community… …You need feedback, specifically when working in isolation.” Kat stressed the importance of getting out from behind your screen and keyboard to meeting other writers and industry professionals in the flesh. This is something that is crucial to blogging too, I believe. “We are a large corporation that doesn’t own a building so you have to get out and connect.” Sure, there’s a strong schmooze factor at film festival galas and parties but the connections you can make with producers, directors, collaborators, editors, and writing peers can be extremely valuable.
So you’re a screenwriter that wants to start putting scripts in the hands of anyone who will read them, how can you get eyeballs to you pages? Kat recommended InkTip, an online network where entertainment professionals can browse scripts, and screenwriters can submit their work to the online library – and ideally sell it.
Locally, screenwriters can see their words come alive through festivals like Crazy 8s, Vancouver’s premiere short film festival or the Cold Reading Series at the Billy Bishop Legion.
Kat’s practical insights were perfectly paired with insider information, tips, and tricks for navigating the film and television industry in Canada and the USA. If I had the creativity to bring a character, place, or scene to life I would have jumped right in with the rest of the students to work on my short screenplay – which is the assignment for this week. Every class during the Summer Intensives at VFS has been so different but each classroom has had a strong sense camaraderie and enthusiasm so far. My final class of the week is Motion Design & Social Media which culminates with a showcase tonight at the Homer Street campus.