As a former literary manager, I represented film and television writers for the better part of eight years. Many of the talented but less experienced writers who hadn’t yet made a living at the craft were solely interested in creating original screenplays that would be shopped to production companies, studios and packaging agents. They never wished to consider the myriad other ways they could make money in the industry with far less competition, even if such work might lead to their ultimate goals. Here are a few such ideas for those writers seeking to take the road less traveled:
Become a Writer’s Assistant
Feature film and television writers have assistants that do everything from menial work like rolling calls and faxing to more creative pursuits like researching, writing synopses, doing coverage, and even giving development notes. The hours might be long and the grunt work tiresome, but it’s one of the best ways to see how scripts get produced. It also allows you to make connections with other professionals like agents and producers.
In the case of television, you see how a writer’s room runs while taking notes for the staff writers. Moreover, TV shows often promote from within, giving promising assistants an episode to write after a season or two. To get such a job requires tenacity and fortitude, but high turnover rate among industry assistants means jobs are opening up all the time. Join online writers’ groups and attend events to network with other assistants, scour entertainment job aggregators like the UTA Joblist, and post your assistant profile on job sites like Media Match to try and get in the door.
You hear voice-over in movie trailers all the time. You know the guy who begins by saying, “In a world where XYZ happens?” Well, someone is paid to write those lines – usually a copywriter who works for or has a relationship with the trailer house that produces the content. Since many writers don’t consider this type of work, there are far fewer of them querying trailer houses for work than studios or production companies. Search online for contact info on trailer houses and send queries to their in-house producers along with any relevant writing samples you may have. Offer to do a test run on one film for free to see if they like your work, and tell them you’ll only charge if they want to use it. If they agree, they’ll usually give you a movie to watch and some creative direction. Make sure you are clear on format, length and style requirements. In addition, since voice-over work is prevalent in other areas like radio and television commercials, you may do well to reach out to ad agency executives who are also in the market for someone who can capture the voice of a campaign.
Write Educational Materials
Those with a more extensive track record and knowledge of the entertainment world could use their talents to help others. Educational materials such as how-to books, film history guides, and resource manuals have become a more viable option with the rise of downloadable ebooks and self-publishing. Having some specific know-how in a given area, whether it’s fundraising, non-linear editing or Italian New Wave directors, makes you more appealing.
Reach out directly to university film departments to gauge their interest in your material, even before you create it. If they’re not interested, they may be willing to offer suggestions on materials that would better fit their curriculum. Smaller colleges and certificate schools may be more accessible for those writers who don’t have a master’s degree and a lengthy resume. You can also contact organizations like US-based TES, Journeys in Film or British-based Film Education to see if they’re willing to let you create paid lesson plans or other original teaching materials for their programs.
(Tune in next week for Part 2 of Entertainment Writing Jobs You May Not Have Considered)
Mark Heidelberger co-founded Beverly Hills-based Treasure Entertainment in 2000, serving as a film executive, content creator and literary manager until 2011 before leaving to become a freelance producer. He has produced music videos for artists Janelle Monae, Snoop Dogg, Cam’ron, and John Michael Montgomery as well as commercials for Lamborghini, Con Air, and Cox Media, to name a few. His feature film credits include Harsh Times, Man Overboard, Ninja Apocalypse, It’s Not You, It’s Me and Flintown Kids. He also developed and packaged the thriller Don McKay, produced the Chopper web series, and executive produced Hallmark Channel’s You’ve Got a Friend. He is a member of the Producers Guild of America. He holds a BA in Film Studies from UCSB and a MFA in Producing from UCLA’s School of Theater, Film, and Television.