Just Effing Ask Julie Gray: What Qualifications Are Needed to Break Into Screenwriting?

Script consultant Julie Gray is a veteran story analyst of some of the biggest production companies in Hollywood. The author of Just Effing Entertain Me: A Screenwriter’s Atlas, Julie has taught story at Warner Bros. Studios, The Great American PitchFest and Oxford University. Contact Julie here.

Hi Julie,

Question: As a neophyte wanting to enter the world of screenwriting, which is the most effective method or path to follow? I work full-time and reside in Cape Town [South Africa]. My biggest fear is obtaining a qualification in scriptwriting and then arrive in any country overseas and find out that it’s invalid or insufficient. I am not looking for short-cuts or quick-fixes. I have a passion for writing and love being creative. Therefore, I would put in the effort [and more] required to become a great screenwriter.

Love, Candi

Dear Candi,

Thank you for a great question!

Well, first of all, when you say “obtaining a qualification” do you mean a screenwriting certification or degree? The bad/good news is that will not necessarily help you at all, no matter where you live. If you have the opportunity to pursue a formal education in screenwriting, go for it. But I would not mistake that for a prerequisite or entree into the world of a screenwriting career.

No, what you need is a good script. And that is something you can write from anywhere in the world. I’m glad you realize there are no shortcuts; the average sold screenwriter has written upward of ten scripts. That is how long it takes to both gain any mastery of the craft and to make the kinds of inroads you need to get noticed.

My advice to you would be to write your heart out and to amass a body of work before you take the next step of looking for representation. Do some thinking about what your “brand” is – what kind of writer you would like to be regarded as, which also includes genre. Are you the hot new female horror writer from South Africa? Or the new voice of the romantic comedy, with an African twist? Make sure you write the genre that you most love and that you establish not only a body of work but a body of work that speaks to who you are and what you have to say. Being from Cape Town can actually be an asset for you. It makes you interesting and different from so many others. Make the most of where you are from; I’m sure it colors your work in many ways. You might also do some research on local writing groups and organizations that may give you huge inroads and networking. The Writer’s Guild of South Africa has a great website, for starters.

The bottom line is that living outside of the US does not preclude you from becoming a screenwriter, having a degree or certification in writing or screenwriting is very cool but not necessarily any real, tangible help, and the best thing you can do to establish a career as a screenwriter is to create a body of work, not just one or two scripts. Write, write, write, in other words. And be sure to be learning as you do, by getting feedback on your work, perusing websites about screenwriting (like Just Effing Entertain Me!) and watching as many movies as you can. You might enter the occasional screenwriting competition (and of course, I do suggest the Just Effing Screenwriting Competition!) to check in with the level of your work as well. That is really the only path toward success. Everything else is a distraction.

Best of luck to you!

If you have a question you would like to Just Effing Ask Julie Gray, please submit your question HERE. Bribes of cookies, flattery or pictures of cute kitties will definitely move you up in the queue. 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Just Effing Ask Julie Gray: What Qualifications Are Needed to Break Into Screenwriting?

  1. Alec R Zeelie

    Thanks for all the advice. As a aspiring South African screenwriter trying to make my way to the US market, any tips and advice comes in handy. Many have told me to try my luck with the local film makers, but there just isn’t a market for the genres I write locally. Thanks to a number of sites such as yours, I learn a little bit more each an every day. Thanks.

  2. Michael Chomse

    Julie, you may want to edit your comment regarding The Writers Guild of South Africa website. It’s not a great website at all.
    You have hit the nail on the head in one respect though, and that’s your suggestion to write, write, write. It’s the best way to get ahead as a writer, wherever you come from.
    Another suggestion, and this is possible to do wherever you are based, is to read as many screenplays as you can lay your hands on. Read the good and the bad, and try to understand the difference.
    Google is your friend. Find a writing group. If you can’t find one, start one.
    Finally, when you are good enough to go and take the overseas markets by storm, think about how badly we need you here in South Africa before you hop on a plane.