With so many shows and feature films being released on television and streaming services such as Netflix, you have to wonder: where do they get all these writers to write them?
Does Netflix have some secret lab where they incubate and grow writers? Or can anyone get a job working as part of the writing staff on TV shows on Netflix?
To sum it up: how do you become a screenwriter for Netflix?
There are many different avenues to becoming a screenwriter for television.
Still, the most straightforward are the following three methods:
- become a writer’s assistant on a TV show and get promoted to staff writer on the show
- write an original pilot that gets you signed with a manager who can set up meetings for you with showrunners
- partner with a production company that will option your show and takes it out to buyers, who may purchase and produce your pilot.
Each option has its strengths and difficulties.
So if you’re considering television writing as a career path, keep reading. It doesn’t matter if you’ve gone to film school or are a self-taught screenwriter.
We’ll cover everything in more detail below.
How to become a writer for Netflix?
Let’s start with the fun one: you can become a writer for Netflix by selling a show to Netflix, getting hired to work on an existing show by the showrunner, or acing an open submission by getting commissioned from Netflix directly to develop material for them.
Everyone with a creative vision (who isn’t too pretentious to admit it) would love the chance to create a Netflix original.
Netflix currently has 220 million global subscribers and is still growing its audience after a brief dip earlier in 2022.
With such a large audience ready and waiting to tune in on a Friday night, you can’t beat the potential reach such a show would have in today’s age.
It would be an amazing opportunity to get so many eyeballs on your original script!
But becoming a writer for Netflix isn’t so easy. You can’t just call Netflix on the phone or hit up their email with your latest script.
That would be more straightforward, but unfortunately, that’s not how the film industry works, and Netflix is no exception.
Why you can’t send your script to Netflix directly, and what to do instead.
Netflix, like other Hollywood production companies, does not accept what is called unsolicited material.
That means that unless Netflix asks to see your work directly, they will not accept cold pitch emails, cold phone pitches, or cold spec script PDF submissions unless it comes from a trusted source.
Here’s what Netflix says on their website about “unsolicited material” – i.e., material that hasn’t been directly requested by Netflix:
“Whether it is an idea that just came to mind or a fully developed script, Netflix does not accept unsolicited materials or ideas.”
Pretty straightforward. But what is “soliciting” material anyway?
How does Netflix “solicit” material? What does that even mean?
Netflix “solicits” material by going through a known relationship with one of their creative executives.
This creative executive will solicit something by asking for the material they heard about or follow up on a pitch they received by asking to read it.
Here’s how Netflix describes it:
“If you have an idea, script, screenplay, or production already in development that you’d like to pitch to Netflix, you should work through a licensed literary agent, producer, attorney, manager, or entertainment executive who already has a relationship with Netflix. If you do not have any of these resources available, Netflix will be unable to accept your unsolicited submissions.”
Like other production studios in Hollywood, Netflix has a team of in-house creative development execs and sales reps.
Their job is to track down existing intellectual property or directly hear pitches for new shows and movies from the creators.
These pitches can be from writers, set up through their agents and managers, or heard from producing partners.
These partners include production companies, producers, executive producers, and directors.
Netflix’s development execs also track down newly finished material from film festivals or “other established venues” – whatever those may be. I have a few ideas I’ll share below.
And, of course, Netflix’s creative development team can always generate their ideas internally and then hire writers to develop them, i.e., again working with managers and agents to set up meetings so Netflix can interview prospective hires through a credible source.
While it’s an obnoxious system from the outside looking in, it does make sense for the creative producers.
Suppose Netflix had to sit through interviews with every writer who submitted material online or called the front desk for a meeting.
In that case, they’d be tied up all day reading or talking to people who are hardly qualified to write an email, let alone a screenplay.
How do I get my scripts in front of Netflix, then?
If you were paying attention to the list of ways the Netflix team does solicit material, you’d have caught on already, but to reiterate, your options are as follows:
- Go through a manager or agent. When you are signed with a manager or agent, they can set up meetings or recommend your work to potential creative execs at Netflix, who could option your script or hire you through an open pitch submission.
- Get hired by a showrunner. Working with your own connections or through a savvy manager connect, you might be able to get hired to write on an existing Netflix show by interviewing with a showrunner (the “head writer” who hires other writers, like Shonda Rhimes) to join their team. More on this below.
- Impress in another field entirely. Sometimes if you create an impressive feature film, book, or podcast outside of the realm of TV, you might be able to work with your reps or personal contacts to get a meeting to explore the option of developing content for Netflix through a development deal.
Those are the three main ways to become a writer for Netflix, and they also happen to be the main ways to become a screenwriter for TV in general.
Let’s explore them a little deeper–that last one, in particular, is a stretch for first-time writers, so we’ll cover it last.
General guide: How to become a TV writer.
The goal of becoming a TV writer is to get hired into the writers’ room or the team of writers who develop the story arcs for the season and then write all the episodes for the TV show.
But before you get to the point where you can impress a manager or a showrunner, you need to develop the skill of screenwriting. Impressive writing skills are a prerequisite for any job writing in TV.
If you haven’t yet learned how to write screenplays, there are a few options:
Go to film school
We wrote an entire article on whether or not you should go to film school or become a self-taught screenwriter here.
The short version is film school is great for networking and meeting other writers who could help you by reading your work, having you read theirs, and eventually helping you get a job.
However, going through an official college degree program (like a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree) is not necessary to become a professional writer.
On the last point, if you develop a wide enough network of close connections, you may meet someone (or many someones) who could go on to become a TV writer before you, and they could introduce you to managers or showrunners you wouldn’t otherwise meet.
They might even become a showrunner one day and could theoretically hire you to write for them.
While statistically unlikely, TV writing is all about “who you know,”
Therefore, it’s good to meet as many open-minded screenwriters as possible. Film school is a great place to do that.
Film school is not just about screenwriting. However, most good film school programs provide equipment to help students produce their short film, so try to either direct your material to meet collaborators or meet directors to collaborate with and write their short films.
These connections could be equally helpful down the line. You might meet a lifelong collaboration, and the two of you become a writing team.
If you do a good job, you might meet directors who will remember you and think of you first when they need to hire writers for commercial work in the future.
Read scripts and take online classes.
Reading produced screenplays is one of the best ways to learn the craft of screenwriting, as these are the scripts that “made it” – i.e., got made.
By learning from the greats and reading material that got sold and then produced, you will pick up on what makes a screenplay sellable and producible in the eyes of buyers and producers.
Online classes can also be a great way to provide structure to your learning process. These could be a college course or a third party course provider.
One of the benefits of film school is the opportunity (and requirement) to write – and then have that work read, critiqued, and rewritten.
Practiced time management is one of the most important skills required of episodic television writers, so honing the ability to write consistently on your own time as part of your creative process is critical.
If you take online classes, ensure they require you to write and then have that material read, as writing and getting feedback is the only true way to learn how to write screenplays.
Work on a TV show
You won’t find TV writing jobs on Indeed, but after you go to film school or take on a couple of paid internships, you may be able to get a job as a production assistant or script coordinator for a real-life TV show.
We get into this more below, but this type of role could be leveraged via hard work to become a writer’s assistant, where you can learn the craft of writing for TV firsthand from professional writers in the writers’ room (be they showrunner or executive story editor).
This is also one of the best (and tried and true) methods to become a working TV screenwriter, so don’t rule it out.
One note here: I wouldn’t rely on working on television productions as your only screenwriting education, however.
If you want to become a writer’s assistant, the showrunner who hires you will want to know you have some interest (and experience) in writing your scripts.
The general rule of thumb is that the writer’s assistant role is considered the first entry-level position on the track to becoming a TV writer.
This means that they’ll want to hire someone with the potential to become a staff writer (either on their show in a later season or another one after you leave this job).
This usually happens like so: if the writer’s assistant proves themself in the room with good idea pitches in their first year, they could be rewarded with the opportunity to write an individual episode on the next season (or even, in some rare circumstances, the current season).
Join the Writers Guild of America (WGA)
Once you have gained a certain number of writing credits, you can join the Writer’s Guild of America or WGA.
The WGA required a certain number of units to be obtained before an associate, or current membership can be accepted.
You can obtain these units each week you are employed within the Guild’s jurisdiction by a “signatory” company with which the Guild has signed a collective bargaining agreement or through the sale of an original idea, feature scripts, or television scripts.
You can check out the Schedule of Units on the WGA website to understand how units work.
However, to do that, you typically need first to acquire official representation that can set up the meetings and opportunities that will allow you to pitch showrunners to get hired based on the quality of your original TV scripts.
To do this, you need to impress the managers with your first script, either an original sample script or multiple individual television episodes that are high quality.
High quality means you’ve spent a lot of time writing, rewriting, and polishing them, you’ve had them read by your network of writer friends multiple times, and you’ve received the approval from some mentor in the industry that they are ready to be sent out as a sample.
How do you get representation to become a screenwriter for TV?
You can get representation, or reps, by connecting with and impressing a manager or agent enough to get them to offer to sign you as a client.
There are a few different ways to do this, but the primary method is by writing a script, usually multiple scripts, that reads as profitable.
Don’t get confused – when I say profitable, I don’t mean to imply that managers and agents are money-grubbing mustache-twirling capitalists only looking for sellable scripts; at least, I don’t mean to imply that about managers (winky face!)
What I actually mean is that your creative voice needs to be distinct and unique enough that the manager can say,
“I’ve never read anybody like you, and I think I can make a case for hiring you onto this or that show” or…
“you are a perfect [insert genre or style here] writer, and I could see getting you staffed on this or that show” or even…
“this show is so timely that I could see marketing it to Netflix with a few rewrites.”
A pipedream for sure – but it could happen!
If you write the types of scripts that can do that, then (and only then) the manager can sign you because they can make a case for selling you.
While managers want to develop you creatively, they also need to develop you professionally and get you paid – because that’s how they get paid.
How can you get a manager or agent to see your work?
We’ve covered this a bit before, but you can get an agent or manager to see your work through personal or mutual connections, wowing with a third-party award, or working with a third party that connects agents and managers online.
Getting your script in front of a manager or agent in one of the above ways is difficult but not impossible.
Personal or mutual connections.
The most straightforward way to get a manager or agent’s attention is by meeting them. Networking is a huge part of how writers get connection with representation. It’s all about “who you know” after all.
Reach out to your network to find out if anyone you know works in the entertainment industry or related field. Do they know any managers, agents, directors, or producers themselves? They might be able to connect you.
Just ensure you have three solid sample scripts ready to go so you aren’t wasting your time or making your friend look bad for introducing someone who isn’t prepared.
The Cartel manager Audrey Knox recommends,
“I’d actually say two solid samples in the same genre are what a writer needs to land a rep (two half-hour comedies, two-hour-long dramas, two features, etc.). That third sample can diverge from what they usually write to show range.”
– Audrey Knox, manager at The Cartel
You might not physically live in Los Angeles, New York City, or another film-focused city. There are plenty of online networking opportunities to meet people over the internet, especially in today’s zoom calls and social distancing.
For that issue, try one of the below options.
Third-party award or recognition.
The most direct way that every writer can take advantage of this, no matter where you live, is by submitting to specific online contests or submission platforms.
These contests have a good reputation for getting the winners or runner-ups connected and signed by managers.
Contests run by Screencraft through the Coverfly platform, the Academy Nicholl Fellowship, the Tracking Board, and Final Draft Big Break competitions have a pretty good track record of getting their winning writers’ meetings with managers and agents.
Remember: not all platforms or contests are read by managers and agents, so make sure you submit to the right contests.
Managers usually only pay attention to the winning scripts, and even then, they’ll probably skim the loglines to decide if they want to read more.
However, because the odds of winning one of these contests are few and far between, there are a few other avenues you can take, under which umbrella I’m calling…
Third-party connecting services.
Like The Black List, there are many resources, which is my favorite, where you can host your work and get it reviewed by professional readers that will rank your script and put it in front of actual managers and agents.
Putting material on The Black List is a great way to get your work seen and reviewed, but don’t expect to host it online and get it sold to Netflix straight off a website.
While The Black List started as a list of the best-unproduced screenplays of the year, it was always intended as a way to showcase underrepresented writers and material to the industry at large, so it’s a great avenue to get your work seen and get your name out there, if only just for the extra exposure.
These services are great for writers with no connections but come with costs attached, so be mindful not to throw money at your scripts if they aren’t ready to be read.
What’s a manager’s number one piece of advice?
Audrey Knox’s #1 piece of advice to upcoming writers looking to secure management and succeed in the film industry:
“Be a fun, funny, nice, agreeable, interesting, pleasant, entertaining, humble, thoughtful, kind, and otherwise great person to work with and know. Charm your meetings with your personality. Make friends. Take notes to heart. Show that you’re willing to show up and do the work and make everyone (from reps to execs to fellow writers) feel confident that you’re someone they’ll want to share their life with on a daily basis by hiring you.”
– Audrey Knox, manager at The Cartel
I have reps – now what?
Once you’ve wooed the reps into wanting to sign you, now you will work with them to continue developing your current samples or create new work that will interest the current market.
This means you’ll likely spend time writing and turning around drafts before taking your work to the masses.
Your representatives can use your samples to get you meetings with producing partners, get your work seen by executives looking to take pitches on IP they are developing, or get your work seen by writers looking to staff up their TV shows for their latest seasons.
What to do if you don’t have a full script for every idea?
In the same way, you could write a query letter to potential publishers to sell a book, you can use treatments to sell ideas to development execs or producers looking for new content.
You don’t always need to have a full script written for every project to generate interest.
This would work like this: your manager or rep sets you up with a general meeting with someone in TV production development.
The executive or producer you meet with has read one of your scripts, so they ask you what else you have. You then pitch them the idea.
If they are interested, you can offer to send the treatment over to them.
This document should preferably be a two-page treatment with a general overview of the story.
For more on what a treatment is and how to create it, check out our piece on treatments here.
What if you pitch something you’re noodling on but don’t have a treatment for? While I wouldn’t advise pitching something you don’t already have a treatment for, it happens.
Just be ready to write it super quick and share it with your reps for approval before sending it to the exec.
After reading your treatment, if the exec in question liked your treatment, they will either ask you for the full script or develop the story with you, in which case you should refer to your manager on how to move forward.
Never do free work – but be smart about the input you get. If it seems like genuine constructive feedback, it may inspire you to continue to draft pages for your benefit, so it could be worthwhile to do anyway.
Just keep in mind if you take an exec’s notes, they may want to come on as a producer. Again, defer to your reps on how to accept their feedback.
Even with a treatment, you’ll still need writing samples to show you can write in the format or genre of the script you’re pitching, so don’t let a solid two-pager confuse you.
If you want to be the one writing the script, you’ll need to prove you know how to write.
How do you get hired by a showrunner to write for TV or Netflix?
The next option available to you is to get hired by a showrunner to write for their show directly, which you can do either by getting a meeting set up by your reps or working as a writers’ assistant.
Since we covered how to use reps to meet with a showrunner, we’ll focus on getting a job as a writer’s assistant.
There are many avenues for becoming qualified to be a writer’s assistant, so I’ll briefly summarize a few of them to get an idea of how it works.
In any case, you have to accept an entry-level position when starting.
Start as a production assistant.
One of the first entry-level positions available to you is what’s called a production assistant, or PA.
You can work on television shows as a PA and hopefully work your way up the production chain until you get promoted.
This path is beneficial because you can learn the production process and build a great resume if you work on a hit show (especially if you stay on for a second year).
However, you’ll usually need to switch shows to get a promotion when it’s one of your first jobs.
This is because there may already be a hierarchy with PAs ahead of you, especially if you join a show in its third or fourth season.
Jumping from a PA to a Head Set PA to a Writer’s PA is one of the most viable pathways to becoming qualified for your next job as a writer’s assistant. Viable, but not easy!
Start at an agency or management company.
You can prove your qualifications by starting in an agency’s mailroom or as an assistant at a management company to learn how the industry works.
Hopefully, this first job position will make you qualified to get hired as a writer’s assistant. It also has extra benefits because you’ll be able to meet and network with people who might one day be able to represent you!
Keep in mind – you will not be able to pitch yourself as a viable client to the agency or management company you are working for.
Instead, you’ll have to leave the company and get a modicum of success on your own, then circle back and reach out to your friends who used to be assistants but have now been promoted to execs or managers.
Start as a personal assistant.
Another avenue is to go the personal assistant route by responding to open interview requests from producers and executives looking for personal assistants.
The tricky thing with this is no one wants to hire an assistant who has never been an assistant before, but everyone who’s ever been an assistant wants their next job, not to be an assistant.
Internships allow college students to get access to qualifications to be personal assistants.
Still, if you are part of the 85% of the workforce that can’t afford to take an unpaid internship or can’t get a paid internship opportunity.
You’ll have to use mutual connections or great letters of rec to break through the noise and stand out in a crowded field of candidates.
Start at a production company or studio.
Another avenue that’s much easier if you are privileged enough to take an internship, starting at a production company or studio, is a great way to get qualified to become a writer’s assistant.
If you have previous experience doing any of the above, you should be able to get an interview at a company like this.
If not, you’ll once again have to use mutual connections or an impressive resume outside of the industry to break through the noise and get an interview.
Is experience all that’s needed to be a writer’s assistant?
With any of the above experiences under your belt, your resume should be able to get you at least considered to be a writer’s assistant.
But you’ll need at least one sample pilot / existing story / standout spec script of an existing television show to show the showrunner looking to hire you that you have potential as a TV writer.
How do you impress in another field to become a TV writer?
By succeeding in another creative avenue outside of TV and film production, you can sometimes leverage your intellectual property or creative voice to pitch yourself as a TV writer to executives, managers, and showrunners.
There are now many avenues for creatives to get their voice out there. You might write and produce your feature film or an award-winning indie play.
You might be a viral TikTok personality or create your comedy, educational, or true crime narrative fiction podcast.
You could be an author, a web series creator, an essayist, or a viral Instagram creator. You may have had a series of short stories published or written some material for video games that went on to get popular.
If you can generate enough interest in another creative field, you can use that interest to leverage attention from managers, producers, and creative executives – even from companies like Netflix.
However, the way that big-time names get development deals is by being just that – big-time names.
While creating buzzworthy content outside the TV industry can get you potential meetings, don’t expect those meetings to become a career without doing the work.
You also have to develop your voice as a TV writer, or you’ll never be the one doing the TV writing.
Expect that if you do team up with a production company or producer to option an idea, they will want to partner you with a working, produced writer or showrunner to make your creative writing more palatable to a potential buyer.
Audrey Knox at The Cartel says,
“You don’t always have to go through a prodco if you know an EP (or your manager reps one) who also responds to the idea. In fact, that’s probably even better than a prodco these days, who’d want to probably also attach a showrunner anyway.”Audrey Knox, manager at The Cartel
The only way you control your power in the television industry, even with a great idea, is to write your material.
So no matter what avenue you take to become a TV screenwriter, the first thing to do is to make sure you write your TV pilots.
What’s the number one rule to make it as a screenwriter for TV?
It may seem trivial to write when no one is asking for your work. It may seem impossible to get your work read.
It may seem frustrating that no one wants to buy your brilliant idea and let you be a first-time writer, director, or auteur showrunner at the age of 24.
It doesn’t matter – keep writing your scripts!
Keep reading other people’s scripts.
Keep absorbing advice.
Keep trying to better yourself and learn new strategies to break into the industry.
You may not have done it yet, but the only way to succeed is to keep trying.
So what’s the number one secret to becoming a TV writer? What’s the best way to break in? What’s the secret behind all skilled writers? Keep writing!!
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