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With so many shows being released on Netflix all the time, you have to wonder: where do they get all these writers to write all these shows? Does Netflix have some secret lab where they incubate and grow writers? Or can anyone get a job working on TV shows that go on Netflix?
In other words, and to sum it up, how do you become a screenwriter for Netflix?
There are many different avenues to become a screenwriter for television, but the most straightforward are the following three methods: 1) become a writer’s assistant on a TV show and get promoted to a staff writer on the show; 2) write an original pilot or three that gets you signed with a manager who can set up meetings for you with showrunners; 3) partner with a production company who will option your show and take it out to buyers, like Netflix, who may purchase and produce your pilot.
Each option has its individual strengths and difficulties, so let’s dive into them all below to find out how you can become a screenwriter for TV – or better yet, a screenwriter for Netflix!
How do you 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 Netflix show by the showrunner, or acing an open submission by getting commissioned from Netflix directly to develop material for them.
Obviously, everyone with a creative bone in their body (who isn’t too pretentious to admit it) would love the chance to create a Netflix original.
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. What an amazing opportunity it would be to get so many eyeballs on something you created!
But becoming a writer for Netflix isn’t so easy. You can’t just call Netflix on the phone or directly hit up their email with your latest script. That would be more straightforward, wouldn’t it?
Unfortunately, that’s not how the film industry works, and Netflix is no exception.
Why can’t you just send your script to Netflix directly?
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 script PDF submissions unless it comes from a trusted source.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to learn this hard truth from first-hand experience, and neither do you. 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.”– Netflix
Pretty straight forward. 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 either asking for material they heard about or follow up to 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.”– Netflix
You see, 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 hear pitches for new shows and movies directly from the creators.
These pitches can be from the writers themselves, set up through their agents and managers, or heard from producing partners, whether those are production companies, producers, or directors that they set meetings with. This is why you need representation to be a TV writer.
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 own ideas internally and then hire writers to develop them – 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; if Netflix had to sit through interviews with every writer that submitted material online or called up the front desk for a meeting, 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’ll 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 to join their team. More on this below.
- Impress in another field entirely. This will take a little more explaining, but 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.
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 read as profitable to them.
Don’t get confused – when I say profitable, I don’t mean to imply that managers and agents are money-grubbing mustache-twirling toxic capitalists only looking for sellable scripts and only caring about the bottom dollar; at least, I don’t mean to imply that about managers (winky face!)
What I do 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 marketing your show to this or that Netflix or see getting you staffed on this or that show.”
If you can do that, then the manager can make a case for signing you because they can make a case for selling you. While managers want to develop you creatively, they also need to develop you professionally to 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 little 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. Do they know any managers, agents, directors, or producers themselves? They might be able to connect you.
Just make sure 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
That said, you might not physically live in Los Angeles, New York, or another film-focused city. There are still plenty of online networking opportunities you can take advantage of to meet people over the internet, especially in today’s world of 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, 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 all 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. In fact, 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 personal 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 things on The Black List is a great way to get your work seen and reviewed, but don’t expect to simply host it online and get it sold to Netflix straight off the 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 to develop your current samples or create new work that will be of interest to the current market. This means you’ll likely spend time writing and turning around drafts before taking your work out to the masses.
They can then 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 might 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 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 then offer to send the treatment over to them. Preferably this document should be a two-page style 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 ask to 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 pages for your own benefit 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 to have 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 for them as a writer’s assistant.
Since we covered how to use reps to get a meeting with a showrunner, we’ll focus on getting a job as a writer’s assistant. There are many avenues for going about becoming qualified to be a writer’s assistant, so I’ll briefly summarize a few of them so you get an idea of how it works.
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 chain of production until you get promoted.
However, you’ll usually need to switch shows to get a promotion when it’s one of your first jobs, since there may be a hierarchy already in place with PAs ahead of you in line, especially if you join a show on it’s third or fourth season.
Jumping from a PA to a headset PA to a writer’s PA is one of the most viable pathways to becoming qualified to get hired on 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, these job positions will make you qualified to get hired as a writer’s assistant and are especially useful 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 with you but who have now got promoted to execs or managers themselves.
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 are a way for college students to get access to qualifications to be a personal assistant.
Still, if you are part of 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 experience under your belt, your resume should be able to get you at least considered to be a writer’s assistant.
But the other thing you’ll need is at least one sample pilot to show the showrunner looking to hire you that you have potential as a TV writer as well.
How do you impress in another field to become a TV writer?
By succeeding in another creative avenue, 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 own feature film or an award-winning indie play. You might be a viral TikTok personality or create your own comedy, educational, or true crime narrative fiction podcast.
You could be an author, a web series creator, essayist, or viral Instagram creator. If you can generate enough interest in another creative field, you can use that interest to leverage interest 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 turn into a career.
You also have to be developing 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 of yours that they will want to partner you with a working, produced writer to make your work 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 this industry, even with a great idea, is to write your own material. So no matter what avenue you take to become a TV screenwriter, make sure you write your own 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, or it may seem frustrating that no one wants to buy your clearly brilliant idea and let you be a first time writer, director, 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? Keep writing!!
P.s: If you found any of the information here helpful, follow Audrey Knox on Twitter! She is an extremely talented writer and a manager at The Cartel. She often talks to writers directly on her feed, gives advice, and boosts helpful threads from the community, so don’t miss out!
Grant Harvey is a freelance writer, screenwriter, and filmmaker based out of Los Angeles. When he’s not working on his own feature-length screenplays and television pilots, Grant uses his passion and experience in film and videography to help others learn the tools, strategies, and equipment needed to create high-quality videos as a filmmaker of any skill level.