Screenwriters Guild and Writers Guild

OK, I want to write screenplays in the US and sell them. The real deal. I have real idea how the union situation works. Your help will be appreciated.

  1. Do I have to join the Screenwriters Guild in order to sell a script?

  2. Do I have also to join the Writers Guild of America to sell a script?

  3. In other words, do I have to join either or both? Or does join one cover me?

Also, any other information on what formalities I must follow in order to be a real screenwriter in the movie industry. Thanks!

I just looked at their websites.

The Screenwriters Guild is a professional organization.

The Writers Guild of America is a labor union.

They serve different purposes.

No. In fact, if you sell a script to a major studio signatory to the guild agreements, you will inherit some (though not necessarily all) of the benefits. After your first sale, you will need to join if you want to sell anything else, though. Selling to smaller, independent production companies is a different ball game, as not all of them are signatory to the various guild agreements.

Move to Los Angeles. Oh, and cross your fingers and hope real, real hard.

Cervaise is correct, of course, but I want to expand on it just a bit.

To limit it to screenplays, the simplest way of putting it is that you have to sell a script before you can become a member of the Writers Guild. After you sell that first script, you must become a member to work on any union production.

Most “major Hollywood movies” are union productions. So are most major television programs. These are what are usually thought of as the “industry.”

Outside the unionized industry are various kinds of independent, educational, industrial, and just plain outlaw films. Most of them are eminently respectable, but the pay is much lower and they can be fairly specialized. Some writers may start there just for the experience.

There have been several threads in Café Society about the extreme difficulty of getting into films. The usual advice - and the best - is: give up everything you are doing in life, move to Los Angeles, and work the angles and every contact you can find until you have some kind of lucky break. And you probably should have gone to film school and be no more than 22.

Go carefully through the website. There is a lot of good information there.

I don’t doubt a word you say, but please indulge me a bit. I’ve heard that directors and producers lament the lack of good scripts out there. I’ve had some small successes in theater and think I can write a good story. Is really so much just connections and whatnot? Couldn’t writing that is a cut above get you noticed by an agent and get the ball rolling?

Moving to LA is definitely not for me. Of all the big cities in the US, that’s pretty much close to my list-bottom in terms of interest. Nothing really against it, just no interest.

Actually, the sp I’m working on right now I’m thinking of targeting at the British film industry, as it’s an adaption of an 18th-century play (with lots of reworking and original content added). I wonder if Britain would be different?

I am semi-naive here, I know it. I know that everyone in the world has a screenplay, that trillions are written every year, and that everyone thinks s/he’s going to win the lottery with his/her unique idea.

Perhaps the remaining naive portion could be dispelled with something like this:

No, dude, you just don’t know how bad it really is! It’s impossible. It’s hell.

Is it like that?

Why do you say that, out of curiosity? One of my lifelong dreams has been to finish a screenplay. I missed film school when I was younger because I couldn’t afford it (though I’m in school now as an English major and I might have an emphasis or minor in film) and I turned 23 two weeks ago.

I always tell this anecdote in screenplay threads but I like it so I’m going to tell it again:

It’s been said that the first thing you do is write the perfect screenplay. Then don’t tell anybody about it, lock it in a chest, bury it in your basement, cover it in concrete and go upstairs and go to bed. The next morning when you wake up there will be agents down there digging it up.

Do you mean that literally writting that is good can overcome the lack of connections and interest in LA shmoozing? If so, that is heartening.

I believe the man who said that was John Hicks, professor of screenwriting at UCLA, but I can’t remember for sure. Anyway, I’m not qualified to support or deny the quote; like I said, I’ve never even completed a screenplay. I just like it because I also think it’s heartening (though I’m more concered with actually finishing the screenplay than I am with selling it or having it filmed.)

“22” was just a joke, because that’s the typical age for a U.S. college graduate.

Film school is highly preferred for several reasons. People who go there are highly dedicated and motivated, they learn all aspects of filmmaking (which makes it easier to write a proper script), and their ability can be more easily judged. And it’s easier to recruit from that pool, just as major corporations go to Business Schools to recruit MBAs.

The alternative is to have a camera in your hand from puberty onward, make lots of short films and then longer films, plunge into the extensive world of film festivals and get a reputation. Or, these days, go online and do computer animation until you get someone’s attention.

Getting attention from somebody is key. Hollywood is a mindset. Nothing exists outside of it. If you are not in Los Angeles and not making contacts you are not going about the business in a professional fashion.

The only exception is to become famous first. Write a Pulitzer-Prize winning novel (Michael Chabon). Become the world’s best-selling author (Stephen King). Believe it or not, it is far easier to get onto The New York Times Bestseller list with your first book than it is to sell a screenplay from outside the business. The former has happened. Somebody may know of a recent example of the latter, but I don’t.

The British film industry is even more insular than Hollywood.

No, they don’t. They lament the lack of $400 million grossing super-spectaculars. Every film studio is already sitting on a pile of literally thousands of scripts that nobody will make.

Critics and other outsiders lament the lack of good scripts, but they don’t count.

You are being wildly over-optimistic. There, does that help? :smiley: