As a script writer for hire I work a lot with young writers starting out. Back in my day, it was seen that the career progression for script writers was to do a couple of short films and then start hawking around your longer scripts.
I’d say this is still pretty much the way writers start out in the industry, but how useful are short films for a writer’s career?
I hit the pay dirt on my first short film. It starred Ewan McGregor, and was launched with a lot of publicity and continued to get me meetings and interest from agents for years. It won a nationwide competition and I even got to feature in a documentary on CH4.
It was a useful experience because I got to work with an experienced producer, I got to work with a young director, I was on set everyday and helped with the production. I saw actors play out my scenes. I was in the edit. This was all very useful and I learned an awful lot – most importantly that being a screenwriter is actually about working with a lot of people. Not just sitting in your room and writing.
But how useful was it for my career, did anyone watch the short film and commission me for further work? Short answer is NO. Did the film help the director’s career? Short answer – yes I think so.
For directors, to be able to tell a good working story in ten minutes, to make it visually exciting and work well with actors. To even be able to deliver a short film on time and on budget with the minimum fuss, and stay friends with the producer is all good for their career. I’d say short films are a better training ground for directors and producers than for writers.
So, what should a starting out script writer (young or old) do? I’d say that it’s fine to go ahead and make some short films, make sure that you enter them in film festivals and promote them. But, don’t rely on them to further your career.
Your spec script is the most important thing, and I’d advise that your spec script is the piece of work that will get you jobs, an agent and meetings. Your spec script is your showreel – not your short film (that’s the director’s showreel).
Matthew Cooper has been a script writer for hire for over 20 years. He’s written for most of the UK soaps, including writing award winning episodes of Emmerdale, EastEnders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs and has been BAFTA shortlisted and Royal Television Society nominated as a script writer. He also works as a content writer for hire and as a UK script consultant. You can find some of his broadcast credits on the IMDb. You can get in touch with Matthew on firstname.lastname@example.org or hire him on Peopleperhour