From time to time, I like to remind readers of this simple fact: You don’t need to spend a dime to learn the craft of screenwriting. If you devote any time trolling the online universe of script consultants and screenwriting ‘gurus’, this is likely a message you will never hear or see, and for good reason: They want your money.
To be fair, some of these outfits may provide value for dollars spent. Others not much or at all. I hear from writers quite often about their experiences with various online screenwriting ventures and man, let me tell you, it’s the wild, wild effing West out there.
So again, you can learn the craft of screenwriting with minimal expense. Here are 5 tips:
1. Watch movies.
2. Read scripts.
3. Write pages.
I coined this mantra myself about 5 years ago. You can read my thoughts on it here.
You can watch movies for cheap by checking out DVDs from your local library. Subscribe to a streaming service like Netflix where you have literally hundreds of movies you can call up on demand. One of the advantages of digital delivery systems for movies nowadays is the quality doesn’t degrade, which means you can go to theaters that offer late runs for $4-5 and you won’t have to suffer through a scratched print.
You can read scripts for free. There are 114 movie scripts currently hosted on this site, not only free, they’re legal because each has been made available to the public by studios and prod cos during their annual For Your Consideration campaigns. Of course, there are lots of other sites online that host thousands of scripts illegally. While I can’t recommend them, you can find them. Point is, scripts are easily available and they cost nothing to download and read.
You can write pages for free. If you don’t have a screenwriting software program, you can use Celtx which basic level costs precisely $0.00.
4. Study the pros. Why would you even think about giving your money to a script consultant or screenwriting ‘guru’ who is not or has not been a professional screenwriter or TV writer? Much about the craft of screenwriting can only be learned by working in the front lines of the business in Hollywood or other entertainment centers around the world. How to get the low-down from professional writers? Easy. Interviews. I would imagine there are tens of thousands of Q&A’s online with professional screenwriters and TV writers. You can start here on my site:
There is the Scriptnotes podcast with screenwriters John August and Craig Mazin.
There is The Moment podcast with screenwriter Brian Koppelman.
There is The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith podcast featuring interviews with screenwriters and filmmakers.
And there are my interviews with screenwriters and filmmakers, each going in-depth into their stories, approach to creativity and writing process.
All of these resources are available for free, wisdom dripping from the minds and mouths of actual professional writers with nary a dime spent.
5. Use free online writing resources. Rely on the good ones, writers who dispense solid insight and inspiration about the craft. There are several out there. One I’ll mention: Terrible Minds, hosted by Chuck Wendig. Wonderful site. And of course, there’s Go Into The Story. We are approaching 17,000 posts, so the archives here provide a wealth of helpful, free information.
That said, you may feel the need for guidance in learning the craft, and there are good arguments to be made to support this choice. But before you commit any financial resources to anything, research the hell out of whatever outfit you’re considering. Think long and hard about whether whatever services they offer will help you grow as a screenwriter. Go in knowing that the odds against you achieving any financial success from writing are extremely long. Make sure you’re doing this because you love writing.
If you have any doubts, remember: You don’t need to spend a dime to learn the craft of screenwriting. You can get everything you need to know by immersing yourself in this process: Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages. Study the pros. Use free online writing resources. It’s not an easy process. It requires a special kind of dedication and incredible persistence. But you can do it.
Final thought. If you have questions about a particular online screenwriting outfit, but aren’t sure about if they’re any good or not, feel free to email me. Having been involved in online education since 2002 and hosted this blog since 2008, I have a pretty good sense of what’s what out there. More than willing to share my thoughts with you.