On March 24th, WeScreenplay, in partnership with the Meryl Streep-backed The Writers Lab, held a great panel as part of Actions for Positive Change, an ongoing virtual series where we explore specific ways to amplify diversity and inclusion in screenwriting.
“Writers In Their Prime: Navigating a Screenwriting Career At Any Age” featured Co-Founder of The Writers Lab Elizabeth Kaiden, The Writers Lab alum and ScreenCraft Drama Winner Kenyetta Raelyn, and accomplished writing team Mark & Anna Casadei. This panel focused on the specific challenges of starting a writing career at a later age in life and offered fantastic best practices, tips, and tricks.
Watch the full panel below and then continue on for 5 key takeaways!
Age and experience can be your biggest advantage
Often writers who are starting out later in life can feel like they are behind in some way, or like their age is a disadvantage. The panelists reiterated numerous times that while the industry does have a bad reputation regarding ageism, things are changing, and age and experience can be your biggest advantage.
Mark Cadadei said that “no one has ever asked us our age.” The important thing has been “do you have a good story? We want to hear your story… Fade out isn’t the end of the script, literally it’s just the beginning. Now you have to transform your mind into a business-person… you sell yourself along with your story…they are meeting YOU. They want to see who YOU are as an individual. So, when someone comes in with all of these life experiences, it has started to perk a lot of people up. And they go, ‘holy cow that’s a pretty interesting backstory you have there. You’ve got some pretty cool things that you can add’.”
Elizabeth Kaiden added that the “best thing to share when you are a writer… best foot to put forward… is who you are. Because truthfully, if you’re a writer, you’re a storyteller, and it’s simply a matter of how well you tell your story. Quite frankly another 25-year-old writer from Los Angeles who has had no life experience and studies screenwriting in college is just not interesting. Whereas an engineer from Dayton, Ohio or an ex-military kid from Alaska might have some really interesting things to say, might have her own sense of humor, might even come with grey hair and glasses, and still make you crack up. How do YOU tell your own story?”
“Even before your scripts, especially when you’re taking meetings, the first thing you are selling is you.” Kenyetta Raelyn reiterated, “So, regardless of your age, you have to know who you are, and…you have to learn how to present yourself in a certain way and take the time to invest in yourself to figure that out.”
You don’t have to live in NY or LA to start a writing career
Building a career is all about community, networking, and knowledge, and the doors have been blown wide open for writers to have access to all of that at their fingertips.
It might take longer to get a career off the ground if you don’t live in a major city for the entertainment industry, but it’s not impossible. And truly, especially for this circumstance, there has never been a better time to leverage social media.
Anna Casadei mentioned that “while living in Alaska, [she went to UCLA online]…and got [her] screenwriting Masters certificate through there, and one of those scripts got optioned and went into development.” She also “got a Manager. It was all through networking, through social media… As long as you are willing to put yourself out there…you’re going to find those opportunities…you have to be more aggressive in a nice way, being your own advocate, being proactive, and getting yourself out there meeting the right people because you need that combination of good, solid work and connections.”
Mark Casadei then emphasized that it’s great to visit the market you want to work in one to two times a year. Specifically, he would meet someone on social media and then also in real life, to help grow those relationships.
“The pandemic has changed everything….People are more willing to meet online, which gives you more options about where you can be and that wasn’t the case just 2 years ago.” Kenyetta Raelyn said. She also was clear that “you have to have a social media presence” and it’s important to be on the right side of the “digital divide. You must have a Twitter presence…at least a Facebook presence.”
Mark and Kenyetta both offered that there are a number of great lists of industry professionals to follow on Twitter. These lists include prominent writers, managers, and executives. As Kenyetta said, “There are movers and shakers in the TV world,” adding that it “gathers all their voices so you can subscribe and just get them in your feed… [that way you’re] on the pulse of what’s happening.”
Contests can catapult your career
Contests like the numerous ones offered here at WeScreenplay are a fantastic way to get your name and your work out there.
In order to get that first general meeting, Elizabeth stated that “competitions, labs, any of those kinds of contests that you can apply to are helpful just in terms of cracking open the door. Because then you can write a letter saying, ‘hey, I’m one of the finalists from, or hey, I just attended this lab’, and it’s just a way to bring you up out of the crowd a bit so somebody might actually respond to you.”
Sarah Eagen, WeScreenplay’s Head of Writer Development who moderated the panel, added, “We just had our spring Diverse Voices Lab…and there were general meetings that we set up for our writers. So, all the writers that were selected for the lab had general meetings with production companies, with literary managers or agents if they were still looking for representation, as well as group calls with some executives. So, they are getting that practice, they are getting those first meetings, so when they go in to pitch their own thing it’s not going to be a foreign experience.”
Your bio matters more than your resume
For those who have come to writing after having another career, there can be an intimidation factor when it comes to lack of experience in the industry on a resume. The good news? The consensus is that your bio matters more than your resume.
Mark said that “What you do in your day job can actually help you… if you’re a Chef and you write a story about culinary, and they see that in your background, they love that!” Anna added, “It’s going to show on the page.” And Mark went on to encourage everyone to “never be afraid to put your life experience [out there] if it directly relates, especially to the story you’re pitching to them…People love to know that you know what you’re talking about.”
Kenyetta agreed, “It’s rare that anyone asks [her] for a resume, they’re more interested in a bio. So, [she] think[s] it’s really important to [craft a great bio]. 250 words are really all you need.” She also added that it’s good to incorporate your life experience into that 250-word bio “in a way that relates with what you write about.”
A manager can help augment your hustle
Often when seeking representation, writers go straight to looking for an agent and by-pass partnering with a manager. Mark mentioned that “the reality is, that as a new writer starting out, you aren’t going to get an agent… an agent’s job is to make money… they want a client that they know they can market.” He went on to say that “a manager is a different story. And what’s nice about managers – managers work not only with you on your writing if you can find a good manager – but they work on your career progression and how that’s going to look.”
A great tip that came up, is to look for a manager in smaller boutique agencies with 20 to 30 clients. Elizabeth added that “the young managers who don’t yet have a big client roster are hungry to do some hustling to find their people that they can do some hustling for,” are great to partner with. “The most important thing in finding a manager match… that you find someone you like and get, who likes and gets you and what you’re writing.”
Mark also emphasized that “you are still responsible for your own hustle”, but a manager “helps augment your hustle” to which Anna stated that you “need someone with the same level of hustle as you or higher”.
When asked about the key to getting representation, all of the panelists reiterated that a writer needs to be at the point where they are ready for representation. They once again stated that it’s a business and you have to be marketable. Kenyetta talked about using the contests that you enter and place in or win, as leverage to open doors. Mark added that when seeking representation, it’s important to have a great portfolio with multiple scripts. He said to “have at least a minimum of 3 to 5 screenplays that you can show to them and say this is what I do.” Whether those scripts are in the same genre or different genres, those scripts need to be polished, solid, and ready to go.
In conclusion, each panelist reiterated that no matter what age you are, the life you have lived and the experiences that you have had, all contribute to why your voice is valuable.
The final deadline for the WeScreenplay Diverse Voices Screenwriting Lab is April 15th. Don’t miss your chance to enter!
Helenna Santos is an actor, writer, producer, and was the founder/editor-in-chief of Ms. In The Biz for its seven-year run. As an actor, she has been seen most recently in CW’s THE FLASH, ABC’s A MILLION LITTLE THINGS, and THE GOOD DOCTOR as well as THE BABY-SITTERS CLUB on Netflix. Helenna produced and starred in the female-driven sci-fi/thriller feature film The Shasta Triangle and the adventure movie At Your Own Risk. Her work as a contributing writer has been featured in MovieMaker Magazine, Backstage Magazine, IndieWire, Film Inquiry, and BUST Magazine, and she can often be found on panels at conventions such as San Diego Comic-Con. Connect with her on Instagram and Twitter!