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December 13, 2021

Best Screenwriting Fellowships: What You Need To Know

When it comes to getting your work out there, you might think there's just one route: write a fantastic script and bag yourself a well-connected agent who successfully pitches to Netflix or one of the big studios on your behalf.

It's pretty rare to make your entry into the world of television and film through this route. Another route: the screenwriting fellowship involves you winning some money and sponsorship to develop your ideas.

What Is A Screenwriting Fellowship?

A screenwriting fellowship is a win-win situation for the writer and the studio. The studio nurtures talented writers from exciting backgrounds and helps guide their ideas and creativity into something that fits their aims and outlook.

This is much more effective for executives than wading through a 'slush pile' of scripts that might not fit exactly what they are looking for. It's also less restrictive and less expensive than hiring a staff writer.

As the writer, you will often get the support you need to take your project to the next level, a budget to help you live, and quit your day job while you pursue your project. You will have a sounding board to bounce your ideas off, and if you struggle with anything, you have people to reach out to.

Even if your first script doesn't get made, your career is likely to progress.

Are Fellowships For You?

Screenwriting fellowships might sound impressive, but you must weigh up the pros and cons.

First, remember you might not have complete freedom to write what you want. If you already have bags of ideas you want to develop and you've got quite far into the planning stages, you need to be prepared for executives to tell you they want you to work on something fresh.

If you've already gone to the trouble of working on a pilot, don't assume winning a fellowship will mean an executive will let you carry on writing future episodes to get it on screen.

Screenwriting fellowships give you an insight into the inner workings of the film and TV industry, such as this brainstorming meeting at PIXAR.
A look inside PIXAR's writing room. All rights reserved.

Consider whether you'd rather be free to pursue your work and then try and pitch it later. Remember, screenwriting fellowships can be akin to apprenticeships. It would help if you thought about what you learn from the industry as much as the finished product: you might finish the fellowship with nothing on paper or screen to show for it, but you will have learned a lot of skills.

What To Expect

If you win a fellowship - especially one with a monetary prize - then that will come with certain expectations that you don't have if you are writing in your spare time.

You are going to be expected to write something within a set period. For example, if you like working at your own pace and it takes several years to perfect a pilot, this might not be for you.

If you apply for a feature film fellowship, you will undoubtedly be expected to work on a feature film. However, if you decide you'd rather write for television, then this could cause you issues.

You will probably be exposed to table reads and high-level meetings. Take in as much information as possible; take notes and think about how anything you write might be perceived.

Winning a fellowship can make you feel great and inflate your ego since it is framed as competition. Don't let your ego get in the way. Getting selected means you meet all the requirements that the organizers were looking for.

Don't assume that when they say 'jump,' you have to ask 'how high?' Establish what you want and ask key questions of the executives and agents you meet.

Share your ideas for scripts and your ideal workflow. They might be willing to let you work on these on your own terms. But if their terms aren't for you, it's okay to consider walking away.

Contacts, Contacts, Contacts

At the end of your fellowship, you should have built up a roster of contacts to help you in your future career.

If you see a fellowship as an end-to-itself, you might not get as much out of it as possible. See this as your opportunity to gain as much experience in the industry as you can.

If you don't develop anything during your fellowship, then you will have an open the door to executives in the industry when you are ready to pitch a script later in your career; this is something that most writers starting don't have and means your script is more likely to be read.

Best Screenwriting Fellowships In 2022

So what fellowships are worth entering? Here are a few you should consider.

Sundance Screenwriters Lab

Sundance is one of the biggest film festivals in the world. Every summer, their screenwriters' lab invites writers working on their first or second movies to apply. The winners get to attend a five-day workshop where they can connect with industry professionals.

This is an excellent opportunity for you if you're interested in working on a feature film.

Warner Brothers Writing Workshop

Not so much a fellowship as a workshop, this is one of the longest-running schemes in the film and TV industry.

Everybody knows Warner Brothers - the company behind everything from Harry Potter to Bugs Bunny. The idea behind this scheme is for the studio to handpick some top talent to nurture into one of their converted staff writing positions.

Note you have to write a spec script for a Warner Brothers Show listed on their page. If writing for an established show with preconceived characters and locations doesn't interest you, then this is not the writing fellowship for you.

Walt Disney Fellowship

How would you like to be paid around $1,000 a week ($50,000 per year) to write a script for Disney? If this sounds like your dream job, then be sure to apply for this one. The fellowship lasts one year and is in partnership with ABC.

Remember that this fellowship aims not to produce a writer who can write his feature films and shows but become a staff writer at Disney or another big studio. This means you'll be writing episodes of existing series and working in a team with other writers.

Applications for this fellowship usually open in May every year. Be sure to keep an eye on their site and social media.

Ready to Apply For Screenwriting Fellowships?

You will never know if you don't apply. So, start applying today! Know that you know everything you need to know about these screenwriting fellowships, goodluck!

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Best Screenwriting Fellowships: What You Need To Know
Harry Cunningham

Harry is a professional writer. His first novel The Talk Show was published in the U.S and the U.K by Bloodhound Books in 2021 and he is currently working on adapting it for screen. He's also written for Media Magazine - a UK magazine for students of A-level Film, Media and Television Studies. In addition, he was a senior ghostwriter at Story Terrace from 2015- 2021, the private memoir firm.

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