I just got my first pay cheque as a professional screenwriter (for an upcoming Netflix series). Here’s how it happened step-by-step. I hope this helps!
I finished an undergraduate degree in film and left to travel the world for almost 10 years. I supported myself with odd jobs mostly in teaching and care work. Apart from a brief stint in reality TV in the US, I had no relevant experience. Zero.
I returned home to Australia, unemployed and almost 30. My mum encouraged me to do a post-graduate cert in screenwriting. Reluctantly, I agreed. I don’t think a degree is necessary but it did put me in contact with other filmmakers, some of whom helped me make my first film.
I spent two years after film school polishing a feature script. Had no idea what to do with it so I decided to make it with someone I met while studying. We started off by funding it ourselves, like our heroes the Duplass Brothers.
(Spoiler: we did not become the Duplass Brothers.)
We shot the film and had no idea what to do next. Studying the Duplass Brothers' career did not provide any real clues. Crew all moved on to the other projects. I had an unfinished film and I'd skipped making short films to go directly to a feature. I had no fucking idea.
I reached out to a bunch of producers and they mostly ignored me. I knew they probably get these sorts of emails all the time, so I accepted humiliation as the price I had to pay. Friends, I begged.
However. ONE producer did not ignore me. For reasons unknown, he offered to help me finish the film and guided me through everything I had to do to achieve that. It took almost another two years. I spent a lot of time crying on the phone to him.
Finishing that film almost ruined my mental health. I was basically alone, apart from this producer who became my mentor. It was truly one of the worst experiences of my life, I'm not gonna lie. I wanted to quit but if I did, all the trauma have been for nothing.
To top it off, the film didn’t achieve anything like I'd hoped. I entered it in SXSW which was an unrealistic expectation. It didn’t even get into the film festival in my home city. I had to recalibrate what success looked like. Success was finishing the film in the first place.
It didn’t win awards of note. It didn’t get seen by many people. It didn’t get me into major festivals, it didn’t make me an overnight success, there were no studios calling me up. I honestly felt like a failure. Five years of writing and making the film and for what?
What it did was start a relationship with ONE producer who believed in me, despite how much money my film did or didn’t (more accurately) make.
Over the past two years, I’ve developed two screenplays with that producer and am working on a third. I’ve lost faith many times as those screenplays have yet to come to fruition. A truer statement would be that I question why the hell I'm doing this every single day.
But because of that film and those two as-yet-unproduced screenplays, when the producer created a series with Netflix, he asked me to be part of the writers’ room.
This is seven years after I returned to Australia and five years after I began producing my indie feature film. I gave myself 10 years and said if I had made no progress by then, I would reassess my ambitions.
So here’s my take (for what it’s worth). 1) Make the damn film. Write a screenplay, shoot it yourself, be capable of showing someone what you can do. 2) Don’t believe that you are going to “make it” by shooting a single film. It almost never happens.
But most importantly 3) Just because *that* film didn’t do what you hoped it would, it is the first step in a very very fucking long process. It sucks because you’ll probably spend years working on it, but remember that it’s only your first film. Your masterpiece still awaits.
Hope that is useful in any way. As I said, I'm a beginner but happy to answer any questions if I can....
Good morning! I just woke up to this... 😍So glad it is helpful, I always wonder how other people "break in" to an industry that is notoriously difficult. There are some great questions in here, I'll work through them after coffee!
I should clarify, because I've had a lot of questions and comments about this, that I do still have a day job as a copywriter (and have done for years) that supports me while I write in my free time. I am not in a position to quit. I can't speak for how others manage financially.

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