Screenwriting, The Industry & COVID-19: Where Are We Now? Volume 3

It seems like a lifetime ago when the first installment and second installment of this column was released back in April. So many things have changed. And… so many haven’t. In truth, I was busy recording UNSCRIPTED with Final Draft for much of the onset of the pandemic; releasing volume after volume of industry updates seemed like overkill.

As we’ve all settled into our own particular brand of new normal, I started thinking about going back to blogging more. However, jumping straight back into blog posts about setting deadlines and taking notes (which, I promise, will still be coming) seemed a bit short sighted without first acknowledging where things stand now for screenwriters both working and looking to break into the industry.

While we are certainly nowhere near where we were on March 1st, 2020, there is plenty of good news to go around, so read through, and hopefully, like me, you will be very encouraged by the direction things are going!

2020 Staffing/Zoom Rooms
The 2020 Staffing Season has been a wonky season, to say the least! Traditionally, staffing season goes from April through early June; this year, because of the pandemic, staffing season (if there even was one) didn’t really get into full(ish) swing until the summer. While some rooms have continued through from last season to this one with very little interruption, most rooms for returning shows broke when filming was stopped mid-March, with many rooms not coming back until June, July or even August. Even upon their return, rooms returned virtually, as Zoom rooms which, to my knowledge, is how most (if not all) writers room are now operating.

The good news? I did have two writers staff for the first time this past season. It is always difficult to land that first job, and significantly more so in the thick of a pandemic, when most show runners prefer to hire writers they’ve worked with before, who will be known quantities in the room. However, I am happy to report that two of my writers did land their first staffing gigs during this tumultuous season, while a number of others landed spots on returning shows that were new to them, or got staff on entirely new shows.   

TV Writing Programs
Even though application deadlines were delayed this year due to the pandemic and social unrest that coincided with many original application deadlines, the network TV writing programs have kept on track with the selection of this years’ fellows, and in some cases even increased their pool of selected fellows, indicating confidence in helping even more writers get into writers’ rooms and break open their screenwriting career. At this time, WB, NBC and CBS have all announced their 2020-2021 classes; The ABC/Disney program is currently conducting interviews.

The TV writing programs remain a vetted and established path for breaking into TV writing. Whether you’ve never applied before and are thinking about throwing your hat into the ring in 2021, or did not receive the traction you had hoped for and are thinking about submitting again, I urge you to plan ahead and set the appropriate goals and deadlines in order to be able to make those submissions in 2021.

This year, I had 3 writers get into programs: One into CBS, one into NBC’s Writers on the Verge, and one into WB’s TV Writers Workshop; while my CBS fellow was a first-time submitter, my WB fellow was a finalist two years running before getting in on his third year as finalist, having previously submitted a number of times before getting any traction. For most writers, it takes multiple years to get into these programs, but once you’re in, it’s a whole new ballgame!

Production: Feature Film & Television
Even though we are, by no stretch, back in full swing, production on both the feature and TV front, have picked up. Just this morning, on my regular walk, I encountered a familiar site: Production trucks at my local park, which has doubled for an east-coast park in many a movie and TV show, so… it’s happening!

This is not to say that there hasn’t been a slow-down, or that we are going at the same clip as before. COVID-19 has certainly introduced a myriad of complications, both logistical and cost related, into physical production. However, even though it slowed production down, it by no means stopped it!

Feature Spec Sales
As studios and production companies now have a backlog of movies getting ready to go into prep and production, feature specs have been… challenging, to say the least. But even though the summer was slow, and we only saw specs that come from established scribes complete with a package (i.e. attachment of actors or director that brought the script added value), September brought with it a HUGE sale for a new writer: BRING ME BACK, written by my client Crosby Selander sold as a naked spec (i.e. spec script without any attachments) in a seven-figure deal. That is unheard of for a new writer!

While I don’t expect to see this type of deal for a brand-new writer again any time soon, I am over the moon knowing that this sort of deal, the sort that we’ve not seen for a new writer in over a decade, is still possible. In just two short months Crosby went from completely unknown writer to finalist in the Script Pipeline screenwriting contest, to a repped writer, to a writer with a spec sold in a major, major deal now taking meetings all over the industry. It makes me excited to know that all of this, as far as new writers are concerned, while not easy to achieve (and BRING ME BACK is a wonderful screenplay), is still very much possible!

Getting Repped in the Time of COVID
There is no question: Many reps, now confined to working from home, juggling family and work responsibilities, have lost a lot of bandwidth, making their working hours more limited than ever before. And because staffing and selling is more limited for some at the moment, many are opting to focus all of their time and efforts on getting their existing clients working.

However (and this is a BIG however), despite hearing all of the above continuously as the new realities of a COVID-19 realities set in, I had 8 writers get representation from the start of the pandemic through the end of the summer. These writers got signed through a variety of avenues: Referrals, contest placement, using services like Virtual Pitch Fest and Roadmap Writers, as well as, impressively, through a query letter.

The bottom line? While managers are stretched even thinner than before, writers with strong work on their hands and clear brands are getting signed. So whether you are making the most of something like ScreenCraft’s Pitch Week, Austin Film Festival happening this week or one of the services mentioned above, keep pushing forward, because great things, and a variety of success stories, are still very much possible for screenwriters!


Have specific questions about how COVID-19 has affected the screenwriting industry and the prospects for emerging and working screenwriters? Send them to me through my CONTACT FORM and you may just see the answer in a future blogpost!