Can Screenwriters Thrive in New York City?
November 6, 2020
Can screenwriters thrive in New York City?
That’s a great question. First, let me introduce myself: My name is Vanessa King. I am a self-taught screenwriter who grew up in a remote part of Canada. In the early aughts, I moved to New York to pursue my dream of being a screenwriter; 20 years later I work in the entertainment industry and yes, I would say that I am a screenwriter. Yes, you can be a screenwriter in N.Y.C.
But, flag on the play, the real question is, “Can I self-sufficiently live in N.Y.C. as a screenwriter?” Well, is it my main job? No. Is it how I pay my rent each month? No.
What if the real question is, “Is there an entertainment industry in N.Y.C. strong enough for a screenwriter to be willfully employed?” Well, that’s a totally different answer. Yes.
New York is a fun beast for the creative. One might even suggest that prior to the pandemic, a large portion of the city was run by creatives; creatives that work in a multitude of industries to pay their bills, while finding the slivers of joy that allow them to express their artistry. Working actors, working directors, working writers, incredible crew members who bring their talents to the job. Of course things have changed since the industry came to a grinding halt, but at one time New York was bustling with actively working creatives (screenwriters included). The wonderful thing about screenwriting is that it’s a job that can be done solo, with, as we have seen since March 2020, meetings held virtually, whether by zoom, phone or other digital means. It’s also a job that works as a lever to other positions — primarily development positions — within the industry. And though New York has fewer production companies than Los Angeles, the production companies in New York are a part of a tight-knit group of people looking for great talent. If you’re a talented screenwriter with an eye for structure, a passion for story, or the ability to create or perfect great characters, you’ll make your way as a screenwriter in New York City quite nicely.
You may not have as many options to work in a TV writers room (if that’s your jam), there may not be as many studios in N.Y.C. as in Los Angeles, but screenwriters in New York can happily scratch their creative itch working in a variety of positions; as a freelance script reader for one of the many film festivals in N.Y.C., as a script analyst for production companies, working for one of a number of advertising companies in the city, as a freelance or salaried producer. (Most screenwriters make great producers, believe it or not!) You might find work as a screenwriting professor or teacher (you don’t always need that M.A.) or you may find yourself writing a weekly column for Final Draft, ahem. There are lots of ways to make money as a screenwriter in New York, and a million opportunities if you are diligent in perfecting your craft. There are tons of creatives in this city who identify as screenwriters, and lots of resources for screenwriters to bone up both their knowledge and portfolios.
So the long and the short of it, reader, is that well, you may not be able to pay that famous N.Y.C. rent solely as a screenwriter (unless you get that writers room job or get hired as a development executive at a production company) but the opportunities for screenwriters in this city are what kept me here for 20 years (and hopefully will keep me here for 20 more).
Written by: Vanessa KingVanessa King is an NYC-based producer, screenwriter, and professor who has worked in development with top-level industry talent for nearly two decades. Her work as a writer has received numerous awards, having earned her recognition from industry bodies including AMPAS/Oscar’s Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowship (feature) and Sony Worldwide Entertainment’s Emerging Filmmaker Program (TV Series). In 2005, she co-founded the New York Screenwriters Co-Op, New York’s only free-to-the-public screenwriting workshop with over 2000 active members. Vanessa is faculty at Gotham Writer’s Workshop (NYC) and Staffordshire University (UK), where she teaches both television and screenwriting to students, beginner to post-graduate. She recently was Showrunner of the TV pilot “Two Roads”, a concept she co-created and co-wrote for Sony’s VUE Network. Vanessa is passionate about diversity and inclusion within the industry and was a consultant on Final Draft Screenwriting Software’s Diversity and Inclusion product build. She’s a board member of the Diversity List, amplifying top scripts written by female-identifying and BIPOC writers. She is a judge for the Hip Hop Film Festival, The UCLA Graduate Screenwriter’s Showcase and The 24 Hour Film Festival. She was named one of The Huffington Post’s 13 Women To Watch and for three consecutive years, has been named to Vanity Fair’s “Downtown 100”, a list that recognizing New York’s top networkers in the entertainment industry. Originally from Canada, she lives in New York City.