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Should you be a TV writer or a feature film screenwriter?


Feature screenwriting vs. TV writing

There are some huge differences between pursuing TV and pursing feature film screenwriting. Some of the differences are in the type of writing you'll do and the stories you'll tell. But at the end of the day storytelling is storytelling, and many TV shows are starting to feel like chopped up movies. So, the real differences lie in the type of work environment you prefer.


First let's look at the difference between the career side of these two pursuits.


Writing differences between TV Writing and Feature Screenwriting


Do you ever want to finish a story? If this need is deep within you, then you probably want to avoid TV writing. Most of your creative energy in TV writing will be focused on TV pilots. In other words, you are spending your time starting stories. These scripts will, for the most part, be used as samples to pitch yourself to TV shows. On the rare occasion, you may experience a sale. On an even rarer occasion, that sale will lead to a network or streamer ordering your TV show to series and you'll be able to write a full season of TV. But in all likelihood, most of your TV pilot scripts will result in just that, a pilot script. And you need to be okay with that if you're going to focus on TV writing.


Now, maybe you like exploring characters over many different episodes. That would be a major plus in the TV category. Of course you can certainly create a feature-length character study, but TV allows you the time to really see that through and take it in different directions that the more finite nature of a feature script does not.


Career differences between TV Writing and Feature Screenwriting


This is where the heart of the differences lie. The differences between these two different paths are vast. Let's start by looking at a typical feature screenwriter's work. They write a script, they try to sell it. Maybe they get a job on a rewrite or a polish from a production company or studio. But for the most part, they are writing scripts and hoping to sell them. Sometimes the lucky ones are getting paid beforehand to write a script, but that's not how it works for the majority. Very feast or famine, even for a feast or famine type of industry.


Now let's look at TV writing. This same phenomenon exists. You write a TV pilot script or a pitch for your TV show and you try to sell it. Sometimes it sells, sometimes it doesn't. So far, kind of the same. The difference is that almost every TV show has a TV writers' room, jobs on other TV shows that you're brought on as a staff writer to write on. This provides tons of jobs for TV writers and it's how the vast majority of TV writers sustain themselves throughout their career. This simply does not exist in feature writing.


This was the main reason I chose TV over pursuing feature screenwriting. Actually, this was the reason I felt like I didn't have a choice. I saw jobs in the TV world. In the feature world, I did not. And this doesn't mean you can't work in both. But there will be more work in the TV world through the very nature of TV writers' rooms.


It's not an either/or


This is an important thing to keep in mind. Just because you pursue one doesn't mean you have to forgo the other. These pursuits can work in tandem. However, when you're looking at writing your first or second script, that will feel at the time like a monumental task. So, it's a good time to check in with yourself and decide whether that Herculean effort is better spent on a feature or a TV pilot script. And it's important to recognize what you like and don't like about either path.

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Hello!

I'm Anton, a TV writer and author of Breaking Into TV Writing, a book about the business of TV writing and how to get your foot in the door.

 

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