The Akils on Jumpstarting Your Career in Screenwriting

In their Q&A-filled Industry Coaching seminar, Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil provide practical advice on how to become a screenwriter

screenwriting
(Image: Kali Wilder)

Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil brought some tips on screenwriting to the American Black Film Festival this past weekend. In their Q&A-filled Industry Coaching seminar, the two provided candid and practical advice on how to effectively navigate the film and television landscape.

1. Always Work Hard and be Dependable

Starting out, Mara worked as a production assistant and wrote when time allowed. She emphasized that writers write; you have to put in the work in order to reap the benefits of real, sustainable success. But never underestimate the power of hard work; “I was dependable and a hard worker. People can, at times, appreciate that more than talent.”

2. Don’t Get Caught-up in Things That Distract You From Your Goals

Salim mentioned that his journey was spiritual, “The big thing for me was surviving.” When he moved to Los Angeles, he didn’t have anyone to point him in the right direction, “The biggest challenge was not getting caught-up in things that would distract me from path.”

3. Surround Yourself With People Who Support You

“Who do you associate with?” asked Salim. “Is your lover, friend, or circle encouraging or doubtful? We have limited amount of time on this Earth. When I would hear someone sh*t on my goal, I became a surgeon—I cut them out of my life.”

4. When Finding Your Way Into the Industry, Be Creative

Mara suggested a practical, yet creative approach to building your career. For writers, the show-runner may not be your way in; the person in charge may be too busy, not interested, or have a host of other reasons. “Everyone wants to feel good about themselves. Make connections with people other than those at the top. Not all of them are a**holes, they just don’t have the time. Access other ways to introduce yourself to people.”

5. Location Matters

If you want to write for television, you need to be where the industry is. “If you’re in the oil business, you need to be in Saudia Arabia. If you’re in tech, you have to be in Silicon Valley, and if you’re an actor—New York, Los Angeles, or even Atlanta,” says Salim. Both agreed that in order to truly take advantage of opportunities, you need to be located where the opportunities are or at least be able to quickly access them. Mara added, “You need four friends in different cities.”



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