How to Land a Screenwriting Gig on UpWork



Writing isn’t an easy field to break into. Anyone with a keyboard can throw words on a page and call it writing. Those of us who went to school for our craft may have found some success. However, most of us are still looking for that big break into the field.


You aren’t going to find freelance work on LinkedIn or Indeed. Most of the time, your applications will be chewed up and spat out by computer bots looking for specific keywords. If these ‘professional’ job boards have got you down, it may be time to switch gears. UpWork might be the answer you’re looking for.


What is Upwork?


UpWork, in a nutshell, is an online job board built for freelancers. Similar to other websites like Fiverr.com and Freelancer.com, UpWork allows you to create a freelancing profile, set your rate, display your work, and submit proposals to jobs in your field.


UpWork differs from so-called ‘professional’ job boards because most of the work posted is by real people looking for freelancers. You won’t be battling bots and computer programs to get your resumes seen. In fact, you won’t be submitting actual resumes too often. The idea is to build relationships with people looking to outsource their work to freelancers.


How to Set up your UpWork Profile


When getting started on UpWork, it helps if you organize your strengths like a pyramid, with your best skills at the top and things you’re capable of at the bottom. Don’t hyper-focus on one field, especially if you’re a screenwriter looking to find gigs on UpWork (more on that later). Be open to content writing as well.


Strong Bio


Make sure the first paragraph of your bio tells potential clients everything they need to know about you in 300 characters or less. Make them want to click the ‘read more’ button to find out everything. However, don’t make your bio 5,000 characters long. Nobody is reading that. Oh, and invest in Grammarly, it’s absolutely worth it.


Your intro paragraph damn-well better show off your writing talents.

Verify identity


Your goal, when starting, is to get a blue ‘verified’ checkmark on your profile. Don’t worry; you don’t need thousands of Twitter followers to do so. All you need to do is complete the Identity Verification tab under your settings. Follow the steps necessary and put a smile on during your Zoom interview.


Building your Portfolio


One of UpWork’s downsides is the Portfolio building portal, especially for writers. If you are a graphic designer or artist, the portal is great for visuals. However, writers need people to read their work to prove their abilities, and UpWork’s portfolio section doesn’t bode well. However, there are a few workarounds.


  • Images of your award laurels

  • Use the Case Study template and link to written work/portfolios online.


Take the UpWork Readiness Test


Under the ‘Find Work’ tab, you’ll see UpWork Readiness Test. This is a timed 10-question exam about how to use UpWork safely and adequately. Each question will pose multiple answers. REMEMBER! Questions can have multiple correct answers, so check off each one that applies.


Using UpWork as a Screenwriter


The moment we’ve all been waiting for. How do you get screenwriting gigs on UpWork? It’s pretty simple (I promise, this has been working for me). For starters, be open to ghost-writing for YouTube/Social Media video scripts. These aren’t ‘screenplays’ necessarily. However, they are spoken-word voiceovers that will prove your ability to write conversationally.


There are people on UpWork looking for help with writing actual screenplays. Be open to signing NDA’s for obvious reasons, and don’t be afraid to turn down a project you can’t creatively get behind, even if the money is good. You don’t want your first big project to be a stressful disaster-piece.


As screenwriters, we know all about back-end payments. With UpWork, you’re guaranteed up-front payment. While you’re welcome to negotiate back-end payments after the fact, you know you’ll be getting something for your work.


You’ll find a mix of people wanting to turn their novels into feature screenplays or people who need help writing their short-film projects. Either way, these are mostly independent people, just like you, who are willing to pay up-front for your services.


What are Connects, and how do you get more?


Connects are UpWork’s virtual currency. Use them to submit proposals for jobs that you’re interested in. You’ll be given a pool of free connects once you’ve set up your profile to get the ball rolling. Use them all. Once you run out, you can buy 80 more for only $12.75. It’s worth it, especially if you’re finding consistent work. You can use the money sitting in your UpWork account balance to pay for them.


Besides buying Connects, each time you are accepted to interview for a job, you’re rewarded with 10 free Connects! Even if you don’t get or accept the work, you still ‘win’ something for making it in the door.


You can also complete skill verifications and earn badges. UpWork provides in-depth ‘help-me’ articles on these processes.


Submitting Proposals


A good proposal is your ticket to the show. Where other job boards rely heavily on your Resumes and Cover Letters, UpWork proposals let you explain why you are the best person for the posted job. Read the job description carefully. Then, examine your own body of work and attach or link the most appropriate pieces.


High Ball


When submitting proposals, you’re able to quote potential clients at either an hourly rate or fixed price. Always highball within the client’s budget. There’s no harm in negotiating, especially if you end up dealing down to a price you would have been okay with in the first place. Remember, you miss out on all the money you don’t aim for.


Between hourly rates and fixed prices, fixed prices are better for writers. They allow you to work on your time and at your pace. Consider how much research will go into a topic, how many words the client is looking for, and how much formatting/outlining will you have to do on your end.


When it comes to writing, you’ll be occasionally quoting clients on price-per-word. Ten-cents/word equates to $100/1,000 words. While that’s a far reach, some clients are willing to pay it. Some clients are even willing to pay more! Know what you’re worth, and don’t accept work if it sounds like a waste of valuable time.


It takes that first job.


Don’t get discouraged if you’re not finding work right away. It truly takes that first accepted and completed job to open the UpWork floodgates. Once you’ve taken that step, you’ll be receiving interviews for jobs you may have missed out on.


Interview invites don’t mean you ‘have the job,’ they just allow you to submit free proposals. However, your profile must be set to Public to get interview invitations. Make sure it’s up to your standards.


Don’t rely on UpWork for stable income.


Some people, with enough dedication, can turn UpWork into their main source of income. However, when starting out, don’t rely on UpWork for stable income. Think of it as extra cash, maybe groceries or rent for the month. Keep highballing and building working relationships.


UpWork’s cut


You do have to ‘pay the middleman.’ In this case, the middleman is UpWork. They take 20% of the agreed-upon payment once the job is complete. For example, if you are paid $100 for a job, UpWork takes $20, leaving you with a net gain of $80.


This is why highballing is important as to ‘cancel out’ UpWork’s cut of the pie. As you complete multiple jobs for the same client, that percentage comes down. Remember you’re supposed to conduct all transactions on UpWork. No PayPal or Venmo.


Mike Colucci is a life-long creative with a deep love for film and video games. He currently works as a content writer for ScreenRant and is developing the story and writing the dialogue for an upcoming video game.


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