How To Become a Writer for Disney [The Ultimate Insider Guide] ~ Disney is a billion-dollar global company, so 99% of writers would jump at the chance to write for them.
I know I would—without even blinking.
If you would, too, then you’re in luck. This post is your ultimate blueprint to writing for Disney.
Here is how to be a Disney writer: write a few screenplays, get an agent, build your portfolio, and network with Disney insiders. To accelerate your career, you can intern or win a spot in the Walt Disney Television Writing Program.
That’s the short and sweet version, but the rest of this article unloads all the behind-the-scenes secrets for how to take those steps and win the fellowship.
So sit back, relax, and let’s talk about how to become a writer for Disney.
How To Win a Coveted Spot in the Walt Disney Television Writing Program
There is a smarter, faster approach to becoming any type of writer. In this case, you can apply for a coveted spot in the Walt Disney Television Program.
You may remember my articles about how to become a fortune cookie writer or how to become a writer for SNL.
This is your cheat sheet for getting accepted into the Walt Disney Television Writing Program. Those selected become actual Disney employees paid a weekly salary. Currently, that weekly salary runs around $961.54 plus benefits (or $50,000 for the one-year program).
The best part is that there is a history of a 100% hiring rate for those who participate in this exclusive program.
Here are the major details to know to win a spot:
- Annual submission period: Open season starts each year in the month of May.
- Where to apply: Visit the Walt Disney Television website during the open submission period to access the application.
- Study the application instructions.
- Study the FAQs.
- Follow the Walt Disney Facebook page for updated information and notifications.
- Study the information in this Reddit Thread on the Disney Writing Program.
- Study a Twitter thread from a Disney Writing Progam alum on how to master the staffing pitch
What do you actually need to prepare to apply?
- Two separate original pilot scripts
- Two separate Script Summary Forms (one for each pilot script)
- Staffing pitch (maximum of 1500 characters)
- Personal essay (maximum of 3000 characters)
- Optional: Boone Scholarship pitch
I implore you to study and restudy the application instructions and guidelines. That, alone, will set you apart from everyone who blindly applies.
You don’t want to miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime because of a technicality.
Disney even tells you exactly what they want to see in submitted scripts:
- A consistent character who acts and talks the same throughout the script.
- An episode that stands alone (no “to be continued”).
- Regular laughs if your script is a comedy.
- Clearly establish the setting, conflict, and characters for the remainder of the show.
There are also clear instructions for the staffing pitch, personal essay, and optional Boone Scholarship pitch. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to simply follow ALL of the instructions.
A Disney Writing Program alumni, who goes by Lucas Brown Eyes, gives these juicy tips on how to perfect the staffing pitch:
- Focus on your unique voice. Avoid generalities that everyone else says (things like your passion for writing, love of Disney, degrees, or work ethic). Share your big wins, your worst losses, your adventures.
- Skip your resume. He says, “They already have it.”
- Share an emotional journey. Emotionally rich storytelling moves and connects people.
- Share what connects you to the story. What personal experience connects you to the characters, story, theme, conflict, etc. The more personal and emotional, the better.
Lucas points out:
Download the official script summary forms. No reason why you shouldn’t get a head start on studying the forms and even filling them out in advance of the next open submission period. Astute studying of the forms, following the instructions, and writing the best damn scripts possible is how to become a writer for Disney.
For more inspiration for how to become a writer for Disney, check out this announcement of the 2021 Writing Program Winners.
The Best Tips for How to Become a Writer for Disney
You can become a writer for Disney even if you don’t win a fellowship to the Disney program. There are only so many spots in the program, so not everyone is going to make the cut.
Just because you don’t win a spot, doesn’t mean you can’t still write for Disney.
Think of it this way: most of the current Disney writers never went through the Disney writing program. Crazy, right?! But it’s absolutely true.
Here’s the exact method I recommend for how to become a writer for Disney:
- Decide what kind of writer you want to become (Screenwriter, Editor, News writer, Technical writer).
- Study the backstories of existing Disney writers.
- Take screenwriting courses.
- Read and study screenwriting books.
- Prepare a portfolio of scripts.
- Get an agent.
- Submit scripts to Disney (through a little-known backdoor)
- Network with Disney insiders.
Ok, now let’s go through each one of these steps in a little more detail so that you know exactly how to become a writer at Disney.
Decide what kind of writer you want to become
Since you found this blog post, I assume you want to write shows and/or movies for Disney. In other words, you want to be a screenwriter of scripts.
That’s the main focus of this article.
However, it’s important to know that Disney hires many different kinds of writers—screenwriters, editors, news writers, technical writers, copywriters, and more. Don’t overlook the many writing opportunities that could make your dreams come true.
Getting your foot in the door as any kind of writer for Disney is a massive accomplishment. You can always leverage that inside connection to network your way into screenwriting a show or movie.
Study the backstories of existing Disney writers
One of my favorite quotes is by Tony Robbins: “Success leaves clues.”
When you look into the success stories of existing Disney writers, you will discover the steps they took to get where you want to go. You can then follow a similar path to reach your goal of writing for Disney.
That’s a simple “shortcut” for how to become a writer for Disney.
To study the background of the existing Disney writers:
- Google “Screenwriter for [Insert Disney show or movie]”.
- Google their name to find their website and social media accounts.
- Read their website, especially their biography. That’s where you can see what education they pursued, where they went to school, what jobs they got, and how their careers developed over time.
- Follow their social media accounts. Like their posts and (occasionally) comment on what they post.
- If you haven’t already, watch some of their shows and/or movies.
For example, one Disney writer is Dan Fogelman who is the screenwriter credited for writing Tangled. He also wrote the Pixar film, Cars. If that’s not enough, he also wrote the hit NBC show, This Is Us. You may have heard of it.
Here’s a few websites related to him that you might want to check out:
Here are a few more Disney writers you might want to study:
There are many more Disney writers, but these should get you started. After researching their backgrounds, make note of any patterns in schooling, screenplays, and career path. These stepping stones become the map for how to become a writer for Disney.
Read and study screenwriting books
This is a shortlist of the screenwriting books I recommend. Each of these books will help you write spec, feature, and pilot screenplays for your portfolio. You will even be able to write material that you can use to apply for the Disney writer’s program.
No matter which way you cut it, investing in yourself will only pay dividends in your future.
- Save The Cat
- The Screenwriter’s Bible
- Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting
- Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting
- Secrets of Loglines, Treatments, and Pitching
- Secrets of Selling: Breaking In
- Screenwriting Blue Books (my personal favorite series)
If you don’t get anything else, please get all the screenwriting Blue Books by William C. Martell. I have 90% of them. They are the best, most practical guides on writing stories I have ever found in 20 years of studying the craft. There is simply no better first-hand screenwriter source for how to become a writer for Disney.
Martell is a working screenwriter that will teach you all you need to know about storytelling.
If you are looking to become a full-time writer of any kind, check out my other recommended tools. These are the same tools that I use as a full-time freelance writer.
Many writers need ways to make money to fund their lives while they pursue their screenwriting dreams. That’s how you practically move from wondering how to become a writer for Disney to actually being one.
Prepare a portfolio of scripts
If you want to know how to become a writer for Disney, the number one answer is that you must write frequently. You must write screenplays over and over again until you master the process, principles, and techniques.
Here are some pro tips for developing a portfolio studio execs can’t resist:
- Create a free or cheap website to display your portfolio. Check out resources like Bluehost and WordPress.org to create an easy portfolio website.
- Write a short animation script.
- Write a character piece that would fit into the Disney library.
- Write a spec episode of a Disney show.
- Write an original TV show pilot.
- Write an original screenplay.
As you scale up your skill as a screenwriter, consider the importance of consistent action, escalating conflict, clear story stakes for characters failing to reach their goals, and a deadline or ticking clock for when the protagonist must reach their goal.
Here is a video on punching up a script that might also add value to your screenplays:
Get an agent
Another step in how to become a writer for Disney (or any studio) is to get an agent. Agents know studio executives and other industry insiders that can help you shortcut your way into screenwriting success.
Here are some of the best methods for getting an agent, even as a complete beginner:
- Attend screenwriting conventions and conferences.
- Enter screenwriting competitions.
- Get hired as an assistant for a film studio, production company, or agency. You can even do this virtually if you don’t live in the hub of Hollywood.
- Query screenwriting agents. Also, see this list of WBA agencies.
- Stunt marketing (see examples below).
In her article in Coverfly, Shanee Edwards wrote:
Billy Domineau wrote a Seinfeld spec called “Twin Towers” about 9/11 that went viral and landed him a job on Family Guy. Henry C. King purchased billboards near Sony in Culver City and in Studio City near Universal Studios directing anyone interested to look up his script on blcklst.com.
Stunt marketing might not be the most obvious way for how to become a writer for Disney, but sometimes you have to be bold to get noticed.
Submit scripts to Disney
When someone asks how to become a writer for Disney, they may want to submit scripts directly to the Mouse himself. However, it’s important to note that, as a company rule, Disney doesn’t accept unsolicited scripts.
That’s one big reason why getting an agent or marketing your scriptwriting abilities can help you gain the attention of Disney. Getting an agent isn’t always easy, but it’s a major step for how to become a writer for Disney.
There may just be a backdoor, though, even if you don’t have an agent.
According to Reddit user EelKat:
I’ve never had an agent; the trick is to NOT contact Disney directly, but rather contact one of their hiring editors instead
You must remember that Disney themselves publishes NOTHING… you have to find the publishing houses they work with.
If you want to write for Disney, the easiest way to do so is through Egmont: http://www.egmont.com/ who is the actual publisher of MOST of their books and comics
Before you submit, EelKat also warns that Disney often buys the copyright for scripts. This means that, once you complete the purchasing agreement, Disney owns the story. You no longer have any rights to it.
Be sure to brush up on contract language and check with knowledgeable legal experts before you sign a contract with any studio. In other words, even after you learn how to become a writer for Disney, there are still serious variables to consider.
Network with Disney insiders
Networking is one of the best ways to skip to the head of the screenwriter line. You can and should leverage your agent’s connections to build relationships with Disney insiders.
Networking can save you years of slugging through rejected script after script. For many clever screenwriters, the right kind of networking is exactly how to become a writer for Disney.
You can network with scores of different insiders:
- Studio executives
Literally anyone can be a link to Disney (or any other studio).
Zack Arnold is a great example of networking in Hollywood. Maybe he can’t tell you exactly how to become a writer for Disney, but he can certainly tell you how to succeed. He moved to LA when he only knew one person. Then he found a contact on Craiglist (of all places). He provided a few editing jobs for free to showcase his talent. Then got hired on as a paid editor.
He leveraged that success by “Facebook stalking” (his words) everyone he could find associated with the show Burn Notice. He pitched each person with the trailer from his previous work (the one from Craigslist). Most people ignored him, but one editor responded.
That’s all he needed.
They set a lunch meeting where they hit it off immediately. Zack offered a few samples of his Craigslist show to the editor.
Two weeks later, the editor called to offer him an interview with the executive producer of Burn Notice. The editor told him that he had no shot at getting the job, but it might help his career anyway. Zack jumped at the chance. He watched the entire existing show—about 60 episodes at that point—twice.
He walked into the interview and stunned the executive director with his vast knowledge of the show. Three weeks later, he got the job.
How To Become a Writer for Disney: Writing Jobs
As we’ve mentioned, Disney employs many types of writers. I encourage you to regularly track the main websites that show you the open positions for Disney.
Here are the main websites:
You never know when a position might open that fits you perfectly. The best way to learn how to become a writer for Disney might be from those already working for Disney.
Final Thoughts on How To Become a Writer for Disney
There you have it: all the best ways for how to become a writer for Disney.
The cool part about Disney is that you can also write for other studios owned by Disney such as Marvel and Pixar. They are all under the same Disney umbrella. By applying these strategies, you can crush your competition.
Now that you know how to become a writer for Disney, the only thing left is to do the work.
You have the tools. You have the knowledge. Now go accomplish your dreams. I can’t wait to watch the shows and movies you write.
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