A screenwriter’s odds at success…

October 8, 2011 § 1 Comment

Ah, yes the pesky odds of getting a script made. This is a town where EVERYONE either has a script or knows someone who is writing a script. According to the Writers Guild of America West, up to 50,000 projects are registered every year with their registration service. In their ANNUAL REPORT for 2015 (stats ended in March 2015), only a total of 4,899 writers reported income out of the approximately 9,500 members of the WGAw — and two-thirds worked in TV.  The sobering statistics about spec screenplay sales are not any better news… specs sold in Hollywood for 2013 according to the Scoggins Report—124 spec script sales at the studio level.

Next time you go to the local Starbucks or library just look around and you’ll notice many laptops open with script pages on their screen.  It’s funny, I don’t see coffee shops filled with engineers or scientists creating their next marvel to the world, but I could be wrong. Screenwriting is the new fad!  Everyone can do it and make money, right?  Well…

Screenwriting seminars have proliferated and writing gurus have encouraged everyone with an interest at “fame and fortune” their crack at writing a screenplay.  I don’t really see as many novelists out there because you REALLY have to stick with it and actually have a command of the English language.  Not everyone would jump in and design a jet fighter having no idea the craft of design and engineering. Many people read a few books, say they are a “fan of movies,” and now they are ready to sell their first script for a million dollars. It takes more than just reading a few books or a love for watching movies. You have to experience life to create authentically. The ups and downs, the good times and when you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel. It all factors into your honesty of your work as a writer—any kind of writer. Your passion for the work and the process must drive you and not fame or fortune. You have to ask yourself why are you writing? I love this quote from Stephen King, “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.”

This girl who briefly (thank God) sublet the condo next door was out on the patio one day, laptop in her lap and talking on the phone to someone. As she was working on a screenplay, I overheard her say, “Yeah, this program has a thesaurus in it… yeah, you use it to look up different meanings of words.” I wanted to blow my brains out. Surely when she finished, the script went on to sell to a major studio and she now has a flourishing writing career?  I wouldn’t put money on it, but one never knows. I guess people read too many covers of “Variety” where a publicist spins a wacky show business yarn that entices every person with the ability to hunt and peck on a keyboard to seek screenwriting as their life’s work.

I’ve either written or co-written twenty-eight feature-length scripts, eight were produced into films and distributed globally (includes my first spec sale), five scripts are now in various stages of development, and I just completed my fourteenth paid screenwriting assignment—a tv sticom pilot for a producer. I’ve worked as a script doctor on projects, I’ve lectured about filmmaking, I’m a paid consultant for scripts and on movies in production, but I still consider myself at the beginning of my career. Every one of these projects included rewrites—at least four drafts and sometimes up to eight drafts or passes per script. It’s just part of the development process. If you add in my spec TV writing—spec sitcom pilots, hour-long dramas, half hour single cameras, a web series, even the MTV game show and my sketch writing with The Amazing Onionheads, I figure that I’ve easily written over 20,000 pages for the big screen, little screen and stage. That’s the deal that you accept when you decide to be a writer. You can’t stop with your “one script” that has taken you five years to write, but you’ll need to constantly be writing and creating a solid body of material that will get you build your screenwriting chops.  Hollywood easily burns through projects and you may have written five scripts and nothing has sold. This is why you need to create new pitches, treatments, and always be working on your next screenplay or TV pilot. The only way to stand out is to have a solid body of professional quality material.

poor screenwriterIf writing becomes your profession and your job, you must treat it as such and come to the keyboard, clock in and work. My fastest first draft was for the movie “Deck the Halls” in twenty days. My last script assignment took me twenty-eight days for a first draft. I worked off a well-executed treatment and it saved me a lot of time having to spend time figuring out my end goal. This is important when you are working for a producer under a deadline, under a specific budget, and don’t have the luxury of writing a few pages a day and skipping days. The train has left the station when you sign the contract, accept the upfront money and type “FADE IN.” Release the hounds— go dogs, go!

raiders-of-the-lost-ark-matte-painting

30,000-50,000 scripts bounce around Hollywood every year.

I have long since not concerned myself with the odds and the numbers of scripts that have been widely reported to be circulating Hollywood. The WGA claims the number is in the tens of thousands of screenplays during any given year. The only person I must worry about is myself, my writing skill set and if I’m becoming a better screenwriter. I know my experience and I know that you’ll rarely find a more focused and serious person about their craft.  Does it matter in the bigger picture? I like to think so, but again there have been stories of someone who has never written a screenplay before selling their first work. I prefer to err on the side of studying my craft and getting better with every page. I took the time to study in film school and get a strong foundation in film. I also like to think that I’ve seen pretty good odds if compared to the tens of thousands of professional writers and the thousands or more who have are tying to get paid as a working screenwriter.

So, keep writing and focus on the work and not the odds. I’ve already beaten the odds and lived my childhood dream of writing screenplays that have been produced into films and working as a professional screenwriter.  Everything going forward is just continuing to live the dream.  So, you too can beat the odds.

But take it one page at a time…

Scriptcat out!

“Fame and money are gifts given to us only after we have gifted the world with our best, our lonely, our individual truths.”—Ray Bradbury

“Action is hope. At the end of each day, when you’ve done your work, you lie there and think, Well, I’ll be damned, I did this today. It doesn’t matter how good it is, or how bad—you did it. At the end of the week you’ll have a certain amount of accumulation. At the end of a year, you look back and say, I’ll be damned, it’s been a good year.”—Ray Bradbury

“You have to possess the skin of a rhino if you want to succeed in the film business.”—Scriptcat

rhino

(You as screenwriter—tough skin to weather the criticism, rejection & failure)

Follow me on Twitter/Periscope: @scriptcat

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§ One Response to A screenwriter’s odds at success…

  • Aw, this was an exceptionally nice post. Finding the time and actual effort to create a
    good article… but what can I say… I hesitate a whole lot and never manage to get nearly anything done.

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