Knowledge is power and screenwriters need to do their homework…

Information is invaluable currency in Hollywood so as part of the ongoing research process, screenwriters need to do their homework with regards to staying up on information about the film business and what projects are selling.  This is the type of homework you will need to over the course of your entire screenwriter career.  It’s one of the top disciplines of a professional screenwriter.

Your homework is an ongoing daily quest for knowledge and doing the work necessary to become an excellent screenwriter.  The study of your craft never ends and you should never think for a moment that you’re bigger or better than your craft—it will always be a larger creative force than you will ever be.  Your homework should include reading screenplays, watching and studying movies, reading about classic Hollywood and the history of cinema, and making the quest for filmmaking knowledge your daily regimen.  You should take workshops, attend seminars, enroll in a screenwriting courses or find a screenwriter willing to take you under their wing.  The work and learning process for a screenwriter is an ongoing discipline.

Utilize your industry contacts: the assistants, the interns, the producers, and other talent to learn insider information you may not have.   They are the eyes and ears on the ground while you are off sequestered in your office writing your next magnum opus.  You can’t always leave it up to your agent or manager to let you know what’s happening or the recent changes in the business.  You need to take responsibility for your career and then means staying up on everything about the film business.  It’s also your job to point out information and share it with your representatives. When I learn valuable information that can affect my career, I pass along it along to my manager so it can help us to strategize.

You’ll also need to do your homework about the film industry trends and where technology is going—everything from 3-D production, projection advances, production advances, and even economic changes that will affect a movie’s budget. Read the trade papers Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and regularly visit great websites like Deadline Hollywood, The Wrap, Film News Briefs, Paste Magazine, Indiewire, Entertainment Weekly, E! News Online, Movie City News, Movieline, Total Film, IFC, Filmmaker Magazine, and Box Office Mojo.  Knowledge about the film business will allow you to make important considerations as you decide the genre and story of your next spec screenplay.

yoda-lukeAnother good way to do your homework is to find a filmmaking mentor and apprentice under them or at least have access to them as they are working.  Many busy screenwriters need an assistant and they’re willing to pay an hourly wage for the job. It’s a great way for aspiring screenwriters to learn while getting paid. If you can’t find a paid position, offer your time to a working screenwriter in exchange for access to their knowledge. A true professional is always willing to give back and share knowledge. When you’re able to observe working professionals, be like a sponge and soak up everything you can and ask questions. I’ve been blessed over the years to work with many top professionals and veterans of the film business and a few have become my mentors.  As I worked with them and collaborated on the films that I wrote, I was able to have inside and unlimited access to help build my screenwriter’s toolkit.  Seeking knowledge and staying on top of the latest news and events in the film business is an ongoing discipline.

You’ll standout with your knowledge at meetings if you can refer to films/tv series/business trends and methods in your discussions.  Don’t expose yourself to a situation in a meeting where you don’t know something or look as if you haven’t done your homework.  Your knowledge of cinema will impress and show you are serious about your craft. Can you talk about Hollywood’s Golden Age as well as last year’s film offerings?  Do you know the work of the great filmmakers and can refer to them in your discussions with specific examples?  You want the producer or executive to have confidence in you based upon your work, your knowledge and professionalism.

Before you take a meeting, research and do your homework about the producer, director, or executive you are going to meet.  As I mentioned before, they will respect the fact you took the time and that it was important enough to know what they’ve done.  And it will help if you move forward and work with them to know their other projects.  I recently worked with a director on a rewrite of a script and before we met I watched his other films in the same genre.  Because I was familiar with his other movies, we had shorthand and easily discussed certain shots and sequences from those films that related to our new project.  I knew exactly what he was talking about and it helped our working process.

Many years ago I had meeting with an “A list” actor about a script that I co-wrote and he showed real interest in possibly starring in our project as his next film.  During the meeting he said, “So your story is like Sullivan’s Travels.”  I agreed, but I didn’t want my ignorance to show as I had never seen the film he was talking about.  I’m embarrassed to share that story today because Preston Sturges has become one of my favorite filmmakers and that film has become on my top ten list.  If someone in a meeting talks about films or concepts that any ordinary film person would know—they can start to doubt your overall knowledge about filmmaking.  You don’t want give them any chance to doubt anything about you.  First impressions last and you don’t get a second chance to make a first great impression.

Here is a list of great websites where you can do some of your important daily homework (click on name for link):

  • DONE DEAL—  Agents, lawyers, managers, companies, writing jobs, TV deals, info about contests and articles.
  • The International Screenwriter’s  Association—Membership is free. It’s a reliable resource of information, mutual support networking and members only tips for producers looking for writers, FREE teleconferences,  free lists of agencies and management companies.
  • Stage 32 is another fantastic website for film industry networking from around the world. Sign up, create a profile and start posting and participating in the lounge discussions.

I was out pitching my TV series idea recently with my pilot idea only to find out shortly after five pilots sold that were the same basic concept.  I decided not to pursue my idea and luckily I didn’t spend six months writing and developing it on spec because it would have been time wasted.  Ideas are in the ether and Hollywood follows trends.  If you are aware of what is in production or in development, your project won’t suddenly become a writing sample or competing with something that is in production.  If you properly do your homework, you’ll empower your career as knowledge is the precious currency in Hollywood and staying current will always serve you well as you pursue a screenwriting career.

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“It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way”—Hemingway

“Writing is survival. Any art, any good work, of course, is that. Not to write, for many of us, is to die. We must take arms each and every day, perhaps knowing that the battle cannot be entirely won, but fight we must, if only a gentle bout.”—Ray Bradbury

2 thoughts on “Knowledge is power and screenwriters need to do their homework…

  1. Great info. I’d also add Stage 32 to your list of places to network. They offer great classes and articles. They are also very up to date on the latest goings on in Hollywood. And no, I don’t work for them, I’m just a one of their “happy writers.” (you’ll get it if you check it out.) Check them out – or @Stage32online

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