A screenwriter’s reputation means everything…

January 3, 2013 § 2 Comments

It’s a given that you must have talent as a screenwriter, but if you also have a bad reputation it will harm your ability to land a job.  Your reputation as a professional screenwriter will always precede you and can only be built over time as you work on various projects with producers or executives.  Everyone’s opinion about working with you matters.  If you garner a reputation as being “difficult,” they will not work with you again. There are plenty of other writers who are not divas and can get the job done. This is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned on my fifteen plus year professional journey as a screenwriter. Reputation is everything!

Producers will hire a talented team player over a pain in the ass who has no regard for professionalism.  Hollywood is a business of relationships and networking.  People generally like to work with those people they’ve had a positive experience with in the past.  So, how do you build a solid reputation as a screenwriter? Here are a few positive steps that will only come from practicing a professional work ethic:

  • Always deliver your best work, every time, regardless of your salary.
  • Never be late for meetings.
  • Never get testy about script notes or show your anger. A “team player” works again.
  • Go the extra mile on the project and clearly show them how invaluable you are to the work—regardless of your salary.
  • Show them you’re the writer they can trust to deliver the drafts on schedule.
  • If you don’t already have the natural ability—pay close attention to all details.
  • Become a repository of knowledge about the script for the director, producer and actors.
  • Help the producers craft a script they can produce and lend any support they need to get the movie competed.

Initially, you may not receive the praise you feel that you deserve for all of your hard work.  If this happens, be patient, as it will eventually pay off for you over the long haul. Your praise will come in the form of a payment for your writing, a produced film, and a vital part of your screenwriting career—a credit.

You’ll always find opportunities to build your integrity as a professional screenwriter.  Every new project is a chance to build new relationships and show the producers and executives they can trust you by being a person of your word.  If you promise to do something—do it.  It’s that easy.  Over time, these professionals will know they can count on you and that your word means something.  It’s part of being a professional in all aspects of your career.

During pre-production of one of my films, I remember the director was on the location scouting and we’d keep in touch every day.  When he needed changes to the script, he’d call or E-mail me, and I would have the revisions back to him the next morning.  He knew he could trust me to deliver the changes that he needed to produce the film.  Directors and producers remember these positive working relationships and it’s all part of the process to build your professional reputation. It was very gratifying for me recently hearing this director say that he ran into another director whom I worked with and they both told each other what a pleasure it was to work with me.  I’ve worked hard to build my reputation over the years and it continually pays off.

A bad first impression is hard to erase, so never turn in your script late and never be late for a meeting, especially if it’s your first meeting.  Make sure you are always ten to fifteen minutes early and ready to go.  Somehow it’s become industry standard protocol that producers or executives will always make you wait.  It’s like the doctor’s office, where your appointment is for 11:00 and you’re called into the office at 11:30.  As frustrating as it is, it’s their prerogative and not yours.  Be known as the writer who shows up early and is always ready to go.  If you’re habitually late, you’ll lose their trust and they will think, “if this writer can’t even show up on time, why would he turn in his script on schedule?”  It’s a reasonable assumption.

I was recently at a very important pitch meeting at a very high profile Hollywood production company where the executives ran thirty minutes late.  The assistant came down twice to apologize—and I was very understanding of course.  There was nothing I could do but tough it out.  This meeting took a month to schedule and I wasn’t about to re-schedule, as I was ready to pitch today.  When they finally called me into the meeting, the executives were so apologetic and went the extra mile to accommodate me.  It adds a different dynamic to the meeting when they feel badly about making you wait.  It’s their prerogative being late, not yours.

What you can control is your own conduct as you follow the code of a professional screenwriter.  Your integrity is like a muscle and you need to work on it daily.  Eventually your professionalism will come naturally (if it doesn’t already) and building your reputation will become effortless.  Always remember, your reputation is as important as your talent and work ethic.  It’s a vital ingredient for any level of success in your overall screenwriting career, so build a reputation that will make producers want to work with you again and again.

“The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.”—Socrates

“You don’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do” — Henry Ford

“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”—Abraham Lincoln

If you need in-depth screenplay consultation check out my professional services. Click the icon below for the link to my website and more information. You never get a second change to make a first great impression with your script.  Why not have a second set of eyes read your script and give constructive analysis?

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§ 2 Responses to A screenwriter’s reputation means everything…

  • John King says:

    This is all fine and good. In fact, it’s great advice. But the sad truth is reputations are often ruined with no regard for the facts. People lie. People especially lie about other people. Perhaps you should talk a bit about how creatives counter slander and defamation in a climate where people seem to get away with discrediting others for no reason.

    • scriptcat says:

      Agreed. That’s an impossible minefield to navigate and come out in one piece with a reputation intact. I supposed we can just focus on what we do have control over — our own actions, work ethic, professionalism and integrity. Hopefully, one’s reputation can weather the storm of slander and lies because it’s so strong. Maybe that’s just the cockeyed optimist in me trying to shine through.

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