Screenwriters need to create a solid body of work to standout…
January 18, 2013 § 8 Comments
The honest truth? No one cares about your script or my script—unless you’re under a contract and writing on assignment. Otherwise it’s just another of the 50,000 or so projects bouncing around Hollywood every year looking for a home. Good isn’t good enough anymore you have to be amazing and you’ll need the time to reach that plateau with your writing.
How do you standout as a screenwriter in this very competitive and crowded business? You’ll need to create a constant stream of material to put into your pipeline for consideration. You can’t write just one script and hope for success. The smart screenwriter is busy writing with an eye on the bigger picture of a career. It may take writing a half-dozen projects for one to finally sell or get you assignment work, but every new script is a new opportunity or a missed opportunity–it depends on how you play it.
You’ll need to work at a professional level for producers to take you seriously with your projects. If you’re looking to hook an agent or manager, they too will look to see if you are ready to compete on a professional level. They want to know if they send your script out, or send you into a meeting that you’ll be able to do the job. Their own reputation is on the line every time out so they need to feel confident. Yes, it will take time to create a handful of solid screenplays that can compete and represent you properly in a professional arena. This is why I stress the practice of patience during this growing period. I find many beginning screenwriters are too eager to sell their first script for a million dollars—like it’s just that easy. It’s not just that easy. And you need to respect your craft and practice it every day. You’ll need the time to fail and write badly before you can become an excellent screenwriter, execute notes and work on a schedule under pressure. You don’t want a yellow belt in screenwriting—you want to achieve a Grand Master 4th degree Black Belt—and to do this you’ll need to train by writing every day.
You’ll need a plan to build a solid body of work. It’s a three prong attack I call “The Trifecta” because it involves creating three types of material: A new pitch, a logline/beat sheet/treatment for a project, and a completed script. As you’re finishing one project, you’re starting work on another, crafting pitches and treatments, and you already have your latest script out in the marketplace. The only way you’ll be able to do this is to keep to a tight writing schedule. You’ll need to protect your precious writing time. Stephen King calls it “closing your door.” When your door is closed, it means that you are writing. You have to become a master at scheduling your time. The more you write, the more you’ll be able to estimate how long it will take you to complete any writing task: a scene, five pages, the entire script, a polish, or rewrite. You’ll get to know yourself better as a screenwriter and discover your strengths and weaknesses. This is important for when you’re working on a paid screenwriting assignment and under a deadline. You’ll want to know if you’ve properly built up the mental stamina to work six to eight hours a day—the time needed to properly finish a project.
As you create your projects and develop your new ideas, set a deadline to finish them and stick to it. This will help train you for the time when you’re really paid and have to work under contract and have to meet a deadline to deliver the project. You’ll already be up to speed having trained yourself to work under your self-imposed deadlines.
Find a genre that you’re passionate about and focus on that type of material. If you have too many projects in different genres, you’ll appear scattered and it will be hard to create your brand. Pigeonholing is not exclusive to actors only, it also happens to screenwriters—and that’s not such a bad thing. You want Hollywood to know you for your unique voice and style in a particular genre. Usually your first script that sells will determine the type of genre you’ll be known for creating. That’s okay, but pick a genre that you really love and stick with it.
Your body of work may include feature-length original screenplays and if they don’t sell, the scripts can become solid writing samples that can get you assignment work. If you want to work in television, your body of work should include your original TV pilots to show an agent, manager, producer or executive your unique voice. It used to be that you needed to write a spec episode of an existing series, but now agents and managers look for original material to get a handle on the writer’s talent and unique voice. And for both feature films and TV continue to craft your pitches for ideas that you want to write.
Your solid body of work will make your more attractive to an agent or manager as they can see you are not a “one script wonder” but a workhorse. Reps don’t like divas, they love writers who write. As you build up your projects, you’ll be working on your craft and becoming a better screenwriter in the process. And as it’s extremely difficult to sell a project, you’ll want to increase your odds by creating multiple projects so you can attack on different fronts. Eventually one script will slip through and it will jump-start your screenwriting career.
Keep on writing and keep the faith!
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“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
“The amateur plays for fun. The professional plays for keeps. To the amateur, the game is his avocation. To the pro it’s his vocation. The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional is there seven days a week… the professional loves it so much he dedicates his life to it. He commits full-time. Resistance hates it when we turn pro.”—Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”
“You have to be very productive in order to become excellent. You have to go through a poor period and a mediocre period, and then you move into your excellent period. It may be very well be that some of you have done quite a bit of writing already. You maybe ready to move into your good period and your excellent period. But you shouldn’t be surprised if it becomes a very long process.”—Ray Bradbury
“This is, if not a lifetime process, it’s awfully close to it. The writer broadens, becomes deeper, becomes more observant, becomes more tempered, becomes much wiser over a period time passing. It is not something that is injected into him by a needle. It is not something that comes on a wave of flashing, explosive light one night and say, ‘Huzzah! Eureka! I’ve got it!’ and then proceeds to write the great American novel in eleven days. It doesn’t work that way. It’s a long, tedious, tough, frustrating process, but never, ever be put aside by the fact that it’s hard.” —Rod Serling
“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