The serious questions to ask before you pursue a screenwriting career…
July 25, 2017 § Leave a comment
Many aspiring screenwriters have huge dreams of success on Hollywood’s pantheon of A-list screenwriters. Why not shoot for the highest levels? It’s easy—they did it, right? The reality is that it’s a tough business to achieve any level of success. While knowing this, many aspirants still believe that it’s going to be easy to forge a successful career and pursue it completely unprepared. This will lead to frustration, rejection, and a huge waste of precious time. It’s easy to piss away five years due to disrespecting the craft and the level of work it takes only to end up having nothing of merit to show for your effort. Preparation is vital to staying in the screenwriting game. This starts with self-reflection and asking the hard questions that must be answered.
Are you willing to do what it takes and spend the time, maybe years of work and sacrifice, to craft a solid body of work to compete? Are you a collaborator and team player? Are you writing, reading, and learning so you’ll become an excellent screenwriter? Do you have the drive and tenacity to weather the storm of criticism, rejection, and failure during the years it may take to secure even one successful job?
Remember that no one forced you to choose this screenwriting dream. It’s yours and you must be responsible for it. No one else can go after it for you. Being a screenwriter is not for the thin-skinned or for those looking for a shortcut to success. Ask yourself the honest questions about why you are pursuing a career in screenwriting. Realize that you must stay in the game over the long haul to have any shot at success. It’s a fool’s endeavor to seek fame and fortune, but if screenwriting is your life’s work and passion, you will find a way around any obstacles to succeed.
And what about time? It’s your greatest asset or your worst enemy. It depends on how you use your precious time to write uninterrupted and become productive. That’s why I ask aspirants if they have an artist’s mentality — or the insanity to believe that even as they stare into the dark void of the unknown, their burning passion will guide them across yet another hurdle.
It’s a numbers game at best and you’ll burn through a pile of specs before one finally either sells or lands you a screenwriting assignment. This is why it’s so important to always have many projects in various stages of writing, development or the idea and pitching stage. The urgency we feel as writers for a read or to sell scripts is always pushed back by the reality of the film business and the bizarre amount of time it takes for anything to happen. Any movement on your projects will always take longer than you ever expected. A career will probably take many years to forge. This is why you never want to stake your future on just one project because the odds selling anything are rare. You don’t need to put yourself in a the horrible position where you need to sell a script to get you out of debt or to save you from a day job that you hate.
As you travel on your screenwriting journey, the image that you project is extremely important and you should keep up an image of success. You do this by being busy and creating a solid body of material to show prospective agents, managers, producers and executives that you are a work horse with something to offer. Never give them a chance to think of you as a diva who believes he or she is God’s gift to cinema. It’s the team player and collaborator who always works again. The pain in the ass gets branded as “difficult” and wonders why the work has dried up.
Also remember, after you finish your spec screenplay, unleashing it upon Hollywood becomes the most important driving force in your life — unfortunately unless it’s an assignment job where the producer is waiting for you to deliver the project, no one cares. They just don’t give a sh*t. I’m not being cynical, just honest. You’re now part of the other 50,000 scripts registered at the Writers Guild every year and without representation, you too must figure a way to catapult it over the wall and into someone’s compound for a read. This entire process of writing, rewriting, to finding representation takes a long time and requires tremendous patience. Especially if you’re working a day job you hate and you see your script as your way out and into the life of a working screenwriter. I don’t suggest putting this kind of heavy pressure on yourself, as it will make you stressed and even more impatient.
It’s a long road to becoming a working screenwriter and forging a career usually doesn’t happen overnight. My personal journey took me six years after film school to secure my first professional writing job and seven years until my fifth spec sold and was produced. I talk about this, my start in the film business, and details about my new screenwriting book on the fantastic new podcast Eclipse the Script. If you are in this for the long haul, it will require tremendous patience. Even becoming a better writer does not happen overnight and requires you to continually write, learn and create projects that you will sadly discover will ultimately never sell. It also helps once reach a professional plateau not to become lazy. Always push yourself out of your comfort zone as this is the only place where growth happens.
Make sure before you start your journey, that you ask yourself the honest questions about why you’re screenwriting. Prepare to meet the challenges that will come your way on your journey as a screenwriter. They will be a series of failures and mistakes, triumphs, and little successes that when added up will open a door that hopefully leads to a steady career as a working screenwriter in Hollywood. The process will be long and difficult, but if you have patience, you do the work necessary and respect for the mountain you’re climbing, you’ll focus more on your love for the craft and not the urgency of success.
Keep filling your blank pages and keep the faith.
Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on his blog MY BLANK PAGE.
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“Any good director gets a professional family when he starts a film. They immediately check him out to discover how much information he possesses. They also want to know if he has balls. They will challenge him the first day and every day until the wrap-s-unless he proves he knows what he’s doing.”—Jerry Lewis
“There are two kinds of scenes: Pet the Dog Scene & Kick the Dog scene. The studio always wants a “Pet the Dog” scene so everybody can tell who the hero is.”—Paddy Chaydfsky
“There are no minor decisions in movie making. Each decision will either contribute to a good piece of work or bring the whole movie crashing down around my head many months later.”—Sidney Lumet
The main thing for a writer is to find out who you are. Now, that’s not going to please everybody. You have to discover what your real talent is—what really interests you as a writer. That’s really the thing. Not how popular you can be. But what really is your metier.”—Horton Foote