Sure, everyone wants to be on the A-list at the top levels of Hollywood. It that realistic? Who knows? And what is your definition of “making it?” Having huge paydays for your screenplays and creative satisfaction? Good luck. Maybe it’s making a living in a tough business and waking up doing what you love for a living? That’s more realistic, but who knows where you will end up? Many talented writers toil away for years and never sell anything while others with less talent and drive end up working. It’s a screwy business for sure.
As working screenwriters ,we all just one project away from looking for our next job. We’re like a band of gypsies who roam from job to job trying to stay in the screenwriting game and make a living. Even if you’re writing on a TV series, the season ends, and many times so does the show when it’s cancelled. Then what? You have to find your next gig. I thought when I scored my first professional writing job that I had finally “made it.” I was able to quit my restaurant job as a waiter and I thought this was my big break. That was until the producers fired me six weeks into the gig. It happens. I didn’t “make it” but it was just another step on a very long journey. What it did was get me out of the restaurant job and I never looked back. It’s been a long haul journey to reach where I’m at currenly, but it’s due to my drive, tenacity and never giving up. Last year I was blessed with five screenplay assignments, three of the films have premiered and distributed, one film just wrapped production last month, and I’m working on the second draft of another. It happens if you stay in the game. So, “making it” is all relative. Getting your first gig or next gig is “making it” in my opinion.
You have to shoot your dreams to the moon to even reach half way there, but know that Hollywood is a tough business to achieve any level of success. Your idea of success can’t always be about making a big sale or climbing to the A-list overnight. You won’t survive over the long haul journey if you have an “all or nothing at all” attitude. I’ve known people who would only consider themselves a success if they became an A-list talent. It wasn’t worth the tremendous effort to them to end up only making a living at their craft and not being on top. They only wanted to be superstars and nothing less. When I was pre-teen kid and making films with my friends, I only ever wanted to make a living getting paid to do what I loved to do—make movies. I’m happy waking up in the morning and getting paid to be creative. That’s my dream come true.
And the longer you’re in the film business with its ups and downs and busy and slow periods, you may change your opinion as to what “making it” is in your mind. Few achieve the top levels of any field. Shoot for the moon, but it’s not such a bad thing to get paid to do what you love for a living too. This might require you to adjust your lofty goals of achieving A-list status. It’s okay to make a good living being an artist too. Fame, fortune, and glory are elusive in the screenwriting game.
Don’t take any successful step forward for granted because what might appear to be a tiny step forward can actually be a huge successful step in disguise. If you can get your material to assistants for consideration, it’s a new opportunity for you to plant your flag and hold new ground if they like your writing. If they pass on your script but like your writing it might feel like a failure now, but it’s something that will pay off down the road. It’s a little success and positive step forward to celebrate. Even a tiny step like meeting an assistant and keeping in touch as a new contact is a successful step.
Back in the day when I was shopping my spec around Hollywood and getting rejected at every turn, I met an assistant through a mutual contact and that assistant got his boss interested in my spec enough to option and later buy it and produce it into a movie. The assistant went on to become the president of the production company and hired me to write movies for them and later became an independent producer and hired me again for more assignment work. You never know where the tiny successes will lead, but they do add up and help you establish your experience and eventually a career.
Before I was blessed to be a working screenwriter, I entered my fifth spec script in various screenwriting contests and it ended up being a semi-finalist in the Nicholl Fellowship that year. It placed in the top 1% of all entries worldwide and was in the top twenty scripts overall, but did not end up as one of the eight finalists. I could have looked upon this as a complete failure, but I used my script’s advanced placement as a successful step forward and convinced producers to read it because of my achievement. I eventually found a producer who saw my script’s potential and his new production company bought my project and produced it into a movie.
Be aware of your negative thoughts about your self-worth as it relates to your screenwriting success or failure. The more negative thoughts you have, the more it becomes an emotion and then it’s hard to separate your thoughts from your emotions. You can actually start to believe a reality that isn’t true. Many times it’s not always about the sale or the immediate final result of a project. A rejection or “pass” now can actually be an open door later and another project because they like your writing and want to see more of your material. What seemed like a failure at first might really be a successful step because you started a new relationship with a producer or executive and now their door is open to you. This is why you must work on your next project because the key to a successful career is building these relationships with a solid body of material.
It will take at least four scripts to really find your voice and style. Screenwriting well takes time and experience, so be patient. This is a marathon and not a sprint. Completing your latest screenplay is “making it.” Keep making it and eventually you’ll land a real screenwriting job that will be the first step of a long journey to stay in the game. Don’t be depressed when your script doesn’t sell the first time out because most aspiring screenwriters rarely sell their first screenplays.
Copyright 2018 by Mark Sanderson on his blog MY BLANK PAGE.
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“So the only environment the artist needs is whatever peace, whatever solitude, and whatever pleasure he can get at not too high a cost. All the wrong environment will do is run his blood pressure up; he will spend more time being frustrated or outraged. My own experience has been that the tools I need for my trade are paper, tobacco, food, and a little whiskey.”—William Faulkner
“I have a theory: not to bore the audience. You make pictures, in a way, for yourself, but you also make them for an audience.”—director William Wyler, Conversations with The Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age at the American Film Institute.
“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
The reward of suffering is experience.”—Aeschylus, Ancient Greek Dramatist known as the founder of Greek Tragedy
“Unlimited budgets make for a lack of precise decision-making.”—producer Lynda Obst in her new book: Sleepless in Hollywood
“Starting tonight, every night in your life before you go to sleep, read at least one poem by anyone you choose. Poetry and motion pictures are twins.”—Ray Bradbury