Monthly Archives: March 2015

Is there a Hollywood conspiracy against new writers? An organized effort to thwart new writers from breaking in? Is it a closed industry dedicated to keeping new writers out? I know this is a question every writer has asked themselves. Well, every writer except me and a few thousand other relatively sane writers who have a reasonable grasp on reality.

Let’s get this out of the way right now. There is no conspiracy. NO cabal of producers who sit and twirl their mustaches and plot to keep spec scripts from being read or optioned. People who want to keep the industry closed to new ideas or new writers. Yes, the industry is hard to break into. But any big industry is hard to break into. It takes work and perseverance. Patience and more hard work. Talent and even more hard work.

You mean I have to pay my dues? I don’t get what I want because I want it? Now? Then there must be a conspiracy.

At a writers board I lurk on sometimes to see what people are asking and thinking (and to get Blog topics on occasion), I was not surprised to see the often asked question, “Why won’t Hollywood just open its doors for new writers?” “Why do they keep going back to the same things all the time?” “Why don’t they buy spec scripts?” or... “Why don’t they buy MY spec script?”

I’ll tell you why they don’t buy your spec. It probably sucks. You probably queried it or networked to get it read before it was ready to be seen or you wrote it about a subject matter no one wants to buy. Tough words, but the main reasons why spec scripts don’t get optioned or sell.

There are so many things to consider as a screenwriter before you ever write the first word of a script anyway. And you have to be honest about it. Is this idea viable? Is it something people would pay to see? Do I know enough about this subject to write intelligently about it? What kind of research do I need to do? What new things can I bring to this idea that will make it stand out? Who is the audience I’m writing for? These are real questions to ask yourself when thinking about the film you want to write. I can’t tell you how many scripts I’ve read that were written without the author thinking about these things that, out of the gate, killed their script.

I’ve read police procedural scripts that have been done a thousand times before. Films about hobbies or about car repair or painting murals or the world of flower arranging. (really) Fast and Furious copies. Tarantino copies. Raunchy comedy copies that brought zero new ideas or concepts. Zombie films with nothing new. The list goes on.

If you write about hospitals, find out how they work for God’s sake and don’t make it up. If you set your script in a real place or real occupation (that’s interesting) find out how it works. I half read a script about scrapbooking and finally couldn’t read any more because it was too painful.

I’ve read scripts about people’s personal fetishes (get help, some of you). NONE of them put any thought into the fact that people have to read these and decide to INVEST MONEY in them. And I’ve been taken aback by the profound anger of these same writers when I’ve dared asked them who they thought would want to see something or invest in something like they wrote, not even taking into account the quality.

This is the hard work and honest thought needed before you write that most people don’t think about or want to do because it doesn’t lend itself to the instant gratification they’re looking for.

Again, I have seen real anger from people who can’t believe their script (usually their first script) isn’t the toast of Hollywood immediately upon its completion. I mean, sometimes it’s pure rage. I often see posts from writers who say, “Hollywood needs to be changed. I say we writers band together and change it.” and I ask them, “How would you change it?” They say 100% of the time, “Open it up to everybody. Have the studios stop making remakes and sequels and superhero movies and start buying specs again and make original films.”

I point out that the studios make these kinds of films because they’re profitable, there’s a demand and an audience for them, they’re safe investments for their investors, and... they’re private corporations who get to make what they want no matter how many writers “band together”.

More honesty. Producers LOVE new writers. They really do. But... it’s new writers who are great. And being great isn’t easy and it isn’t something that happens overnight. Sure, there might be some element of luck involved, but you still have to deliver to cash in on that luck.

I have a friend who’s a reader for a BIG production house. BIG. She says in the last three months she’s recommended ONE script and read well over a hundred. And she’s a good reader. In the past year I’ve read three scripts I thought were great, out of the close to a hundred I’ve read. And two of them were from previously optioned writers. It’s NOT easy.

And the angry writers say to this... “Then why is there so much CRAP made?” Well, first of all, crap is in the eye of the beholder. Lots of what you may think of as crap has an audience and makes money and that’s the whole idea of the film BUSINESS. The rest of it? I’ve seen great scripts turned into not great films over and over again. But they were great scripts to begin with.

It’s easy for me to say... just write a great script. It’s much much harder to do. Those great scripts you’ve read? They didn’t just appear. The hours and days and months and years of damn hard work to get there aren’t charted on the cover page, but you can see it in the content.

No one is trying to keep you from succeeding. And the competition is ferocious for sure. But great scripts with great ideas do rise to the top. They don’t always get made, but they do rise and get noticed. And those writers who can consistently deliver on the promise of that great script do get to make a living writing for films and TV.

But there’s no conspiracy and it’s never ever easy.

The time has come to talk about Fearlessness. Something every successful screenwriter processes.

Fearless. About working with people. Fearless. About their own work.

Let’s tackle the second one first. Fearless about your own work. If you don’t believe in it, no one will. But don’t mistake fearlessness with ego. There’s a difference in believing in what you do and unrealistically looking at your work. As a new writer (or as an experienced writer for that matter), you have to be able to listen to your own honest opinions or others opinions of your work without letting your emotions and ego get the better of you. To look at your work dispassionately and see it for what it is, even if it’s bad. Especially if it’s bad. To learn that other people’s notes, even the ones you have no use for at first glance, can a lot of times make your script better. Or... can cause you to fearlessly throw it out and start again if you need to.

Just happened to me. I’ve spent the best part of the last four weeks working on a pilot script for a dark comedy series. I finished it a couple of days ago. Today I deleted it, completely. Not going to make some people happy, but instead of handing in something I know isn’t near good enough in my opinion, I’m going to regroup immediately and tackle it again, fearlessly. I know I can conquer this. It’s in my wheelhouse. Dark. Funny. Twisted.

Part of being fearless as a writer is being able to look at your own work and toss all or parts of it if you have to. You know if it’s not good or not. It’s being honest with yourself that’s the hard part. To throw out the bathwater, baby and all. Sometimes it’s the first ten pages. Sometimes it’s a whole act. Sometimes it’s the ending. And sometimes it’s the whole damn thing. Like today.

Don’t be afraid to be completely honest with your own work. Save you a lot of grief in the future.

Now to being fearless working in the industry.

Screenwriting is a scary enterprise. You already know it’s not easy. Getting a film or TV show made from your original scripts is a damn miracle. The odds of being consistently successful are impossibly long. And screenwriters are subjected daily to ego crushing events. They get bounced off their own projects and replaced by writers who don’t care how much time and personal creativity you devoted to it. Producers and Directors change your work so much that sometimes you don’t even recognize it as yours. Screenwriters are left out of most of the crucial decisions about a project. Sometimes you can write something, sell it, and end up with zero screen credit for it. Did I leave anything out? Oh yeah, a lot, but I’m not here to depress you. I’m just showing you there are a lot of things to fear in trying to do this.

You should know that the three things Producers and Directors HATE from writers are fear and desperation and unwarranted ego.

They look at screenwriters with an agenda. And this only happens if they LIKE what you do. Can I work with this person?  Do they process the ability to understand what we want and give it to us creatively? Are they ready to do some heavy lifting without complaint? Do they understand the filmmaking process and can they live with it? And the list goes on....

Meetings with Producers can easily become scary places if you let them. The fearless will go in knowing they belong, with their ears and eyes open and speaking when they have something substantive to add, not just to hear their voice. The fearless aren’t intractable and defensive. The fearless aren’t afraid of other people’s ideas and opinions. The fearless welcome the opportunity to co-operate. The fearless stay in the room longer. A lot longer.

I wish screenwriting were as easy as writing a first draft, selling it, and watching the film as you wrote it. I wish I didn’t run into writers who believe it is or should be. Writers full of ego and emotion who can’t believe it’s so hard. Writers who are angry and desperate at the same time because the industry doesn’t recognize their particular genius. Writers who are truly amazed that they can’t just waltz in and get everything they want. Writers who are the reason producers ask their secretaries to interrupt the meeting after 10 minutes with a fake call so they can flee if they have to.

Fearlessness isn’t entitlement. It’s the attitude of the professional.