note: Scroll down for the weekend’s Amateur Offerings post!

Hey everyone.  Carson here.  Today we have a very familiar guest poster, professional screenwriter John Jarrell.  You may remember John from his Hollywood Horror Stories post a few months back. John wanted to write another article for the site, but this time focus a little less on horror and a little more on hope.  Hence, today, John will be discussing that moment every writer dreams of – his first screenplay sale.  As you may remember from his last post, John runs an awesome screenwriting class here in LA, one of the few held by actual working screenwriters.  This man not only tells how you how to write what Hollywood’s looking for, but explains how to navigate the elusive trenches that only those with experience in the industry know how to navigate.  If you feel like your writing has stagnated, if you don’t know where to go next, or if you just want some really awesome instruction, check out John’s site to learn more about him, then sign up for his Tweak Class.  You won’t regret it!

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Trust me — nothing will ever quite match the crack-high of earning your first real money from screenwriting.

Experienced this yet? You and your bros crash some screening, party, mixer. People (even women!) ask what you do. You admit that you’re a (cough) screenwriter.

Great, they say, wow. Anything I’d be familiar with?

Not yet, you explain, you’re unproduced and haven’t sold anything… but Lionsgate is really, REALLY excited about a project of yours, and it could be any day now…
And that’s pretty much where the pussy hunt ends.

Because other than credits and/or money, there’s no standard by which civilians and Industry insiders can possibly differentiate between those working hard to become legit screenwriters and the army of ass-clowns out there just playing at it.

So… what’s an aspiring screenwriter to do? How can we rid ourselves of this dreaded Wannabe Syndrome, shake the metaphorical monkeys clawing at our backs? Parents, classmates, landlords, loan collectors, the faux-hipster who spotted you Twenty at The Farmacy, and, most importantly, our own stratospheric expectations?

The answer’s pretty straightforward.

Get paid for your screenwriting.

Bury a fifty-foot putt. Knock the guy through the ropes. Or as DMX so succinctly puts it, “Break ‘em off somethin'”.

Because rightly or wrongly, the business of screenwriting ultimately comes down to convincing a complete stranger to give you real money for something you typed into Final Draft.

Actually, this is great news – that part about strangers paying money for scripts. Because they’re still doing it, making the blank page the great equalizer for us all, every screenwriter’s secret weapon.

Yeah, sure, no shit, John. Love the concept. But where the hell does one even START in this godforsaken town? By what means do you actually propose to get this done?

Bottom line? By any and all means necessary. Hard work. Blind luck. Freak breaks. Perfect timing. Brute Force.

At least that’s what worked for me.

*********

Before you can get paid, however, you need an agent or manager. Getting my first agent is one of those bizarre, by-the-seat-of-your-pants Hollywood stories.

Summer 1990, my actor buddy Mike was cast in perhaps the most nonsensical martial arts movie of all-time — Iron Heart starring Britton Lee. Britton was actually Korean, not Chinese, and shouldn’t be confused with Bruce Lee, Bruce Le, Bruce Li, Dragon Lee, Bruce Dragon Li, or any other Enter The Dragon copycats of that era.

Shooting was in Oregon, and late one night Mike went to a wedding party at the Portland Marriot. The bash got crazy loud, completely out of hand. Two women from an adjoining suite came over to complain, but rather than turn the racket down, the Groom convinced them to stay and party instead.

The blonde one was hot, and my bro took a liquored shine to her. Mike’s a pretty handsome guy (he became a Network soap star years later) and so he followed Young MC’s advice to the Pepsi Generation to just “bust a move”. (Under 30? Google it.)

Small talk kicked up. “Where are you from?”, “What do you do?”, etc.

So she tells Mike she’s a literary agent in Los Angeles.

And Mike, bless his heart, blurts out — “Wow. I know about the best script!”

Cue needle scratching LP surface. This chick’s looking at him like, I’m on vacation, in Portland Fuckin’ Oregon, and I’m still getting scripts thrown at me!”

But he kept her talking (like I said, Mike’s pretty hot himself) and put it out there that I’d gone to NYU and long story short, she told him this —

“If you’re serious, leave a copy at the front desk and I’ll have somebody in L.A. look at it. I fly out at 6 a.m. tomorrow.”

Want to know if your best buddy is the real deal? Here’s the gold standard.

Mike hauled ass back to his hotel, got the only copy of the script within 3000 miles, penned a quick note with my contact info, then drove all the way back to the Marriot again, at 3 a.m., and left my script for her.

Raises the bar pretty damned high, doesn’t it? Saying nothing of the fact he could’ve gotten laid if he hadn’t decided to hook me up instead.

Next morning, Mike hipped me to what happened, and I was like, great man, thanks, really appreciate it… and promptly forgot all about it. I’d already had my ass kicked so many times over that script I’d given up all hope. Shitty coverage, angry agency rejection letters, demoralizing notes from two junior, junior, baby execs, all that. A man can only eat so much shit in one sitting.

But one week later I found a message on my Panasonic answering machine.

“Hi, I’m Susanne Walker, from the New Talent Agency in Los Angeles. I’d like you to call me back. I read your script and I think it could be very, very big.”

Completely blissed out and brimming with newfound hope, I drove down to L.A. in my ’66 Bug, $200 to my name, ready to take my rightful place astride the Industry’s brightest and best paid.

Susanne got me meetings everywhere. Mace Neufeld, Scott Rudin, Paramount, Warners – all the Town’s heavy hitters. This was Ground Zero of the ’90’s Big Spec Era. It was ridiculous then, like a cartoon when compared to today’s Business. Writers were selling dirty cocktail napkins sketched with story ideas for a million cash. As the trades boldly confirmed each morning, with a decent script, anything and everything was possible.

There was only one little glitch.

Bad timing.

My script was essentially Taxi Driver meets Romeo And Juliet. Two tough Irish kids, living in the burned-out bowels of Jersey City get in trouble with black gangsters and the Mob, gunplay and tragedy quickly to ensue. People loved the gritty action and characters, and it was the type of genre film Studios were still interested in making back then.

But then State of Grace opened, just as I was taking all these meetings, I’m talking same exact week. Even though it boasted Sean Penn and Gary Oldman, it completely cratered at the box office, sinking its home studio, Orion.

Everybody agreed, our stories were COMPLETELY different. But they did share the same world, and quite literally overnight, all my hard work turned toxic, Fukushima’d by State of Grace’s blast radius.

One veteran producer put it perfectly — “It’s a shame one big, dumb movie out there is going to kill your sale.”

And that’s exactly what happened.

chair

My new agent had nothing for me after that. One unknown with one good unsold spec wasn’t any more likely to get an open writing assignment back then than they are today. All she could suggest was to write another spec — the last thing on Earth any aspiring screenwriter wants to hear.

I got pissed. Mega-testosterone, 24 year-old white-boy pissed. I cursed the Film Gods for crushing my quick sale and the lifetime of Hollywood leisure to follow. Bitterly, I resolved to knuckle down and write that second goddamn script, vowing it would be so good that some stranger would be forced to give me money for it — they simply wouldn’t be able to help themselves.

Mike moved down to L.A., and together we took shelter in an old beach studio. Venice in ’91 was a dicey shithole, not the Pinkberry/ iPad skinny jeans love-fest you know now. Borrowing a PC, desk and chair from our dope-harvesting landlord, I barricaded myself inside our place and went on a screenwriting killing spree.

Grinding day and night, punching out page after page, wearing nothing but a bottomless bowl of Cheerios on my lap, I summoned the gripping tale of a Brooklyn attorney who witnesses a murder committed by a Mafia client he himself got off in court. When the attorney threatens to testify, the Mob comes after him and his family, gunplay and tragedy quickly to ensue.

Twenty-four days later, I chicken-pecked “The End”. I entrusted my magnum opus to Mike, holding his Backstage hostage until he read it. He finished, grinned and said — “If someone doesn’t buy this, I don’t know what to say.”

Flushed with pride and riding the final, indignant fumes of my prior rejection, I pointed The Bug down to my agent’s place. I remember bulldozing into her office like I was storming the Bastille.

“Here it is, my new spec, exactly what you asked for,” I stammered, thrusting it towards her like a broadsword. “I believe this is The Big One.”

“Okay, swell, thanks for driving in,” she said, ward nurse handling potential mental patient. “I’ll call you the second I’ve read it.”

Standing next to her desk was a stack of client scripts maybe twenty, twenty-five specs tall; a Xeroxed, three-bradded Leaning Tower of Pisa. In harrowing slow-motion, she took my newborn masterpiece and discarded it atop of the pile. Number Twenty-Six.

Something about it just broke me.

In that dark instant I got my first, unfiltered snapshot of how infinitesimal my odds really were — and it ruined me. Like they say, when you’re walking a tightrope, never, ever look down…

Returning to Venice, expecting the very worst, I marched into my half of the hovel and hand-shred all my notes; stepsheet, page revisions, all of it. Then I staggered, crushed, to the Boardwalk, bought a pair of 22 oz. Sapporo’s, found an empty bench and got ridiculously, pathetically, shithoused blind drunk.

Like a little baby, I cried out there, a six-foot, 190 lb. pity party. I bawled my fuckin’ eyes out among the hacky-sackers and forlorn homeless, casting my broken dreams atop the invisible, flaming bonfire of their own.

So this was the real Hollywood, I thought. The one every B-movie, t.v. show, and Danielle Steele beach-book warns you about. A financial and emotional Vietnam from which cherry young recruits like myself never returned.

Fuck me. How in the hell could I have thought selling a script would be that easy?

*********

Alas, Dear Reader, I’d overreacted. Turns out, I had not been irrevocably voted off Screenwriter Island.

Susanne called three weeks later. The ol’ good news/bad news.

Good News — She liked my script and thought it could sell. You heard me — sell. For money. Awesome, right?

Bad News — She felt it needed an entirely new Third Act. She wanted to throw out everything I had and rethink the whole thirty pages from square one.

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Sooner or later every screenwriter’s life reaches a crossroads where the whole of their career — the full possibility of what they may or may not become — comes to rest in their own fragile hands. In that brief instant, there’s nobody and nothing to rely on save your own gut instincts – not unlike the process when any of us face the empty page. All the solemn risks and rewards rest squarely on your slumped shoulders alone.

My own crossroads came very quickly. On this very call, in fact.

Susanne insisted on a new Third Act before she’d go out with it. Not only didn’t I want to do extra work, I honestly wasn’t sure it was the right call creatively. I was exhausted, beaten down, my self-doubt was flaring up, and the Imposter Syndrome had me by the throat. The concept of more time in isolation, the unique self-loathing only a screenwriter knows, was simply too much to bear.

So, brain racing, I decided to sack up and posit this —

Why not cherry-pick one of the many esteemed producers we’d met when I first hit town, slip the draft to them and get their opinion?

It seemed the perfect solution. We could get an objective, world-class opinion without exposing the script and burning it around town. Further, the producer’s take would be our tie breaker. If he/she agreed with Susanne, then I’d get to work on the third act straight away, without another whimper. Conversely, if the producer agreed with me that it was ship-shape and good to go, we’d fire things up and paper the town with it.

Susanne liked the idea. Now all that remained was to choose the producer.

We picked Larry Turman, the wise man who produced The Graduate. Larry was a real straight-shooter with a ridiculous wealth of experience.

Susanne messengered my script (remember those days?) over to Larry’s office on the Warner Hollywood lot, and a few weeks later his assistant called saying Larry wanted me to drop by and talk about what I’d written.

Enduring the endless crawl up Fairfax that day was awful. That Third Street intersection has always been a clusterfuck, long before The Grove arrived. Legions of ornery blue-hairs shot-gunning in and out of the prehistoric Vons parking destroyed traffic with a sadistic regularity.

Running way late, tragedy struck. I stepped down on the clutch and SNAP! the clutch cable broke. I actually heard it shatter, like a little bone, and the pedal sank straight to the floor, useless as a severed limb.

No clutch, no drive car. Simple as that. If your clutch goes AWOL, it’s game over. You pull over, Siri Triple A and wait.

But I still had one blue-collar trick up my sleeve. True fact — you can drive an old VW without a clutch. Here’s how. Turn the engine off, cram the gearshift into first, then restart it. Your Bug will lurch and whiplash terribly, then start grinding forward. If you match the RPM’s just right, you shift back into second, too — top speed, 20 mph.

So that’s what I did, said “fuck it” and snailed onward, my Bug’s antiquity a sudden asset in my favor.

This went down at Third and Fairfax, Clusterfuck Central. Hazards on, I politely edged to the shoulder, but that did nothing to halt the on-coming bloodbath. Apoplectic motorists began HONKING AND CUSSING ME OUT as they passed. Every single motorist had their horn pinned down and/or were commanding me to forcibly insert my Bug into my own colon. Zero mercy. Welcome to L.A.

This road-rape only encouraged me. Smiling my best “fuck you, too”, I continued surfing the glacial grind towards Warner Hollywood.

I was shown into Larry’s office a humiliating forty minutes late. Here I was, this Dickensian scrub, some hat-in-hand wannabe, accidently insulting the only ray of hope I had in Hollywood.

Besides being mortified, I also looked like shit now. Oil-smudged hands, pit stains pock-marking my only clean shirt, hair matted flat to my humid skull.

“Larry, I’m really, REALLY sorry. My sincerest apologies.”

I’d blown it, and I totally accepted that. No doubt, it was a colossal bed-shitting, one I’d have to live with forever. But Larry was legitimately one of the nicest guys I’d met since crossing over the River Styx — hell, he’d actually taken time to read my script as a courtesy! — so I felt it important he know my fuck up was not intentional.

“Believe it or not, I drive an old Bug, ’66 actually, and the clutch broke. Those last two miles I had to baby her in, at, like, ten miles per hour.”

Larry peered back. What sense he might make of these ramblings, I had no clue.

“Well, your car may not be working too well, but I know something else that is.”

“Huh? What’s that?”

“Your brain,” Larry said. “You’ve written a really good script here…and I want to buy it.”

I am Jack’s completely blown mind.

“You’re fuckin’ with me, right?”

“Not at all, John. We’ve partnered with a venture capitalist, and I want to acquire your project with some of the development money we have.”

By naïve force of will, what Orson Welles once called, “The Confidence of Ignorance”, trusting my gut and a shit-ton of hard work, I’d fought my way onto the big board. I was now a paid writer.

*********

Money changed hands, and that changed my life, forever.

I was working a $125-per P.A. gig at Magic Mountain when I got The Call. Over the payphone, Susanne confirmed the deal had closed. Tomorrow, I’d have a check for $25K in my pocket, with the promise of THREE-HUNDRED THOUSAND MORE once we set it up.

Believe me, it felt EPIC. Something I pray every last one of you tastes someday. Think Tiger Woods, ’97 Masters, triumphant fist uppercutting Augusta sky, Barkley suplexing Shaq flat on his back, Hagler/Hearns with Marvelous alone still standing.

Oh, and by the way, Susanne was right — it did need a whole new third act. Five of them, in fact. And I started working up the first Day One/Page One with Larry.

Looking back, who knows? Maybe Susanne’s approach would’ve been best. Maybe if I had rewritten the Third Act in-house, we’d have sold it for even more money; started a bidding war, landed a massive, splashy spec sale putting me squarely on top.

But for me in ’91, there was no tomorrow. It was land this script, now, or beg my folks for airfare and crawl back to N.Y.C. busted apart. Many times, I’ve reflected about how not getting it done would’ve affected me, as both a writer and a man. Thank Baby Jesus, I never did find out.

Of course, here’s the punch line, the part I had no idea about —

This was just the first, brutal step of my climb up Screenwriter Mountain. Game One of a seven game series that would eat up a full decade, with a thousand times the agony of this little walk in the park.

Eventually, though, I’d pay off my student loans with a single check. Realize the Great American Dream and buy my parents a house, then grab a vintage Marshall and Gibson SG I’d always masturbated myself to. But meeting after meeting, script after script, I kept driving my trusty ’66 Bug as a reminder to keep my head on straight, come what may.

If you take nothing else away from my mangled musings, let it be this —

Screenwriters are special. Americans in general are taught never, ever to say that; never to imply any relative value between ourselves and our neighbors. But the fact remains — we writers have undertaken special challenges, endured special risks, absorbed a special amount of punishment and persevered with a special amount of grit, determination and (hopefully) integrity along the way. Screenwriters make a spectacular effort to scale our mountain of dreams while the majority of others huddle in the warmth and easy shelter of the base camps and ski lodges below.

So yeah, by any and all means necessary. Work hard. Trust your instincts. Fight like hell to spin every setback, every strand of Hollywood bullshit into gold.

And on that glorious day when you finally see an open kill shot, take it, my friend. Bury it right between the eyes.

Carson back again.  I don’t know about you.  But this sure makes me want to go write.  Once again, John’s classes start THIS MAY in Los Angeles.  So get over to his site now and SIGN UP!  He only has a limited number of slots open!

  • FDSY

    Everytime I start to feel like shit, stories like this pick me up again. Once more into the breach I suppose.

  • Isaac Cabrera

    “…where the pussy hunt ends.”

    WOW, nothing like an old man laying down a misogynist/sexist comment in the first few lines. Way to piss-off and alienate female writers.

    Not sure what the rest of the article said, Dirty Old Grandpa doesn’t deserve my time.

    • Kay Bryen

      I don’t know if I’d be more bothered by his alleged chauvinism or your own agism.

      • Isaac Cabrera

        Alleged?

        And as a “woman” your lack of being bothered is sad.

    • Midnight Luck

      If one tiny word or phrase can stop you short,
      Hollywood’s likely to blaze one scorching hole through your soul
      you are unlikely to recover from

      this article holds many treasures
      if you can get beyond your walls of judging

      and if not,
      well…
      we are happy enough to plunder them ourselves

      • Kurt

        It’s not the words, silly, it’s the attitude behind the words. Maybe a guy who says “pussy hunt” doesn’t really think of women as peers, as equals, as potential fellow writers?

        And lo and behold, only a tiny percentage of major Hollywood screenwriters are women. I guess there’s two possible explanations. 1. Women aren’t as good at screenwriting as men, or 2. Women aren’t taken as seriously in Hollywood, are treated more as commodities.

        If number 2 is the case, then maybe, Midnight Luck, it would be in your interests as a woman for that attitude to change a little, and one way to do that is to call someone out, not for saying words, but when those words strongly suggest an attitude that doesn’t give people from other groups a fair shake.

        • Midnight Luck

          I totally understand why it is being called out.
          When I first read it, I did think “did he really say that”, and reread it.

          The thing is, if you keep reading it becomes obvious to me, that he is joking around with so much of what he says. Yes an argument can be made that even joking in that way demeans women. But in the end I feel like everyone is so up in arms about things being PC and whatnot.

          I think they are just words. and that is it. who cares?
          and seriously, in Hollywood, so much more could be said and run into than words.
          I don’t think this is a female thing, I don’t think it is an abuse of power.
          I think it was joking about, and ultimately quite harmless.
          But we each take things and feel them where we feel most vulnerable.
          I, for one, don’t make much of the words myself.

          To me it was more about the reality of what happens.
          Right or wrong (these are just words also), Do women (or Men for that fact) want to hear about the fact that you are just another wanna be writer, or that you have actually sold something, done something, have landed something? That’s all.

        • Kay Bryen

          The supposed Alpha Misogynist himself, Eminem is my all-time favorite wordsmith; so I’ll let him post my comment for me:

          “I guess words are a motherf*cker
          They can be great
          Or they can degrade
          Or worse still, they can teach hate
          It’s like these kids hang on every single statement we make…”

          C’mon, let’s not act like the aforementioned ‘kids’.

        • RayFinkleLacesOut

          And maybe he means that he’s just looking for a vagina to insert his penis into for the night and not an equal or peer to conduct business with? If a gay guy said was looking for some dick would you think that’s wrong to say? My bet is no one would mention it. Why do people always look for problems in every little thing?

          • Kurt

            Yeah, Ray, because historically men have had to fight to be taken seriously by women, who run most of the major institutions.

            Oh, wait…

            That’s why what you’re suggesting is false equivalency.

            Words don’t exist in isolation, Ray, they have social meanings.

            I notice from your picture you’re a white man, so I guess you must know a lot about discrimination.

            Sad that as a writer you don’t have the imagination to put yourself in the place of women who are still objectified and who are still paid less for the same work as men.

            Not such a little thing after all.

    • Marija ZombiGirl

      That line actually made me laugh.

      And I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be the worst thing you’d hear about women in Hollywood…

      • Isaac Cabrera

        3 women defending a derogatory comment about women!?

        Not sure what that says. Maybe I just respect women more than women.

        • RayFinkleLacesOut

          This ain’t the 50s, buddy, women are hunting for dick just as much as guys are hunting for pussy.

        • Kay Bryen

          “Maybe I just respect women more than women do.”

          Oh boy… If you’re incapable of seeing how your sentence above insults the very gender you claim to respect, then I’m afraid you sir just might be beyond all hope.

          • Isaac Cabrera

            Oh girl… That comment, “Maybe I just respect women more than women do.” is in response to the first comment, “3 women defending a derogatory comment about women!?”

            Taking it our of context only makes you look ignorant.

            And I don’t need or want your hope.

            And seriously, your picture, so you’re the one who tried to Follow me on Twitter and get me to go to your porn site?! No wonder you lack respect for your gender, daddy issues?.

        • ArabyChic

          Get off your high horse, you righteous ass. You don’t have more respect for women simply because you took offense to a joke that women have been hearing ALL THEIR LIVES. It’s up to a woman (or a man) to decide for themselves what to be insulted by. By judging women you make yourself out to be worse than JJ, whose only intention was humor – even if it wasn’t humorous to you.

    • Midnight Luck

      People need to chill.
      Let’s write, not fight.

    • Jaco

      So quote it in bold, spout some homebrewed hyperbole and take a shot at at a guy generous enough to give his time to a bunch of wannabe writers.

      Way to drown your point in very sad bowl of fatuousness soup.

      Lighten up, Francis.

      • Isaac Cabrera

        Yeah, you’re right, sexist statements should be ignored.

        Congratulations, that Thesaurus you got for Christmas is getting a work out!

        Wake up, he’s only giving his time to pimp his Tweak Class. The good, professional screenwriters are actually busy, oh, I dunno, SCREENWRITING.

        EVERYONE remember, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”

        I’m not like you, I’m not gonna kiss some guys ass who in 25 years has THREE credits with an average IMDb score 4.96/10. Not who I wanna “learn” from.

        PUCKER UP, Jaco!

        • Kay Bryen

          Now I’m confused. If you have such a low opinion of John and don’t want to learn from a guy with only three credits, how come for YEARS you’ve been coming to “learn” from the site of a blogger with ZERO credits, and commenters with even less writing experience??

      • Steve

        That’s right, ma nigger. The man has made it in Kike Town, so everyone should lighten up about words like pussy hunt that tell us nothing about how he feels about women.

    • Bella_Lugossi

      Mr. Jarrell is a writer. Writers use words. Screenwriters are used to using them sparsely.

      He had to choose between “that’s pretty much where the pussy hunt ends ” and “that’s when, tragically and suddenly, there were no more ladies left willing to bed me”.

      The latter is just not his style, I guess, because he didn’t write it (I did). And if you can’t say poop, then why even bother becoming a screenwriter? After all, it’s a dirty business.

      • https://twitter.com/cmulliganauthor Chris Mulligan

        Sparsity isn’t the reasoning for that word choice.

    • Fiona Fire

      I always worry I’m the only one offended by this shit.

      And everyone is excusing it away or telling you to lighten up. Do they not realize they are just as much a part of the problem?

      Yeah, okay, he isn’t raping anyone. He isn’t murdering children. But phrases like this that demean/objectify women (or any gender, race, sexual orientation, etc.) are problematic. Even if they are just a joke.

    • Paul Clarke

      Wow, are there actually people in the world that easily offended?

      You must be the type of people who flick through the TV channels looking for something inappropriate to write a letter to the network about. Please return to your sheltered little lives (where you’re clearly not getting any)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1152553479 Ken Glover

    Wow….I’m like, wow…excellent story. Hitting John’s site now. Awesome.

  • martin_basrawy

    Pretty good article. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I love the idea that you kept driving your ’66 bug in order to keep yourself grounded.
    All right, back to the drawing board for me…

  • http://twitter.com/jaexhkim jae kim

    very inspirational. I’m talking braveheart, before mel gibson lost his sanity. then again john could have a few screws loose himself, which might be what it takes to make it in this business. I just cannot imagine a time when you had to physically put your script into people’s hands to get it noticed.

    nowadays we can submit our scripts to competitions, numerous sites like trigger street, enter the battle royale that is AF right here, etc.

    of course this also increases the amount of competition, but I think/hope this will improve the amount of good scripts out there, and by association, increase the amount of good writers who goes noticed.

    thanks john for sharing your experience with what sounds to be like the old wild wild west of screen writing. perhaps it still is.

  • Kay Bryen

    Without even reading any of his scripts, you can just tell John is a masterful storyteller. If there’s an “actor’s actor”, then John is the quintessential “writer’s writer”.

  • Midnight Luck

    You did it again, phenomenal story.

    Thank you John for sending hope to us. This kind of story gets into my core, and yeah, it makes me excited to write. Thank you for that.

    Wow, a Fight Club reference.
    Cool beans.
    Anyone who does that is, well, top shelf – in my book.

    I am Jack’s Heart of gratitude.

    • john writer

      Cheers, Midnight, and thanks for the kind words. You’re exactly the type of ScriptShadower I write these articles for.

      • Midnight Luck

        Your welcome.
        But the thanks all go to you.
        And Carson of course too.
        He deserves thanks for getting you to write such wonderful words for us.
        Words that inspire us to write.

        In the end, Inspiration is what we all need most.
        Thanks again.

  • http://twitter.com/JLHeadScripts J Lawrence Head

    Great article! Both inspiring and reassuring!!

  • klmn

    “Standing next to her desk was a stack of client scripts maybe twenty, twenty-five specs tall; a Xeroxed, three-bradded Leaning Tower of Pisa.”

    Three brads? So that’s how to get read! (slapping my forehead) And all these years I’ve been using two brads!

    But now we’re in the age of PDFs. So what’s the secret now?

  • ripleyy

    That was such a great read. I loved it, every single letter of it. Every journey starts with a single type.

  • klmn

    “I balled my fuckin’ eyes out among the hacky-sackers and forlorn homeless, casting my broken dreams at…”

    I hope you mean bawled. If you really did mean balled you have adapted to your new handicap very well, becoming a successful writer and all. And I congratulate you on your flexibility.

  • tobban

    John Jarrel’s set ups and pay offs are great. Terrific story about life in the trenches. Kudos and respect to him. And I too remember Venice, CA, back in the nineties.
    Johns command of the English language is fantastic and the yarn even better.

  • Citizen M

    A great, inspirational story. Well structured, too.

    ACT 1:
    Our hero is getting nowhere with his screenplays
    INCITING INCIDENT:
    A good buddy get an agent interested.
    ACT 2 PART 1:
    Our hero goes to LA and picks up good vibes about his script.
    MID-POINT TURN:
    “State of Grace” comes out and renders the script unsellable.
    ACT 2 PART 2:
    New plan. Our hero locks himself in a room and grinds out another script in 24 days.
    DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL:
    Our hero realises he’s once more at the bottom of a very big slushpile and drinks himself into a stupor. Additionally, his Act III is rejected by the agent.
    ACT 3:
    Rush to the airport producer’s office in the clapped out V-Dub. Larry loves the script!
    THE END
    As dollar bills flutter across the screen.

    Incidentally, State of Grace got good reviews but flopped financially because another gangster movie, Goodfellas, was released the same week. As they say, shit happens.

    • ArabyChic

      State of Grace is worthwhile if only for Gary Oldman’s totally gonzo gangster. And the rest of the cast is nothing to sneeze at either. For all the flaws that movie has – which are many – it is a lot of fun. But yeah. It ain’t no Goodfellas. But really, that’s an unfair comparison to almost any movie.

      • Poe_Serling

        I remember the film’s director Phil Joanou was going to be the next big thing… a protege of Spielberg, etc.

        When I was growing up, I enjoyed Joanou’s Three O’Clock High – it deals with ‘a high school nerd’s much hyped after-school bout with the infamous class bully.’

    • Poe_Serling

      Great post, M… now Carson can take off next Thrusday. ;-)

  • Bella_Lugossi

    I really enjoyed reading this. Well done Mr. Jarrell! :]

  • MrTibbsLive

    Another great article. Thanks again.

  • John Bradley

    Great article and very inspiring!

  • sheebshag

    An Iranian (?) woman talking about cock, dick and pussy. I’m in awe.

    In all seriousness, though, I agree wholeheartedly.

  • Paul Clarke

    Another writer with a broken clutch on a VW for inspiration. Seems like the same thing happened to Michael Arndt.

    • Malibo Jackk

      I’m told that’s going to be in the next Star Wars
      along with Woody and all his pals.

    • Citizen M

      I have a “broken clutch” story.

      Years ago I was hitch-hiking from Cape Town to Johannesburg. It was late afternoon and I was stuck in the middle of nowhere wondering where I was going to sleep when a clapped-out old truck drove very slowly past me.

      I noticed the driver was an African and thought no more about it. Those were the apartheid years and black and white people didn’t mix. Then I noticed the driver was gesturing frantically, “Come, come.” I picked up my suitcase and ran alongside. The driver indicated, “Jump in.” So I took a running jump onto the running board and climbed in.

      The driver said he liked a bit of company. It helped him keep awake. He said his boss was a skinflint and expected him to drive the truck with a broken clutch and a broken starter, that’s why he didn’t stop.

      With much graunching of the gears we sped up and drove on until night fell and the driver said he needed petrol and we pulled into a filling station. The driver ripped the gear lever into neutral and we coasted to a stop at a petrol pump. The engine was doing the typical diesel idle: ka-RUMP ka-RUMP ka-RUMP.

      The garage owner came out and told us to shut off the engine. The driver explained his problem and the owner grumpily accepted the situation and disappeared into the workshop. The attendant filled up while we continued idling.

      Getting under way from a standing start was a mission. The driver kept shoving the gear lever into first and the gears would grind GRRRRRRRRR!!!! and wouldn’t engage. Eventually on about the fifth try the gears meshed, the truck gave a lurch, and haltingly crept forward with the engine idling.

      At this precise moment the garage owner drove out of the workshop in his pickup truck with boat in tow, right in our path. My guy had to slam on brakes and the engine died, locked in first gear with no starter. Disaster.

      The garage owner, a typical racist white guy, jumped out of his pickup and swore at my driver, accusing him of driving like a [nasty word], why couldn’t he be more careful, etc etc. My guy explained the garage owner had driven out without looking and anyway knew about our situation and should have given us right of way. But in those years any Black-White confrontation only ended one way. The black guy came second.

      We were basically stranded. At this point I intervened and supported my driver and told the owner it was his fault and he owed us a tow-start. I think he went into a state of shock because a white guy was sticking up for a black guy. (In his community it would have been “us white guys stick together, no matter the rights or wrongs of the situation”). Anyway, after a bit more grousing he walked into the workshop and drove out in the tow truck and tow started us and we drove off into the night.

      Later in the night my guy said he was turning off and slowed down to a walking pace and I jumped off and waved him goodbye.

  • http://twitter.com/wereviking Warren Hately

    Thank you.

  • http://twitter.com/wereviking Warren Hately

    Holy shit that reply was so hot.

  • Bella_Lugossi

    Great response Shahnaz. You really put things into perspective. :]

  • Kurt

    You miss a fundamental point, Shahnaz; when John wrote “pussy” he didn’t mean “vagina.”

    He meant “woman.”

    You’re a woman, yes, but you’re clearly not a linguist. This is a device called “synecdoche” where you name a part for the whole, or one thing for something else closely associated with it. When we read “The White House issued a statement today…” no one is amazed that a building is able to write statements. We clearly understand it’s referring to the executive branch of the United States Government, true?

    Now if I say to a woman,” I love to eat your pussy,” that’s fine, assuming, I guess, she isn’t a total stranger I’ve just sat down next to on the subway. I’m using the word “pussy” in the way that you think John is using it, but isn’t.

    When a guy says he’s going on a “pussy hunt” we clearly understand him to mean he’s looking for a woman to have sex with.

    The problem for some with this different use of the word is that it is reductive — it reduces women to their sexual organs and it clearly suggests that the speaker only or mainly sees women in those terms. Hard to get a guy who sees your purpose in life as mainly a sexual one to take you seriously in a career.

    That’s the problem that some of us are expressing here.

    If you don’t have the courage to call men out on such attitudes, Shahnaz, they will not change, just as not so long ago in this country it was socially acceptable for bigoted whites to use hurtful words like “nigger.” It took a social struggle to try to move us a little closer to social equality.

    The struggle for women also still continues and combatting sexist attitudes is a part of it.

  • Nate

    In the words of Daniel Kaffee from A Few Good Men ”Wow, I’m sexually aroused right now!”.

    But yeah I agree. I didn’t even realise John said pussy hunt until it was pointed out. Choosing to not read an article that tells you exactly how much work you have to do in order to make in this business because of a few little words is pretty damn sad.

  • Kurt

    “He gets pussy, she gets dick. And then they part ways. A perfectly utilitarian transaction.”

    Except that men run Hollywood. And men run the boardrooms. And men write most of the laws. So when they see women as “pussy,” they’re less likely to see them and treat them as equals, which is backed up by employment statistics.

    And if you think most women look at men and only see “dick,” then you, my friend, know nothing about women.

    You need to broaden your thinking and consider the larger social context.

    • sheebshag

      I don’t think John ever stated that he sees women as pussy. Nor have I
      claimed that women only see men as “dick”. You’re pulling that out of a certain place… dark… located south of your head.

      It’s pretty obvious to me that John’s article is firmly rooted in his experience as a 24-year-old male trying to break into Hollywood and presents itself from that point of view.

      “You and your bros crash some screening”

      “People (even women!) ask what you do.”

      “And that’s pretty much where the pussy hunt ends.”

      “I got pissed. Mega-testosterone, 24 year-old white-boy pissed.”

      This article is channeling 24-year-old John (the “you” being used is an indefinite you). And like many other 24-year-old males, John wants to make it big and score with the ladies.

      I’d be okay with you questioning John’s male-centered viewpoint in the introduction as this article is not only directed at aspiring male screenwriters. On the other hand, I think most women are smart enough to bear with this (considering John IS a male) and, if need be, substitute “bros” with “lady friends”, “(even women!)” with “(even men!)” and “pussy hunt” with whatever floats their boat.

      The problem is you’re not just attacking the male-centered viewpoint. You’re going much further than that. Even the majority of women expressing themselves here seem to feel that you’re overreacting.

      As for women and men not being seen as equal in an employment context. There could be other reasons for this than mere sexism. For instance, most women have a desire to birth children and also an innate instinct (‘mother instinct’) to spend a lot of time raising those children and be a “good mother”. Naturally that takes time away from the time that the average woman can devote to her career. Point is, a lot of women CHOOSE to prioritize family over career which of course gets reflected in said “statistics”. In other words, there could be –and likely are — biological differences (so much for “equal”) responsible for this discrepancy. It is far too convenient to pin it on “sexism” and the “objectification of women by men”, especially in an era where women are running for president.

      So instead of suggesting that I broaden my thinking and consider the larger social context, perhaps you need to broaden your thinking and consider other factors than mere social ones.

  • AJMockler

    Great article. Inspiring, funny, irreverent, and , whodathunkit, so very well paced and written. Come back soon, John.

  • eman

    I both love and hate reading these. Why does it always seem like luck when these scripts are sold??? U would think in a town that specializes in making movies buying a spec would be like no big deal but its always such a grind.