For those who don’t know, I’m from Chicago. And in Chicago is a certain long-suffering baseball team known as the Cubs who had not won a championship in 108 years. Until last night. When the most dramatic World Series win in history took place.
So as I pondered what to write about in today’s article, I went back to a strategy that’s always served me well. My articles are best when I’m passionate about something. And today, I’m passionate about my Cubbies.
So here are five screenwriting lessons inspired by your 2016 World Series Champion Chicago Cubs!
Love What You’re Writing About – One of the reasons the Cubs were so bad for so long was because they were owned by the Chicago Tribune, a giant (at the time) news company that couldn’t give two shits about the team. Because they didn’t care, all the decisions that were made from the top down lacked the passion required to create greatness. Then, in 2007, the company sold the team to a lifelong Cubs fan, Tom Ricketts. From that moment on, everything changed. Ricketts brought in the smartest president in baseball, Theo Epstein, who subsequently hired the best manager in baseball, Joe Maddon. Joe Maddon brought in a top-notch coaching staff, who would later help one of the youngest teams in baseball win a World Series.
In screenwriting, your script is your team. And if you don’t care about your team, you’ll never put them into a position to win. I truly believe that. But if you’re passionate about your screenplay. If you can’t think of anything other than your story and your characters and your plot and what that script is going to look like on the big screen. Then the chances of your script electrifying a reader go up infinitely. Love the script you’re with!
Have a Plan – When Theo Epstein inherited the Cubs, he redesigned the organization from the top down. The Cubs used to be a group of aging overpaid overvalued losers who were more interested in a paycheck than winning. Their minor league teams, where franchises develop young players to feed into their big league team, were bone dry. So Epstein came up with a plan. Trade away all their big league players for unproven but talented young players they could develop through their minor league system. The problem? It would mean waiting through three full seasons of futility while the young players developed with no guarantee that they’d be good.
It was risky. It was a gamble. But it worked. The Cubs didn’t just win the World Series, but because of their plan, they now have the youngest team in the big leagues, which means they’re set to win championships for years to come.
Tying this into screenwriting, most writers don’t have a plan. They stumble through one screenplay after another, seeing what happens along the way, making things up as they go along. Screenwriting is too difficult for that. You look up, five years have passed, and you wonder how you’re in the same spot as you were five years ago. The solution is to come up with a plan. Give yourself deadlines. Have months set aside for working on things (reading scripts, reading screenwriting books, practicing screenwriting concepts). Figure out what scripts (and types of scripts) you’re going to write. Come up with a game plan for when you’re going to finish these scripts and who you’re going to send them to. A plan increases your chances of success infinitely. So get on it.
Fight – Screenwriting is fucking hard man. Most of the time it’s just you and the page. And when your story’s going south, your characters are lame, and you don’t have any good ideas left, you want to give up. It’s happened to me. I once got so discouraged by a script that I set it down, figured I’d try again tomorrow, and didn’t write for 8 months. It’s so easy to give in. But like these Cubs taught us last night, you gotta fight. There was a moment in the 8th inning, after the Cubs had been up 5-1, where the Indians homered to tie the game. Without question, the Cubs of the past would’ve let this destroy them. Chicagoans had seen it decade after decade. But this year’s team was different. They treated adversity like a challenge to be overcome, not a sign to go play Call of Duty nonstop for the next four months. So the team got together, reminded themselves that it wasn’t over, and they went back out and won the game. If a team that’s been denied for 108 years can fight through adversity, I know you guys can get through that plot problem, that bout of writer’s block, that lack of motivation to open up your script. Writing a great screenplay will require you to fight through a lot of shit that you don’t want to deal with. It’s part of the journey.
Find A Support System – One of the common things I’ve heard from friends who were at the games was: “I hugged 20 different people I didn’t know before tonight.” There’s something about sports that brings people together. Unfortunately, writing isn’t like that. It’s a mostly solitary endeavor. And it’s not discussed how big of an impact that can have on a writer. When your main character, Kango, is unlikable, and you’re trying to decide whether to give him a sidekick who’s dying of cancer to offset that, there is literally nobody you can ask if that’s a good idea other than yourself. With that said, when you have a writing community you’re a part of, people to trade scripts with, people to talk about writing with, it’s so much damn easier to get through those moments. Just having someone you know will read your script when it’s finished is a huge motivator to figure things out and get to FADE OUT. Get a writing group together, guys. Here, in the Scriptshadow Comments, is one of the best places to start.
Good things come to those who wait – Despite the core of the Cubs being in their early 20s, the MVP of the World Series was 35 year-old Ben Zobrist. While our crazy talented young shortstop, Javy Baez, was swinging at every pitch, trying to be a home run hero each time up, it was the calculated and cool Zobrist, who used his dozen extra years of experience to approach each at-bat like a sniper, waiting patiently for the pitcher to make a mistake. It was this approach that resulted in the most hits in the series, and a crucial late-game double that gave the team the go-ahead run. Every writer feels like they’re getting too old to pursue the dream. But remember, it’s the 40 and 50-somethings and their wealth of experience, who are writing all the big movies and TV shows we watch each week. So don’t think of your age as a weakness. Think of it as an advantage, one extra year of experience that gives you a leg up on your competition.