adaptation-6

Hey guys.  Carson here.  I’ll be moving today’s review to tomorrow.  Today, I have something special and interesting, something that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before – a screenwriter openly admitting defeat – giving up on his dream.  It’s a brave and scary thing to confront.  And I’m sure a draining thing to write about.  But like our guest columnist, Randy Steinberg, says, if it can help just a few people avoid the mistakes he did, it’ll be worth it.  I don’t agree with everything he says below, but I agree with most of it.  I know one thing.  This should be a very interesting comments section.  

*Note* Throughout this essay, when I refer to screenwriting it should be meant to understand I am discussing theatrical film writing as opposed to television writing.

I received a Master’s degree in Film in 1998. My concentration was screenwriting, and from that point forward I set out to write movie scripts with the goal of finding an agent, getting produced, and building a career. In 2011, I ceased trying. I threw in the towel. Tapped out. I had failed. I made very little money during all those years, had a virtual rolodex of contacts who probably wouldn’t remember my name in six months, and a bunch of old scripts that only myself and the universe knew existed.

How had this come to pass? It’s not as if I didn’t try. I had diligently written scripts for more than a decade. I knew people both in and out of the Hollywood system liked my writing. I had the chops, the drive, and the ideas to succeed. Why didn’t I?

No one will tell you success in screenwriting is easy, but few impart just how high the odds are. You may secure an agent or a manager, but that is only one step. Once you have representation, your script may be circulated. You may even get an actor or director attached. A small paid option will seem like a giant leap forward. If you are extremely fortunate, your script may sell and even be produced. This may mean some solid income, but don’t quit your day job because you could go dry for years after that. To actually live off screenwriting and that alone (and hope to support a family if that’s part of the equation) is an achievement few realize.

It’s not as if I was unaware of the long odds, but I didn’t play the game correctly. The age old saw “if I had only known then what I know now” applies, but even armed with better knowledge the odds of success increase only slightly. Still, if one hopes to achieve a dream it is best to embark on the journey with the proper tools and information.

What was it I didn’t know? What should I have done differently? Why did I fail where others succeeded? What can I pass on so new writers avoid the mistakes I made?

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As with most failures, you have to look at yourself (though many are wont to do that). First, however, let me indulge in a bit of self-pity. When I emerged from film school, I was ill prepared to commence a career in screenwriting. It was the classic dichotomy of theory and practice, and many film school grads face this: no matter how well-schooled they might be, they are not prepared for what lies beyond the halls of the academy. For me, at the time of my graduation I did not hit the ground running: I just hit the ground.

It took me a few years to get over this poor start, but that amount of finger pointing aside, I have no one but myself to blame about the subsequent mistakes I made.

One of the appeals of screenwriting is the lottery-like nature of it. You can go from rags to riches overnight. One day you are the struggling writer in the garret, the next the toast of Hollywood. There is an entire industry built around tips, strategies, formulas, etc. that can help a writer achieve that big payoff. The allure is hard to resist.

That is probably one of the reasons I stayed at it as long as I did. Every time you begin a new script, you have hope. This could be the one. All the disappointments of the past are washed away, like so much sin after a sprinkling of holy water. Writers of all stripes have to deal with constant rejection and self-doubt, but they are the ultimate optimists. No aspiring writer would ever begin a new project if he or she didn’t think it would be the one that was going to make a big splash.

But here is the first and greatest mistake I ever made: I never moved to Los Angeles (I am from the Boston area). I had the opportunity when I was younger—before family and work made it an impossible decision—but I didn’t seize it. I labored under the impression I could write from afar, and, perhaps after a sale or another big development, then move to Hollywood—or maybe never have to live there permanently.

It’s not that this can’t happen. There are writers who don’t live in LA, who write scripts and visit frequently but don’t call the town their home. Some can make noise, but if you are going to make screenwriting your career (especially television writing) you simply have to live in Los Angeles—or at least reside there for some amount of time.

This is truer now more than ever, as reps eschew some clients simply because of out of town status. It’s harder to build the career of a young writer (and sustain the career of an established writer) if he or she isn’t known around town and can’t meet with industry players on a day in and day out basis.

Some writers may be content with one sale or maybe writing material for independent films. Maybe they want to write and produce their own scripts, in which case Hollywood matters less. But if you want to work in the Hollywood system and make a true living from it, you’ve got to be in the mix. There are always exceptions, but personally, in retrospect, it was a very large error not to move to Los Angeles—at least for a time if not permanently.

But let’s put that decision aside. Could I have achieved more, even removed from the center of the American movie industry? Yes, but again I made some poor decisions. If you want to succeed in screenwriting you have to be focused—like a laser. You are only as good as your last script. Everyone wants to know what you are working on next, and if you get sidetracked with other pursuits you fall behind. Reps and producers forget you. Tastes change and new trends form. To succeed in screenwriting you have to stay relevant, and to be on the forefront of people’s minds that means new material all the time.

Life intercedes, so it’s easier said than done, but for a time I wrote a few novels (lousy ones) and then I tried representing other writers for a bit. Both were worthy endeavors, but they forced me to put down my own screenwriting, and this was time I could have been writing newer and better scripts and perhaps breaking through.

And speaking of the wasted time department, I fell into the writing trap that is almost impossible for people to avoid, but bears mentioning because, undoubtedly, it will be asked of you if you attempt to make screenwriting your career: writing for free or writing “on spec.”

Every script that a writer begins without compensation is essentially that. Unless commissioned or written with an eye on raising money for your own film, every screenplay is penned on speculation that it can be sold or at least a manager or agent gained by it.

Some years back, times were a little easier for writers (not much but some). An unknown could procure a rep based on solid writing samples and then work his or her way into the system with small paid assignments. Money for the development of screenplays was freer and studios and production companies were more likely to take a chance on an unknown writer. Those days are gone and writers are being exploited.

More than ever, writers (both new and established) are working for free. These are not their own projects, which they then try to sell or pitch to reps. These are the ideas of producers, managers, and executives. Writers are asked to work on these for months, maybe even years with no pay, hanging only on the promise of a big score when the script is finally sold.

It is often hard for the writer to turn down these opportunities. There could be the chance to work with someone who has clout or access, and passing that up feels like starting at square one. It’s better to cling to something than have nothing, so writers take the chance and work this way, putting aside their own original material to spend time on ideas they might not even have full intellectual control of.

This, as with not living in LA, can occasionally work out, and that one out of one thousand success story fuels the notion that “it can happen to me, too.”
I don’t believe most of those asking writers to work on spec are bad eggs, looking to fool writers or get something for nothing. I do think it’s an unfortunate practice, on both sides of the equation. If you want good work, you pay for it, and there seems to be a belief that writers will still give their best effort even if not getting paid. On the other side, writers naively believe because someone is offering to get their scripts to higher ups these assurances will be followed through on. But I’m a firm believer that if there is no skin in the game on the producer or managerial side, even if the intentions are noble, you are unlikely to gain traction working on spec.

Of course, there are some looking to exploit writers, but whatever the motivations of those asking for free work, the writer should avoid it. I made this mistake several times. With limited time in this life, a writer should look askance at these situations and try to stay with his or her own original material.

But, if you must do it, do it when you are younger. Trial and error should happen when you have time and freedom on your side. You don’t want to be 20 scripts into your career, maybe with a spouse, children, and other responsibilities, putting down your own work to take free passes at someone else’s idea.

This happened to me toward the end of my screenwriting efforts, and it was not without appeal. It was a situation about a well known true crime story, one which I had a lot of background in. The producers could not afford to (or just didn’t want to) pay me up front, but as it was a front page story (and still is) there was some mojo for the project and the belief that it could be sold. In my younger days, I probably would have bit. But having learned the lessons of a failed screenwriter, I passed.

***********************

It’s not just with producers that writers can fall into this trap. Finding representation can also be a time suck and lead to failure.

In theory, the rep is supposed to work for the writer, and this may be true at the higher echelons where a well-known writer can fire an agent or manager and easily sign up with a new rep. But at the beginning stages the writer has little negotiating power. Your only leverage is to walk away, but many writers feel it’s better to hang on to something rather than beginning the search for a rep again.

Part of the reason for my failure is that, in several instances, I did just this. I should have headed for the exit far sooner, but I played the part of the ingénue too long hoping against hope that reps who took interest in my work would actually advance my career.

For example, I had once been introduced to a strong management team. They liked my writing and asked what else I was interested in doing. After discussing some ideas, we settled on something to script. Nine months and four or five drafts later, we were basically nowhere, and these reps didn’t seem interested in trying to work on something else. Furthermore, they did very little to put me forward to the industry as a writer with ideas and skills worth hearing about.
The emotional screws are similar to writing on spec for a producer and go down just as deeply. You have a legitimate rep, an industry player, interested in you and your work. They have the access and the contacts to get you where you want to be, so you are shy about asking questions or pressing the rep too much. They have all the power. The time I spent working on a script the reps never really showed to anyone was time I could have used writing other material and making more –and possibly better—contacts.

The small advantage to these situations is you have control over the material (unless you sign something to the contrary). You are working on your own ideas, with the rep helping to develop but not legally entitled to them. Still, unless you ask specific questions and “manage your manager” you can easily wind up in the same situation you would working on spec for a producer. You labor on a script for months and possibly years with the expectation that your rep will eventually get you and the work out there, but in the end they do neither.

There are many variations on this kind of relationship. A writer can spend much time working on different things for the same rep, but when push comes to shove the rep doesn’t feel it’s right for the market and asks his or her client to begin again on something new. Or the rep is only half-interested in the writer and strings him or her along hoping he or she will produce something amazing, but, short of that, won’t lift a finger to help the writer’s career.

Indeed, a few years after my failed efforts with Management Company A, I was introduced to Management Company B. Company B had an even better track record in the business than A, with big sales and an impressive client list. I showed them some scripts, and they thought I was a skilled writer but stated they could not sell those particular screenplays (more indy, character-driven pieces). Nevertheless, they wanted to discuss other ideas I might have. It quickly became apparent they were only looking for concept-driven scripts –action, big-comedy, horror and sci-fi—and their interest in me was of the “hip-pocket” variety.
This is a situation where a client is not formally signed with the manager, but he or she will agree to look at material the writer submits even though providing no guidance. When the script is complete, if the rep sees possibility in it, he or she will then sign the writer.

Had I been younger, I might have attempted to play ball, but I had learned my lessons by then and realized I would probably spend several months writing on a wing and a prayer—and in a genre that I had little passion for. In the end, I told Management Company B we didn’t have much common ground. They did not seem surprised and made no attempt to convince me we should try to work together.

*************************

The experience with Management Company B came in 2009-10. Even then, nearing 40 years of age and with much experience, I let the situation play out for too long. I was still holding out hope this one could be different. I did not want to admit failure. But when I did walk away I actually felt relieved.

After a few months of reflection, I realized I should start to move away from screenwriting entirely. I also realized the irony of it all. My final failure (the reality that I no longer aspired to practice the art of screenwriting professionally) came about because I was not afraid to fail. All those years, I was afraid to walk away from dodgy opportunities, afraid to ask for more commitment from potential reps, afraid to move to LA. Once I stopped fearing those things, I could be realistic with myself and summoned the courage to let it all go.

It was about this time, after more than a decade of trying, that I really and truly started to understand the system and could see why I had failed to make headway.

I began to realize that writing scripts was not the hard part, because if you want to succeed in the Hollywood system you have to be more than a good writer. There’s no question you need skill to make it; one can’t bumble his or her way into a successful writing career. But once you get past some of the first hurdles, success in screenwriting becomes more about market savvy, how you position and develop yourself, and saying the right things to the right people.

You’ll hear Hollywood insiders frequently tell new writers to just “write a great story” and you will get noticed. I think this is terrible advice. If there are two writers of equal skill, one who loves writing period dramas with female leads over 50 years of age and the other who scripts action pieces with 30-year old male leads, it’s not hard to see who is going to get more traction.

Screenwriting is, far more than any of the other writing forms, business-based. No one is going to shell out millions of dollars to make a movie without expecting (misplaced as this often is) millions more in return. Writers need to realize this.

I’ve read enough screenplays (at different levels of development) and seen enough movies by career-professional writers to know the gap between them and the talented aspirational class of writers is not as large as we are led to believe. It’s true that being in the right place at the right time is something no one can predict or prepare for, but I think a certain class of writers separate themselves from the pack by doing the little things that others can’t or won’t do.

No story about how a writer broke in to the system and succeeded is ever the same. There is no magic formula. The best advice I ever heard about success in screenwriting is “be pleasantly persistent.” But some succeed while others fail because they learned to do the little things. The little things evaded me for a long time, and when I did finally understand them I didn’t want to put them into practice.

I found the ideas that spoke to me as a writer were not commercial enough for Hollywood. I was not interested in moving to LA, ever. And I was unwilling to talk the kind of eager-beaver talk that producers and reps in the system want to hear. Perhaps some of this was due to the fact that I was nearing 40 and at a different place in life, but there are plenty of writers, no matter what age, who succeed because they play the game correctly (in addition to possessing great storytelling skill).

Perhaps I was never truly cut out to be a Hollywood-style screenwriter, but all those years of trying would have been less of a letdown if I had not made some of the mistakes I did. Then I could have chalked up lack of success to poor timing as opposed to some of the other missteps I made.

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Even though I harbor little ambition for screenwriting any more, I still have people approach me and exclaim “I’ve got a great idea for a movie.” It’s difficult to even hear this because there is so much beyond having a great idea. I used to respond, “Sounds good. Write it up.” Now, I feel I should be a little tougher or at least ask “What’s your goal?” You need a great idea to begin, but that’s one piece out of a 1,000 item jigsaw puzzle.

It’s hard to be entirely negative. A prominent screenwriter I’ve known for years has always counseled me not to bother with the craft. Naturally, I never liked that advice, but he knew what I was up against. You don’t want to lead on aspiring writers by telling them just to try hard and believe in themselves. You want to encourage someone to pursue their dreams, but at the same time you want them to know exactly how steep the climb is.

As I noted earlier, there are a million books, articles, and blogs about screenwriting that will tell you all the things you need to do in order to sell a script or land an agent. The point of this essay is not to follow suit. I don’t want to tell anyone reading this article what they must do in order to succeed at screenwriting: I’m here to tell readers what I did wrong and why I failed.

A screenwriter who did succeed once told me something about the business when I asked him what I should expect out of a situation with an agent. He said, “It’s all a mystery until it isn’t a mystery.” If this article can take just a small slice out of the mystery by highlighting my missteps, I will take solace in helping someone else succeed where I did not.

  • thoughtful

    interesting. i’d love to read a sample of this guy’s work. it’s a sad day, and depressing realization to give up a dream, but perhaps he can find another way to tell stories.

    • klmn

      I’d like to read some too. Maybe one could be posted to this site?

      • carsonreeves1

        I think he’s open to that. Going to try and get a script of his up by tomorrow.

        • peisley

          It would be typical Hollywood irony if his script posted on this site got him what he always dreamed of after giving it all up. He could claim it was a brilliant marketing ploy.

          • carsonreeves1

            Indeed, it would be one of the greatest screenwriting success stories ever. :)

          • Linkthis83

            I think it’s an automatic [x] Worth the read no matter what you think of it ;) ;) ;)

          • Trek

            THIS, THIS, A THOUSAND THIS’S!

          • Midnight Luck

            I don’t think it would be irony, I think it would be the standard: “come up with an interesting story on how you broke into Hollywood”.

            “So I quit, I announced it to the world, wrote a long article about it, garnered 500+ comments, then, Amazingly people wanted to read a script, and someone loved what I wrote, and BOOM! I sold my first one. At the final last chance finish line, when all was doomed and I (the Protagonist) had given up all hope, I was finished, I was done for.”

            Good marketing.
            I thought it might be what he was working at when I first started reading the article.
            Smart and Savvy.

  • Warren Hately

    Great article, and yes, fucking depressing. As a 41yo guy not in some dissimilar circumstances I often wonder about persisting (even pleasantly), however much I enjoy the craft. That said, I also focus on my novels on Amazon, which some days feels like dividing my energies rather than widening my options.

  • jlugozjr

    What about raw talent?

    You can practice the craft of screenwriting for ten years, read all the screenwriting books and visit the Scriptshadow blog every day, but if the talent isn’t there… It’s not gonna happen.

    Look at Tyler Marceca. Why did he succeed? Talent.

    Talent trumps everything. I don’t think we hear that enough.

    As far as LA… I moved out here as soon as I could. I love it.

    (It was like 80 degrees two days ago.)

    I don’t know a lot of writers, but almost all my friends in LA are actors, will they succeed? Again, just like screenwriters, it comes down to talent.

    And as far as the concept/target audience of your screenplay…

    I aimed for the most commercial idea possible when I started my script. And it’s because EVERY screenwriting book tells you to do this. So a little research ahead of time could’ve helped with that.

    • klmn

      We can’t assume Randy does not have talent.

    • Citizen M

      Raw talent can only take you so far. Let’s say you have a terrific story with strong commercial prospects. You get production companies interested in your script.

      Now, as a writer, you have to shift gears.

      Because to the production company a commercial script is an opportunity to make money. But it’s also a problem. How do they get talent attached and get it made with maximum audience appeal and minimum budget?

      Now the writer becomes the go-to guy for solving production problems. Can you make the lead a female? Younger? Set it in Mexico? Have a drug-taking scene? Whatever they think will make THEIR job easier in terms of production and marketing.

      The writer at this point is no longer the lordly creator of the script. He’s just another schmuck with mud on his boots trying to panelbeat it into a usable shape and drag it out of the production swamp. He can’t be too precious about his script. He has to prove he’s one of the team, pulling his weight and getting on with the others, that gets the script into the theaters.

    • Matthew Garry

      I don’t want to appear overly critical, but if it’s true that “talent trumps everything,” why move to LA ?

      It’s a good thing to believe whatever one wants to believe if it motivates them to better/more writing, but “talent trumps everything” is an assertion I’m not willing to take at face value without more information to back that up (especially since I’ve just read an article about a writer who’s been trying for 12 years).

      I’m sure there are some names that have succeeded on talent alone, but that doesn’t mean much without the number of writers who didn’t, in spite of being talented. And since no one knows of them (they didn’t make it, after all), it’s a lot harder to get insight in to this other side, moreover since I can imagine “failed” writers aren’t usually very willing to discuss it. So props to Mr Steinberg for adding some perspective to the stories of pots of gold at the end of the rainbow.

    • tr3i

      Talent means, well let’s just say it doesn’t mean as much as you think it does. Guess what, everyone on this blog is talented, I guarantee you. They’re all intelligent, talented writers just waiting to pop. I swear to you that’s true. But you know what? Only the ones that are willing to “suffer” for it will succeed. Put in the work. Put in the time. Put in the blood, sweat and tears and you will succeed. Nobody gives a shit about your talent. They want a team player with a nice smile and high concept ideas that can put out good writing on a constant basis. Talent? I’d give half my talent away and trade it in for a little more focus and hard work LOL :P

      • Citizen M

        Some talent plus a career as a stripper works well ;o)

      • ximan

        I think TRUE talent is the ability to do all of these things IN ADDITION TO writing a kick-ass commercial script to get the ball rolling.

        The other kind of talent, like you wrote, “doesn’t mean as much as [people] think.”

  • klmn

    Excellent article.

  • carsonreeves1

    I know everybody’s going to be discussing the “Should I move to LA” thing, so I’ll just say this. It is DEFINITELY easier to make it as a screenwriter if you live in LA. People want to meet all the time and when they do, you want to be there. Or else they mentally file you away as the “out of town’ guy who’s harder to get in touch with and harder to set up on OTHER meetings you guys might potentially have with OTHER people. With that said, I think it’s easier to break in from afar than ever before. The internet’s brought everything closer.

    • NajlaAnn

      I’m gonna go with ” The internet’s brought everything closer.” Some of us CAN’T move to LA.

      • Kay Bryen

        Exactly. I keep reading this insinuation that those who haven’t moved to LA just aren’t committed enough or brave enough or spontaneous enough. I’m not trying to be funny, but for some of us the only way it would be possible to end up in LA is if the tectonic plates brought LA to us, Gondwanaland style.

        • Michael

          Thank you, Kay. I live in New Jersey, right outside of NYC and while I can completely understand the convenience of living in a town consumed by people in the business and thus easier to network with and randomly run into at parties, out on the streets, etc., I just don’t see why you can’t simply market yourself and your ideas online. If your ideas and concepts are unique, original and exciting enough to convince an agent to read your script, why should location really matter? Is an agent more likely to read a shitty script “just because” you live in LA, but completely turn down a totally new and exciting brilliantly written script “just because” you live in New York?

    • http://the-movie-nerd.com themovienerd

      moving *back* next year. stoked.

      • garrett_h

        As am I, can’t wait!

      • Mike.H

        I’m slow witted. Does it mean you went to LA… thru “failure”… moving back to nest town USA, elsewhere? :)

        • http://the-movie-nerd.com themovienerd

          Haha. Fair question. I lived in LA for a couple years about five years ago. Left to go to law school and move back closer to family. With that done, moving back after I take the CA bar in Feb.

    • http://www.erikvidal.com/ Erik Vidal

      Wow, this article made me CRINGE–and not because it wasn’t well written, well thought out etc, but rather, it was just something about the repeated (and, perhaps, somewhat self-indulgent) use of the words “fail”, “failure” etc, over and over again (makes me think of that scene in Bridesmaids, where the one girl is like “Are we having ourselves a pity party over here? Huh?? Little PITY PARTY maybe??” etc)… Certainly these terms are relative and “failure” is a mindset you choose, not something you are arbitrarily saddled with at any point in your career, and it is absolutely never a permanent condition… The phrase “I’m taking a break from it all–for now…” really would be more apropos here, but that having been said, I think the most heartbreaking takeaway from all this is that the guy KNEW he was going about pursuing his career in a less than optimal fashion, there were the things he KNEW he should’ve been doing but wasn’t, and now, it’s like, “Yep, I failed!!” A few tips then–

      ON MOVING TO LA
      You have to do it everyone. YOU HAVE TO DO IT, and there are no exceptions to this rule. I, too, harbored the illusion that I could live somewhere else and still make it as a screenwriter, because–why not?–writers can write from anywhere, right? Wrong. And hell, it wasn’t like I was living in the middle of nowhere, I was living in downtown Manhattan, the center of it all, for 12 years. FINALLY, I got my act together and moved out here to Hollywood just a few months ago (arrived June 15 2013), and finally, my career is now actually starting. Two reasons I decided to take the plunge:

      1) A director approached me to write a script for him (while I was in NYC), and though I ultimately turned him down (he didn’t have enough money for the project, see below) we did talk about his career etc, the guy had made about a dozen features, and at one point he said, “You know, I love NYC, I’m from here, but man, if you want to make it in this biz, you HAVE to live in LA.” “Why’s that?” I asked. “Surely a writer can work from anywhere? And I can just fly in as needed?” “Nope,” he said, “That’s the thing, you can write from anywhere, sure, but you can only GET GIGS while you’re out in LA. Every directing gig I’ve ever gotten, it’s always been me hangin’ out by some friend’s pool at a party in the Hollywood Hills or whatever, and I get to talking to some other dude, turns out they need a director for this thing coming up, and boom, I have the job. It’s ALL who you talk to and who you hang out with out there, that’s where all your work is gonna come from.” Wow, eye-opener.

      And 2) A producer friend of mine (this was right after the above director episode) said, “You know that no one’s ever gonna rep you if you don’t live in LA, right?” (Insert loud record needle scratch here) Me: “Um, what? Why’s that? I live in NYC. Lots of writers live here.” Him: “Yeah, but they’re already rich and famous. You haven’t broken in yet. You can only do that in LA.” Me: “Shit. Really?” Him: “Think about it. You’re a hot young agent at William Morris or wherever. You have 5 hot young screenwriters in front of you, each with an awesome spec, all of them on the verge of breaking through. You can only rep ONE of them. Four of them live in LA, one of them lives in NYC. Four of them have made the commitment to put their LA time in and get serious about their work, one has not. Now tell me, as the agent, which is the first of these writers that will definitely get cut from the running?” Me (again): “Shit.” Him: “That’s right, the out of town guy. Nobody wants to work with someone who hasn’t made the commitment to be in LA full-time. It’s a social business. They want to know that you’re a cool guy, that you’re eager, dedicated, responsible. And if they’re gonna put you up for a huge writing assignment, they want to be able to meet with you, keep tabs on you. That ain’t gonna happen if you’re in NYC.” (Or anywhere NOT in LA.)

      So that’s it guys–if you haven’t made the commitment to come out here, then you haven’t made the commitment to get serious about your career (yet). And let me tell you, it’s absolutely true: I’ve only been out here a few months, and I’ve already met some extremely highly placed people who (by the look of it) are more than a little eager to read the script I’m about to finish–people who are going to get this thing out there and, hopefully, get it sold and get it made (and who knows, maybe I’ll come back with a success story in just a little bit). So yeah, if you’re not here, find a way to get here. And while what Carson says is true, you CAN get noticed writing from outside of LA, don’t forget the crucial follow-up to that: all the writers who DID get noticed writing from outside LA then had to move LA if they wanted to actually get their careers going. I don’t care how awesome your spec is, the next question on everyone’s lips is inevitably going to be, “Hey, this is great–so when are you moving out here?” Cement this in your mind–and then plan accordingly.

      RE: HIGH CONCEPT
      No straight forward dramas everyone–no “Here’s my epic period piece love story set against the backdrop of the West African ivory trade…” Keep it HIGH CONCEPT, and keep it to: action, horror, comedy, science fiction. That’s it, those are your go to genres. Read Save the Cat and heed Blake’s advice–start with the title, the movie poster, and the logline, and then work your way back. If your story can’t be fit into those constraints, you may be better off writing it out as a novel and then self-publishing on Amazon etc. Hollywood is for simple, high concept ideas. For those of you who think you might be the exception to this rule, consider this: I was hanging out with an extremely well known / successful producer the other day (see, this is what happens when you move to LA!), and the guy was complaining: he’d just read the most amazing script, the writing had bowled him over, but he couldn’t do anything with it, couldn’t sell it, because it was a straightforward drama with no hook. He then said (and I am quoting him verbatim here): “If the script was about, like, I don’t know, THE SUN EXPLODING or whatever, then I could sell it…” Print that out and tape it to your monitor everyone: straight from the horse’s mouth:

      “IF YOUR SCRIPT IS ABOUT THE SUN EXPLODING, I CAN SELL IT.”

      ON WORKING FOR FREE
      This was probably the most painful thing to read in the article–I’ve been there, we’ve all been there, and it’s times like these you wish Harlan Ellison was your manager. If it hasn’t happened to you yet it will: some producer-type will approach you and say, “We read your spec, we LOVE your writing, we have this really cool idea we think you’re perfect for, we want you to write it, make it into a feature screenplay, EXCEPT… We don’t have any money for you…” (Or: “We only have $1,000 for you…” etc). “You’ll get lots of EXPOSURE though, your name will be on this awesome script as it circulates around town, and who knows what that could do for your career??” HERE IS HOW YOU RESPOND TO THIS SITUATION: If you love, and I mean LOVE the idea, if it is HIGH CONCEPT and in one of the genres mentioned above (i.e. commercial), if you really think you can turn the idea into a great script that can go places, tell the producer, “I’d be happy to write this thing for you, and we’ll knock it out of the park, no fear. You don’t have any money right now, I understand that, so here’s what we’ll do: I will write your idea for free, but I will OWN the script when it is done. The copyright: all mine. When the script is finished, I’ll give you a 12-month option on it for $5,000. At the end of that 12 months, if nothing’s happened with the script, I’ll let you re-up for another 12 months for $10,000. If, at the end of 2 years, nothing’s happened, all the rights revert back to me, I own the thing, and I can do with it what I want. Sound good?” If the producer really believes that he can do something with the script (sell it, get a movie made) he’ll take this deal (he doesn’t care, if the script gets sold it’s the studio buying it, not him). If, however, the producer insists that, well, it was HIS idea, you’re just work for hire, here’s a few dollars for a few months of your time and at the end he owns the product that you created, then RUN. RUN LIKE HELL. If you’re gonna work for little money (or for free) make sure it’s on something with tremendous commercial potential, and make sure you OWN the product you created at the end of the day.

      Hope these tips help–and remember guys: failure is mindset, and self-sabotage is a choice. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot just before you’re about to start the marathon. Come out to LA, write high concept genre pieces, and don’t work for free. Looking forward to reading more comments here as they come in–

      Erik

      • Acarl

        Excellent post, Erik!

      • CRAYONSEED

        Awesome advice. I also live in NYC and I think you finally pushed me over the edge to move to LA (luckily the gf is down).

        • http://www.erikvidal.com/ Erik Vidal

          Come on out man, it’s better out here!! ; )

          You know it’s funny, now that I’ve been out here for several months, I was just thinking the other day that I should write a guest article for Carson, something to the effect of “For the Aspiring Screenwriter thinking of moving from NYC to LA”… I don’t know what it is, but everyone, and I mean absolutely EVERYONE I’ve met out here in the past little bit (both friends and professional contacts), they’re ALL ex-New Yorkers… And they all (WE all, I should say) love it out here–the quality of life is second to none. And for whatever reason, this seems to be America’s best kept secret, right now…

          I don’t know, maybe it’s like that story (don’t know if it’s true) re: the vikings and the founding of Iceland and Greenland… Supposedly, the vikings stumbled upon this brilliant, gorgeous paradise, didn’t want everyone else coming along and over-populating the place, so they called it “Iceland” to throw everyone off… (And, on top of that, they discovered an uninhabitable barren icy wasteland and called it Greenland, to REALLY screw with the outsiders…) I feel like all the ex-New Yorkers now living in LA are all kind of pulling the same trick, here: when I was living in NYC, everyone out in LA was decrying the place–”Oh, life is so hard out here, I’m so alone, so isolated, so cut off from the rest of the world living in this vast neverending suburbia, there’s no camaraderie out here, no sense of community, the competition is cutthroat, people are stupid, everyone’s a shark…” and on and on…

          BUT, now that I’m actually living here, it’s like I’ve joined this new secret club–and everyone’s like, “Pssst!! Life is GREAT out here, isn’t it??! Just don’t tell anyone back in NYC, keep the secret, we don’t want word getting out, else all the New Yorkers will come out here in a mass exodus and everyone’s rent will skyrocket accordingly…” Truth is: life IS better out here; and I had a pretty cushy set up back in NYC. Moved there when I was 25, got my sweet pad downtown (in Tribeca), and I was like, “This is it!! I’m here to stay, I’m NEVER leaving this town, NYC is the center of the universe!!” After 10 years, though, it was like, “Hmm, maybe I could see myself leaving one day…” At 11 it was, “Yeah, I think I need to go somewhere else, I think I need to go to LA…” And at 12 it was, “GET ME OUT OF HERE!! NOW!!” (I moved to LA the week of my 12 year anniversary.)

          So yeah–if you’re in NYC and thinking, “I know I SHOULD move to LA for my screenwriting career, but I just love this town so much, all my friends are here, the whole world I know is here, I can’t bear to leave it…” Let me promise you: you WILL make friends out here (I’m sure LA has its share of shallow / stupid people, as well as users and abusers etc, but I’ve yet to meet them–everyone I’ve met thus far as been extremely intelligent, hard working, and accommodating), life WILL be better out here (the weather and the exposure to nature alone will radically affect your mood for the better), and, most of all, your career WILL rocket off the starting line once you finally make the commitment to being out here full time (there’s something about being out here, surrounded by the best pros in the business, that forces you to bring your “A” game in a way that nothing else can. This alone, I think, is worth the price of admission…)

          So yeah, come on out–the rest of your life is waiting!!

          Erik

          • CRAYONSEED

            Yeah I’m already at the “get me out of here” point. And I’ve lived in NYC all of my life. The quality of life here is definitely diminishing for the non-wealthy (and increasing by leaps and bounds if you have the scratch to take advantage).

            Any neighborhoods you’d suggest for (non-wealthy) filmmakers? First beer’s on me when we move out there…

          • http://www.erikvidal.com/ Erik Vidal

            Ah yes–you’ve hit on my particular area of expertise!! (e.g. “If you’re an aspiring screenwriter looking to move from NYC to LA, which neighborhood should you be looking at??”) Well you’re in luck my friend: before I moved out to LA I spent weeks (perhaps months) on Google maps, looking at EVERY neighborhood out here, every intersection within every neighborhood, every block, clocking everything out, looking for the single most “walkable” (most convenient, most “dense”) neighborhood, all with an eye to seeing if I could, indeed, come on out to LA and live here full-time, all WITHOUT HAVING TO BUY A CAR…

            And guess what? IT CAN BE DONE, grasshopper…

            After having done vast amounts of research (via Google Maps etc), having talked to quite a few friends already out here, and then, ultimately, having come out here for a week to test the whole thing out before moving, I think I can safely say: if you’re from NYC, and used to a certain density of urban sprawl (and a certain level of convenience that comes with that–24/7 delis etc), and you want to come out here and rock LA without having to invest in a car (and all the money and hassle that that entails), here’s what you do: you come to the area I have dubbed MINI-MANHATTAN, which is the 4-block (2 blocks x 2 blocks) grid that is bordered as such: VINE on the east side of the square, CAHUENGA on the west, HOLLYWOOD on the north, and SUNSET on the south. In particular, re: apartments etc, take a look at SUNSET + VINE (1555 Vine, at Sunset and Vine) if you have a little bit less money to spend, and 1600 VINE (address is the same, at Selma and Vine) if you have a little bit more (if you’re budget is at a minimum, it becomes even easier: just go to Sunset + Vine and ask them about the cheapest studio apartment they have, take it, and that’s it, you’re good to go.)

            I’ve now been out here 6 months, I don’t have a car, haven’t needed a car (not once), and the fact is, I really don’t plan on getting one anytime soon. If you live on Vine on the two block stretch between Sunset and Hollywood (which includes both of the above apartment complexes) then you likely won’t need a car more than perhaps once or twice a week, if that. Get on Google maps and take a look at that area, it really is incredible (and, I feel, the best kept secret in LA)… Within one or two blocks from my front door I have: a 24/7 Walgreens (biggest and best drug store I’ve ever been in, place even has its own sushi bar), Trader Joe’s (grocery store at the base of my building), Yogaworks (across the street), Arclight (awesome movie theater a block away), Starbucks (on the corner), Tender Greens (healthy and cheap salads, I eat there like every day), Fedex Kinko’s (for shipping), Amoeba Records (for those still into physical media, DVDs etc), a TON of amazing (scene-y) hotels, bars and restaurants (like the Redbury, the W Hollywood etc) all a block or two away… I’m sure I’m forgetting a few things here but the point is: I lived in Tribeca (downtown Manhattan) when I was in NYC, I thought my neighborhood was pretty damn awesome, but I have to say, this particular section of Hollywood, unbelievably enough, for pure walkability and density factor, actually has it beat.

            AND, on top of that–geographically, if you DO need to go somewhere, you’re in the exact center of it all, no one (or almost no one) anywhere in LA is going to be more than about 30 to 40 min away, depending on traffic (and most people will be 10 or 15 min away). You’ve got all the hip artsy types a few minutes to the east (Silverlake, Los Feliz, Echo Park etc), you’ve got West Hollywood and Beverly Hills a few min west, and then the beaches (Santa Monica, Venice) just a few more min after that. And if you DO need to go somewhere, let me tell you: UBER is an absolute life saver, I use it a few times a week, UBERx in particular is significantly cheaper than a taxi (by like half, or a third), and for just a few dollars it’ll get you anywhere you want to go (for those not in the know, Uber is an mobile app wherein you tap the icon, summon a cab, it shows up and takes you where you want to go, and your account is billed automatically. It’s all transparent and seamless, and completely and totally fantastic)…

            So yeah man, you can always take the bus (a bit sketchy, but doable if need be) or the subway (totally clean and safe), or buy a bike and zoom around (given the neverending perfect weather out here, LA is VERY bike-able); add up all that and then toss Uber (or Lyft) into the mix as well, and I can absolutely say: if you live in my neighborhood (Vine between Sunset and Hollywood) you can make it out here without a car, easy (assuming you don’t have to commute daily to some remote / far away / hard to get to job or what not–but obviously, that’s another story entirely).

            Oh, and did I mention the largest Whole Foods in LA is going in across the street? And an Equinox too? I’m tellin’ ya man, this two block strip is the “new New York”–do come on out and check it out for yourself before the prices skyrocket accordingly… (And of course give us a ping when you’re in town!)

            Erik

          • CRAYONSEED

            Wow, man, thank you so much for writing all this out. The gf doesn’t drive (typical NY’er) and it’d be nice for me not to have to drive us everywhere.

            We will fo sho look you up when we get down there.

            Thanks again.

            P.S. – It’s cold and snowing now up here and I can’t wait to not deal with this shit ever again…

      • ChristianSavage

        This is one of my favorite comments here. Thanks for sharing your tips and experience, Erik.

        Moving out to LA and writing commercial material makes perfect sense, and is well within the control of the writer. Out of everything Randy talks about in his essay, the thing that concerns me most is working for free. How do you handle this kind of scenario? Can you say no and not get labeled as ‘difficult to work with?’ How do you make the jump from being free help, to being a paid professional writer? We want to make movies, but we also need to eat.

        I really like your advice about gaining ownership of the script, after it’s written. The producer ought to show some kind of real commitment to the project. I’m one of those people who hates the writing process. I may end up feeling pride and love for the final product, but it’s complete hell getting there. If I’m going to torture myself over every plot point and word choice, it’s because there’s a practical reward for doing so. Like getting a good grade on a school assignment, or receiving a check in the mail. It’s all about the work getting validation from other people. That’s why I don’t keep a personal journal.

        Working for free, and then winding up with a script that’s not yours to sell, sounds miserable. Based on your post, it’s a relief to know it doesn’t have to be that way. The writer has a choice not to be a door mat.

        • http://www.erikvidal.com/ Erik Vidal

          Yes, this town is rife with stories of producers approaching aspiring (amateur) screenwriters with an idea for a script, promising the moon, getting said screenwriters to work for free (often for months or even years at at time), with the producers OWNING the script at the end of the process (the writer often signing a work-for-hire contract for $1, or $100, or whatever), and with the writer, ultimately, ending up with nothing at the end of the day (not even a writing sample he can show to others, as he doesn’t own the work, the producer does). Certainly I’ve had my share of producers come my way with this same pitch (“We have this awesome idea, we don’t have any money for you but we still think you should spend a few months of your time writing this script for us for FREE because, hey, it’ll be great exposure for you, right? This script is going places, and your name’s on it, so this is gonna kickstart your career, right??”). And honestly, when I was starting out, I did entertain a few of these pitches (because I liked the ideas they were pitching me, and I thought I could turn them into decent feature scripts), but when it finally came time to discussing deal points (and signing a contract) I inevitably always had to turn the deal(s) down, not just because they wanted me to work for free, but because I wouldn’t own the product at the end of the (extremely long, and arduous) process…

          The rule is: either they pay you WGA minimum (or something close to it), it’s a work-for-hire, you write it for them, and then it’s done, they own it and you’re out; OR they pay you nothing (or very little), you own it, and then they get to option it from you (for, say, $5K for 12 months, in the example I gave), and if they can’t make a deal happen in that time then the rights revert back to you when the option’s done and you can do what you like with the script (pass it around as a writing sample, try to get it sold yourself, etc–it’s your property to do with as you please). DO NOT EVER, EVER WRITE FOR FREE AND SIGN OVER OWNERSHIP OF YOUR SCRIPT TO SOMEONE ELSE. You own that copyright, keep it, it’s all you have as a writer. And don’t listen to their bullshit claims of, “Oh, it’ll be sooo great for your career, we have these amazing professional contacts, these producers that are gonna be reading it are SOOO high up on the totem pole, and they’re just dying to read this script… And when they do, they’ll see your name, and they’ll offer you the writing gig for Transformers 5 (or whatever), and you’ll make a ton of money, and your career will start, and it’ll be so sooo grand…” Hey, you know what’d be REALLY great for your career? Writing a great script that YOU OWN outright, and can do what you please with. Nothing else matters. Don’t worry about your exposure (or lack thereof), your professional contacts (or lack thereof) etc. If you write a great high concept genre piece that has solid commercial prospects, I assure you, Hollywood will come and find you–

          Erik

      • A Tribe Called Guest

        Loved this advice.

      • garrett_h

        Can we swap this comment with today’s guest article up top?

      • blue439

        See, this is what I mean about being specific. One specific story about writing for free in this post trumps the vagueness of the same topic in the article. Great post. Thanks.

      • Breezy

        I agree with some others that have said some of us just don’t have the option to move to LA for whatever reason nailing our asses down to our own state/country.
        For me, its money. Money only. Im a free agent, no child, no dependents. I could move then send for my boo later but I don’t have the funds to do that. I live in the Caribbean, my island’s currency means whatever it costs to buy, say, script reading services online, costs me DOUBLE, damn near triple the amount listed. Shit, just to go to the states costs three thousand dollars for the TRIP talk about staying in LA where I have no fam.
        The time Disney came here to shoot pirate’s of the caribbean, I was in the midwest, USA. Dont know how long they were on my gilligan’s island in particular, but I heard the crew filled every hotel in town. talk about sliding a script under a door.
        But fuck it. And fuck moving to LA when I have no dough and no green card. We’re in the age of the internet, and if my shit’s good enough, something’s bound to happen.

      • kenglo

        ON WORKING FOR FREE – That is the most SAGE advice I have seen on here, real world advice. Thanks Erik!

      • Spitgag

        This seems like a total WIN for the Producer. They’re basically getting first right of refusal on the big awesome idea before it becomes a PROPERTY (sorry no italics). Meaning they’d be insane not to jump at this unless their egos are bigger than their biz sense.

        But it seems like even this is not without some risk.

        Paranoia self destroia scenario—

        For the sake of this odd argument, you’re an unrepped nobody….
        You handshake this arrangement bc you agreeing to write it is a whatever with zero legal.

        You sacrifice your heart/soul/contact with outside life to write it. The result? 90% sheer awesomness but could use a little finishing. You hand it over to the Producer and

        THEY FUCKING VANISH OFF THE FUCKING FACE OF THE EARTH

        Two years later, “their” movie comes out with two repped writers on it with a few diff names, scenes, lines etc but it’s your basic structure.

        Lawyers? WGA?

        What happens when they claim your lawyer they told you the entire story?

        Am I just being absurd here or is there a prob?

    • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

      ‘Tis very true that the internet has brought everything closer. People are breaking in from out of LA, there is no doubt. Especially when they create a really hot spec script like say, The Disciple Program.

      But most people don’t do that. A lot of people write really good scripts, but not scripts that generate a bidding war.

      A little anecdote from before I moved to LA. I had written a script. Well, I had written several, but only this one is important. It didn’t have an amazing concept. But I guess it was well-written, because I got it to an agent at a very large agency in LA. He sent me an email that was basically, “Matt, I was sent your script by xxxx, loved it, are you repped? would you like to come in for a meeting?”

      My reply: “Yes, I would absolutely love to, and no I am not repped. I actually don’t live in LA right now, but I can fly out whenever and as soon as you want me to.”

      His reply: “I’m going to get some more coverage on this around the office and then get back to you.” Never heard from him again.

      Thinking back on that one perhaps I should’ve just said, “yeah, how’s Friday?”

      • Mike.H

        Matty, had you actually flown out to LA, it prolly amounted to a wasted trip, anyway right?

        If your spec had generated heat, then you would’ve moved to lala in a heart beat and sharing In n Out with Carson often. :)

        • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

          Pssshh… going to LA is never a wasted trip for me. I love that city. And I have tons of friends there, so even if that fell through, it’d be a nice visit-vacation.

          But yeah, at that point, especially since I didn’t really have any other good scripts at the time (and the next question is always ‘what else you got?’), it probably would’ve been a bust.

    • kidbaron

      Great article. If you want to be a writer make sure you are honest to yourself with what kind of stories you want to tell. I think the writer would be happy making independent movies in the Boston area.

      I think you have to be open to moving to LA when things finally happen. I lived there for 15 years and has some success in animation and in comics via a network I created because I was there and on an agent’s desk. There’s no way I could have broken in without being there. However, when things are lean, like for me between 2008 to 2010, living in LA can be really tough. I had to get out just to make some kind of money.

      Now, LA is even more expensive than ever. I would never “wing it” like I did in my youth. The city will burn through your cash, so have a long term plan and really think about how you will get through any kind of rough patches.

      I never wanted to leave. I love the city, even with all it’s acne scares and psychological baggage. I will get back, but I know this time I have to have a plan for my writing career that will keep me from wasting time and money.

  • carsonreeves1

    Yes yes and yes. Reading over Randy’s article, the feeling I get is that he tried to break into a commercial industry the character-driven route. And that’s really hard to do. He probably should’ve focused on the indie-route, since those were the movies he was interested in writer, and in that world, you have to control your own destiny more. You have to direct. You have to put the movie together yourself. That kind of thing.

    • NajlaAnn

      That’s scary too. Some of us [yours truly] don’t want to direct. I’m just plain happy to craft stories.

      • vic

        I used to feel exactly that way. But I saw a movie that just made me crave to direct, the way that it was directed just sucked me into whatever it is that makes directors tick and want to get behind the camera (it was Blue Valentine by Derek Cianfrance) and I also realized that yeah, writer-directors get a better shot than writers. Now I can’t imagine only wanting to write. Because not only will you have to make changes for whoever wants it, but the director is going make it *theirs* hence them being hired to deliver their direction for the company. If I ONLY wanted to write, I’d get the fuck outta the film biz (me personally, not an attack). There much more promising things out there for writers other than spec scripts.

    • blue439

      Yes, Randy’s big mistake was not becoming a writer-director if he wrote indie-type stories since the content in almost all indie movies is generated by the director. In other words, there’s really no indie script market since the directors generate their own content.

  • Matteo

    Nice article and I’ll certainly bare some of the lessons in mind. But optimism is a hard thing to let go of. I quote Dumb & Dumber…

    Lloyd: What do you think the chances are of a guy like you and a girl like me… ending up together?

    Mary: Well, Lloyd, that’s difficult to say. I mean, we don’t really…

    Lloyd: Hit me with it! Just give it to me straight! I came a long way just to see you, Mary. The least you can do is level with me. What are my chances?

    Mary: Not good.

    Lloyd: You mean, not good like one out of a hundred?

    Mary: I’d say more like one out of a million.

    [pause]

    Lloyd: So you’re telling me there’s a chance… YEAH!!!

    • carsonreeves1

      As scary as it sounds, the whole of screenwriting may be able to be boiled down to that very dialogue exchange!

  • vansmith

    ‘I found the ideas that spoke to me as a writer were not commercial enough for Hollywood’ that and not moving to LA sunk this guy…

    • tr3i

      Yeah I second that. I mean I’m a nobody, I know, and I don’t want this to sound preachy or pretentious, but when you refuse to move to LA and you refuse to even try to write something a little more commercial or high concept, or find the high concept angle in your indy character-driven story…and then you wonder why you didn’t succeed? Randy I wish this hadn’t happened to you, but to me it reads like you sabotaged yourself. And I truly wish you’d use your own advice and get back in the game man. Move to LA. Write high concept. I know you can do it :)

  • Michael Rusk

    As a 26 year old from the UK, with ZERO chance of moving to L.A – I feel like removing all screenwriting software from my computer and forgetting all about it.

    • carsonreeves1

      Again, I don’t think Randy’s completely right there. I truly believe it’s easier than ever to break in from out of LA. It’ll just always be easier to break in FROM WITHIN LA. It raises your chances is all.

    • Hadley’s Hope

      Well, unless you’ve already got a surefire blockbuster screenplay burning a hole in your pocket, it is best to have some solid scripts written to bring with if you do move out to LA.

      That’s what I’m still working on. Building up my arsenal of scripts (or you could have some short films too) to wage an all out attack on the castle walls of the studios.

      “Cry FADE IN: and let slip the scribes of war!”

      • Citizen M

        “LA, or not LA, that is the question.”

        • Hadley’s Hope

          “Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
          The slings and arrows of outrageous script coverage,
          Or to take arms against a sea of troubled second acts,
          And by opposing end them?”

  • Bfied

    Props to him for sharing this with us – not an easy thing to do, I’m sure. Thank you.

  • Dimitri

    This is like a horror story for screenwriters. Giving up on your dreams and knowing full well that you’re not gonna make it anymore.

  • Matteo

    Actually, there’s one thing I have to take issue with this article: the repeated use of the word ‘failure’. Failure is all relative.

    If we consider all unmade scripts failures, then the figure must be 99.9% of all those written. Is that 99.9% a total collective waste of time, with no merit whatsoever? If so, we should all be ashamed of ourselves. We could’ve used that time to build a giant pyramid, or something.

    But what if you enjoyed writing that unmade script? Doesn’t that make it worthwhile? What if you got more pleasure from writing it than Adam Sandler did for writing (and selling) Jack and Jill? Who wins? Point is, even if you somehow get that 0.01% script produced, it could still be deemed a complete failure by the public.

    The same goes for screenwriting as a career. What equals success, and what equals failure? Would I consider myself a ‘success’ if I sold a script for six figures and then saw it made into an awful film that nobody liked? Actually, that kinda worked for Craig Mazin.

    I just think you have to get something out of the process itself. You have to enjoy writing. If you do, then ‘failure’ doesn’t really apply. Or at least becomes something you don’t self-apply. I don’t want to sound patronising, claim everyone is a winner and start handing out participation medals… but I won’t consider myself a failure regardless of if I sell a screenplay or not. I enjoy writing. I’d just enjoy it a little bit more if someone were willing to pay me millions to do it ;)

    • fragglewriter

      *stands in applaud like a lunatic**

      Getting a screenplay produced can also backfire. What happens if script that was sold results in a bad movie with said writer’s name attached to it and no studio would dare put out another movie by this writer?

      You really need to enjoy writing or just being creative. You can still enjoy writing and decide novels, short stories, blogging, poetry or being a creative writer teacher is just as good.

    • drifting in space

      This x 1,000,000.

      If you don’t love writing, then you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.

      I work in accounting to make money, not because I love it.

      I write because I love it, not to make money.

      • Crcbonjour

        We don’t go into Accounting because we love it. It suits our analytical/logical minds AND everyone else changes their majors! Actually I chose tax so I wouldn’t actually have to do any of that bloody accounting & I got to write more!
        I framed my first IRS audit protest; 4 pages and it went around the office as if it were the morning edition of the WSJ ending up in the hands of our smiling dept head; former Big 4 Tax partner.

        Talk about re-writes and research! I didn’t do that for money either but it paid/páys…..writing when people’s money is on the line! SCARY!!

        Bring it Hollywood :/

        • Hadley’s Hope

          IN THE BLACK

          An accountant accidentally discovers where the money to fund the government’s mysterious black budget comes from, making him the primary target of the military industrial complex.

          • Crcbonjour

            Oh you hit my “CIA” covert/black ops button, now I’m gonna go all spy nuts with this….throw in some bitcoin (cause no one knows what to do with it, tax it…the key) and we got a PARTY!!
            She’s going to put them IN THE RED……..and yes, blood will be shed.
            She’s multi-lingual (convenient coincidence) well traveled, has foreign friends and blends well. Engaged to a Secret Service agent.
            Be back, gotta go get a burner phone….

          • Hadley’s Hope

            I love it.

            The bitcoin thing is a great addition. I just saw an article on bitcoin mining over at Kotaku a few days ago. Crazy stuff. A lot of it is done in China, which could work in a conspiracy themed story like this, in terms of how the US and Chinese economies are so intertwined.

            IN THE RED could be the sequel. (Or maybe IN THE GREY for the darker 2nd film in the trilogy, and then save IN THE RED for the third part).

            In all seriousness, I think that is actually a proper high concept idea that could be something cool.

            Write that sucker so we can read it!

          • drifting in space

            IN THE GREY could be the sexier side of accounting a la 50 SHADES.

          • Hadley’s Hope

            50 Shades of Gordon Gekko

          • drifting in space

            YES!

            Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. And SEXY!

            Bowchikkabowwow

          • Hadley’s Hope

            So that’s what Gekko has been doing all this time while his chauffeur drove him around town in that fancy limo with tinted windows.

          • Crcbonjour

            Dig the China angle; been there. Interesting but I’ve obviously got “issues” like most; ditto on titles/sequels, gotta churn & burn!

            Thanks Hadley for the encouragement. These elements go through my mind everyday from a “the IRS is so going to bust your butts” I didn’t brainstorm it. It’s actually such a “real life” mess, eliminating/streamlining the script will be the challenge! Cool ;)

            It’s going into motion; something happens, you get credit. I NEVER forget any support/encouragement! Karma :)

    • blue439

      Well, there’s writing as a career and writing as a process. As a process this is true for all writing. The process is its own reward. However, as a career — obviously no. Unlike literary writing, screenwriting is not a stand-alone art form. You can’t self-publish a screenplay. A screenplay that doesn’t sell or even get read sits in your desk gathering dust. You can be an amateur novelist, poet or playwright but amateur screenwriter? Don’t think so.

  • peisley

    Thanks for a take on the other side of the coin. I’ve heard stories about somebody finally throwing in the towel then have their big break happen. Another thing to cling to, perhaps, but it can happen. It’s true about writing samples. Used to be they could get you some traction, but it appears to be nearly extinct today. They want something that’s going to sell. High concept. Clearly defined genre. Easy read. Skip the artistic flourishes. Just a little sprinkle of your unique “voice.” Familiar, but, somehow with a fresh take.

    I live in LA and if I never see another snowstorm, that’s ok by me. It’s true you have to meet people, but most aren’t going to help you. They have their own careers to worry about or they don’t want you to succeed because they’re not. Hate to say it, but other writers are good for helping give you feedback, but it’s an extremely rare one that’ll recommend you to that agent or manager. You keep it going for the good souls who genuinely like to help. They’re out here, too.

    So, maybe you chose family over career. Good for you. Better to have a family than a writing career. Too may writers lock themself away in a room by themselves most of their lives. It sounds like you made some peace with giving up, but, frankly, the fact you’ve posted this tells me you still haven’t turned your back on it. Good luck with whatever you decide.

  • TheRealMWitty

    “I began to realize that writing scripts was not the hard part” There. Right there. That’s why I think he failed. If the actual writing is not the hardest part, I think you’re doing it wrong. I also see some comments suggesting that if he enjoyed writing all those scripts, then he really didn’t waste his time. Well, that’s true, but I when I hear successful writers talk about writing, they describe it as a most unenjoyable activity. It is an emotional street fight with self-doubt and intellectual insecurity (listen to Shane Black talk about writing on Jeff Goldsmith’s recent Iron Man 3 Q&A).

    But thank you, Randy, from a fellow Bostonian who’s been at it for coming up on four years, for the bravest post ever made in the history of Scriptshadow. Good luck and safe travels!

    • Nate

      ”It is an emotional street fight with self-doubt and intellectual insecurity”

      This. I can go an entire week without writing a single fucking sentence and it just makes me think ”why am I torturing myself?” But then there’ll be days (very rare days mind you) where I’ll write for hours and only stop to take a leak.
      I barely wrote two pages last week and all I could think of during that time was how much I wish that drug from Limitless existed. Just so I wouldn’t have to torture myself over the tiniest little thing.

    • Randy Williams

      I agree with this. I can’t identify with those who find writing enjoyable. Rewriting, perhaps, has its joys only because I get to inflict the pain. As for the essay on failing to launch, I think Hollywood just wants from you what no other can supply. You have to find out what that is. In some cases, it’s only your time.

  • Alex Palmer

    Thanks for the article. I will have to bear your advice in mind.

    My other comment got eaten up by disqus.

    Who here is aiming for a film industry other than Hollywood? I’m UK based, and I’m interested in making it here. It’s just the glut of useful screen writing resources (the most useful being Scriptshadow, of course :P) concentrate on Hollywood.

  • fragglewriter

    I’ve read more than half, and will continue the rest after I post this.

    1) If you’re looking for a job, should you reside in the state in where you wish to work?
    Yes. Why would you think Hollywood would make an exception for you when corporate america doesn’t'?

    2) Should you have a portfolio of scripts in-hand before you move to LA?
    Yes. Do you go to a job ill-prepared (no extra copies of resume or research of the company for which you plan to work).

    3) Do you want to a staff writer or spec writer? It’s really the writer’s choice, but please, weigh the pros and cons and have enough money on reserve for a few months or work at a crappy job.

    4) Are manager and agents in your best interest? Some are but you won’t know unless you’ve experienced a few bad ones.

    As writer’s you have to decide the boundaries of what you will or not deal with as writer’s. I set the same boundaries in corporate america and do not expect anything differently. Also, in corporate america, you have to put up the facade as one of them until your experience speaks for itself and then slowly and surely, you become yourself. So yes, unfortunately, you might have to write a mindless movie to get your film made until you get your name out there and then make your passion project. Actors/writers do it all of the time. You are no different.

    • Business

      Corporate America pays for your plane ticket, hotel expenses and other travel expenses just for an interview, and will pay for you to move if they want you. So if hollywood doesnt do that, the two (corp and holly) cant be juxtaposed in that regard

      • fragglewriter

        Depending on your position, corporate america will pay for your expenses proven that based on your previous experience, your expertise will turn a better than expected profit for the company. If not you, you’re fired.

        Now, if the position you are applying for does not offer the above perks, but it’s a job role/company that you wish to work for, than you will have to relocate and bear the expenses yourself.

        • Business

          When you say “corporate america” youre talking all business all positions and its just not the case. You do not necessarily need to be in the area where you want to work. you just need tobe able to move. My brother was not even an american citizen, he had just got is bachelor’s in engineering, no previous experience, his grades were average, and by posting his resume on careerbuilder, a company paid for him to fly in for an interview (rental and hotel expenses included) JUST for an interview. Hollywood and corp america are not comparable in that regard. you need to in hollywood, making yourself known , networking. you dont need to do that in corp america

          • Business

            And to be clear, my bro did do an online assessment and phone interview with said company first.
            So being in the area isnt needed. On many apps now a days, youll see a big “can you move” question that you check yes or no. thats all.

          • fragglewriter

            It also depends on the company. Do you think your brother’s situation was luck or timing, which is no different than a screenwriter breaking in outside of LA.

          • Business

            It wasnt luck or timing. youre talking about getting a job here, ofcourse the company would need to have vacancies,so if thats the timing your talking about then ok. and I only used my bro as an example, its far from one case.many companies will fly ingood prospects from small companies to big. you dont need to be in that state like you should prob be in LA networking etc

          • Business

            even if you have to pay to relocate, you dont need to “reside in that state” to land the job. its far less important than having to be in LA

    • Business

      Corporate America pays for your plane ticket, hotel and travel expenses for them to interview you, and will pay moving expenses if they want you. So if hollywood doesnt do that, the two (corp and HW) cant be juxtaposed in that regard.

    • ArabyChic

      Well said.

    • NajlaAnn

      “…when corporate america doesn’t'?” This is not always the case. I know personally someone who lives back east and works [in a high skilled capacity] for an engineering firm in Utah via the internet and phone. She makes trips once or twice a year for face-to-face meetings.

      • fragglewriter

        There is more than one field in corporate america, so an engineering firm’s requirement would differ from a financial firm’s.

    • Crcbonjour

      Essentially, when one starts doing ANYTHING, one has to prove that they are excellent. At the bottom level, crap jobs tend to be de rigeur but plum gigs start to trickle in. ROCK THEIR WORLDS. Earn your chops, make your bones….however it goes. Then, they’ll be begging for you to be on their projects; this is universal. Be humble but confident; great attitude, motivated, smile, communicate well. Deliver.With all that and mighty, mighty talent, things might swing your way. The package, as it were.

      • fragglewriter

        It’s so true. I think we get wrapped up into everything happening instantly because: it happened to another writer or just don’t want to put in those 3+ years of networking.

  • JakeBarnes12

    Here’s the thing.

    You need a fucking brilliant story idea.

    What makes for a fucking brilliant spec story idea?

    A novel situation which creates a difficult dilemma. Extra points if that situation is ironic.

    Here’s an example. A young guy breaks up with his girlfriend only to discover she has super powers. Yeah, I know. The movie was shit. But you’ll notice I said “movie,” not “script by suicidal screenwriter.”

    No, it’s not Strindberg. But it’s a brilliant commercial story idea because it’s an “oh, shit” dilemma. You can SEE the horrible problems the guy’s now facing. If you’re a guy you can RELATE to breaking up with a regular girl and going through all the little punishments she tries to inflict on you. And you can IMAGINE how much worse it would be if she had super powers.

    That’s the key. A dilemma. A dilemma is a situation where you must make a seemingly impossible choice or face a seemingly impossible situation. And that’s going to be fascinating because we’re going to want to know what the hell the character’s going to do.

    Of course then you need the skill to structure it into a story, to create fascinating characters, to MAXIMIZE the drama and fun contained in your concept, etc., but it all starts from that rare seed.

    Amateur Weekend is our chance to put on the Agent/Manager/Producer cap. Every weekend I play the “$20 million script game” with my girlfriend. It’s simple. You imagine the four or five loglines are a small sampling of the thousands of scripts out there. You read the logline, remembering there are thousands of other story ideas waiting for you. And you ask yourself one question:

    Would I put $20 million of my own company’s money, four years of my life, and stake my professional career on this spec story idea?

    Don’t forget to add one extra component; the knowledge that even if the idea is incredible, the execution in all likelihood is poor to average.

    Over the course of years I’ve read exactly ONE logline that made me think, “Fuck. That’s genius. I’d love to steal that idea.”

    Given that over the years that Michael Arndt worked as script reader for HBO he came across TWO scripts he thought were great, that seems about right.

    That seems to me to be the bar for us spec writers.

    So. Back to writing we go. No pressure.

    • ArabyChic

      I always thought that was a brilliant idea as well, Jake. Never even bothered to see the movie though because of all the hateful reviews. And the trailer.

      But that idea…

      • JakeBarnes12

        Yup. Maybe in thirty years, when the world has forgotten…

    • drifting in space

      Which logline was it for you?

      For me, it was an idea I had long before I even dreamed of writing. It was the first story I worked on when I started this path…

      Then I read the synopsis for Hanna a few weeks ago and grumbled.

      • JakeBarnes12

        My lawyer has advised me not to answer that question.

        Any resemblances between that unspecified logline and the script I’m currently finishing and rushing to market are purely coincidental.

        • drifting in space

          Good answer, LOL!

        • Malibo Jackk

          Heard Landis say he got his idea for his first successful script (his 67th) from a friend.
          Always wondered how he worked that out.

          • Citizen M

            “Since he started writing at 16, Landis has written 72 screenplays… Upon leaving the university, Landis went on a “spec-selling streak”, having three of his pitches optioned within six months.” — Wikipedia

            Gentlemen, meet your competition.

      • Hadley’s Hope

        Hanna?

        I think you could do something similar with the “child super-soldier” premise.

        It isn’t like that type of basic premise hasn’t been done before Hanna.

        Ender’s Game is maybe a bit similar even. The popular video game Halo also uses a similar idea (Master Chief is a super-soldier breed from youth to be a bad ass space marine).

        If you can put your own spin on it, then go for it.

    • Malibo Jackk

      The ONE i heard was field tested on a large room full of people and got a huge response. This was years ago — and still no movie.

      A lot of things can go wrong on that trip down the yellow brick road.

  • RogueCreed

    I’m not the most qualified to give “advice” or “tips”. I just recently decided to pursue a career in screen-writing. So instead, please try to think of this as the perspective of a person who seeks to help others get past the funk of having to write “marketable” pieces in order to have the best chance to break into the Hollywood system. You might not like superhero movies or movies like Bayformers(Transformers), but when you look at those genres, try not to think of them as a genre you’re not interested in, but rather, as potential. Potential stories and concepts and characters and ideas. Think about what you could do with these genres to make them your own. Sure, you might want to avoid going too far overboard into “unmarketable” status, but I believe there is a way to create more character driven work, even with the more popular genres. I’m the type of person who can enjoy a number of different genres, from Sci-Fi, to Action, to straight Drama, to (Ed Wood voice)”super-natural thrillers”. Because, within every genre, I believe there’s the potential for great stories and characters. It might not seem that way, what with all the Michael Bays of the world getting job, after job, broken box office record after broken box office record, for… less than stellar work, but I believe it’s there. You just have to take advantage.

  • JTEidson

    “Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.” Failure at breaking in is a thousand times more admirable then failure to try. Life’s too short not to go balls deep. All of us here have succeeded at pursuing our dreams and for that we are already more successful then a huge percentage of humanity…

  • ripleyy

    I think moving to LA is essential, but I think it’s ridiculous for someone – anyone – wanting to make it big in Hollywood to do it completely bare naked. It makes no sense to me why you wouldn’t have a day job and work on the screenwriting career on the side. You have to be crazy to just go all-in and hope, though that is such a brave risk that it rarely works. Really good article. Be young, grab the opportunity before it is too late.

    Urgency, stakes and goal: our lives are eerily familiar to the stories we write.

  • JakeBarnes12

    “I showed them some scripts, and they thought I was a skilled writer but stated they could not sell those particular screenplays (more indy, character-driven pieces). Nevertheless, they wanted to discuss other ideas I might have. It quickly became apparent they were only looking for concept-driven scripts –action, big-comedy, horror and sci-fi—and their interest in me was of the “hip-pocket” variety…. In the end, I told Management Company B we didn’t have much common ground. They did not seem surprised and made no attempt to convince me we should try to work together.”

    Did you hear the one about the Cordon Bleu chef who tried to get a job at McDonalds?

  • Zadora

    Great article! The sad part to me is how many writers write for free. And, it’s exactly as he said too. You don’t want to give up a chance that could lead to something bigger so when a prod-co asks you to write a script for them you eagerly do it. This I have personal experience from. I was asked by a company (a well funded one I won’t name) to plot out and write a 15 page treatment and a screenplay out of an “idea” they had. I took this seriously and probably spent 6 months on this until I realized that there was nowhere in any contract that I would even get credit for this work. They were very pushy and really took advantage of me, the eager naive writer. I ended up telling them to take a hike. The worst part is that I wasted 6 months. Time where I could easily have written one or two new scripts of my own.

    • NajlaAnn

      “The sad part to me is how many writers write for free.” Agreed. I did this once and that was once too many. I’ve been approached a few times after to “move forward” with the idea some $$ might show up later on. I walked each time.

    • Malibo Jackk

      It’s not a small problem.
      I hear when you become a Nicholl fellow, you get a number of offers to work for free.
      And studios must give their execs extra points if they can shaft the writer. Heard one pro writer was asked — Don’t you also want to direct? According to her, it was their way of offering her less for the script.
      What the fu*k?

      • Marija ZombiGirl

        “Don’t you also want to direct? According to her, it was their way of offering her less for the script.”

        That’s exactly the problem here in France. There are lots of talented screenwriters here but that – paying the director for writing as well – reduces costs. Sad but true :(

  • ArabyChic

    Carson, I’m pretty critical of this site sometimes. But I just wanted to say Thanks. This is helpful and always a balm for us wannabes.

  • Linkthis83

    Thank you, Carson and thank you, Randy.

    “What’s your goal?”

    Hearing that made me feel pretty good about my approach thus far to the craft and the business. The handful of other writers that I converse with here off-site will tell you that when I approach their story, the first thing I ask is:

    What’s your goal?

    I know this doesn’t guarantee me any amount of success in the future, but it’s nice to know I just might be on the right track :)

  • Kosta K

    I think if you can read an article like this and still be excited to sit down with some blank pages, then there’s still hope. Writers be writin’… right?

  • walker

    Mr. Steinberg is to be commended for his honesty and courage. The things he describes happen every day, are happening right now to myself and other writers I know.
    Screenwriting may be high-concept, but for better or worse, the business is character-driven.

  • drifting in space

    I don’t understand why people can’t put commercial and character driven together. Wouldn’t you want the best of both worlds? Great characters in commercial movies = $$$.

    • fragglewriter

      That makes too much sense LOL

    • Alex Palmer

      Exactly! The phrase “character driven” always annoys me.

      As opposed to what? An blockbuster where everything is controlled by the weather?

      • drifting in space

        That is a killer idea, man. Call it “Mother Nature.” An invisible antagonist that affects everything in the protag’s life. High-concept, never been done before.

        Booyah.

        I’ll see you in Hollywood.

        • Alex Palmer

          Joke’s on you, I cribbed that from M Night Shyamalan.

          • drifting in space

            Oh, derp. I completely forgot about that movie….

            I’m down-voting myself for being that dumb.

          • Hadley’s Hope

            What if it was about a guy who was on the run from say tornados and hurricanes or just extreme weather. Wherever he goes, a storm follows and decimates the town he is in. But he knows this and is always moving ahead of the storm.

            The ‘twist’ ends up being that he is on the run from the government/military who have developed a weapon which manipulates the weather.

            Or he’s on the run from this powerful telepathic villain whose special ability is controlling the weather. Then maybe there are a couple henchmen that also have some different psi-powers, and the gov/military also on the trail of our renegade hero.

            Maybe the hero is played by The Rock. He was a special forces bad ass that volunteered for some experimental top secret program to make telepathic super soldiers. Or perhaps he’s Ryan Gosling as the wise cracking scientist who created this weather weapon, but saw the potential evils of it, and rebelled against Uncle Sam, barely escaping with his life. Only his wits and the open road on his side.

            3D IMAX superstorms and telepathic action in TORNADO ALLEY!

          • drifting in space

            My brain is exploding. Make it like Gravity, but on earth. Ah, my gad.

          • Hadley’s Hope

            It would sort of be like The Bourne Identity (minus the amnesia) meets Twister with some Inception/Matrix psi-fi mind fu and telepathy FX spectacle.

            I was sort of half-joking when I wrote the initial synopsis, but now I’m liking the idea and a story is forming, like a dark storm swirling overhead.

          • drifting in space

            I know, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since you responded.

          • Hadley’s Hope

            Hey thanks for the compliment.

            I strayed from the initial idea of mother nature as the antagonist, since the direction I’d go would work best with some human villains creating the storms.

          • Alex Palmer

            What I think is kinda cool about it is the idea of a guy constantly running away from a storm, knowing that where ever he goes, he indirectly causes destruction.

            Maybe he’s riddled with guilt about it. Or perhaps he uses denial as coping mechanism.

            Either way, he can never get close to anyone, or they’ll share his pointless, fleeing existence.

          • Hadley’s Hope

            Yes!

            This is what makes the protagonist stand out. He’s like a fugitive, but instead of running from the cops he’s running from something as fierce as a tornado or hurricane. In a way, it makes him an underdog which reminds me of one of the lessons from yesterday’s article on The Warriors. Audiences love an underdog.

            You’re right too in that he can’t get close to anyone. So say he meets a nice girl in some small little town. He knows he can’t stay for long though, as the next storm could decimate the town.

            As for the guilt, yes this is a factor earlier on. It isn’t until he learns to stay on the move so as not to get people killed or injured that he begins to feel a bit more free. He also has another ability that helps him stay a little bit ahead of the storms. I won’t spoil anything about that aspect just yet though.

            One thing he needs to do though is bend the law a little to make enough money to get by since he can’t stay in one place long enough to hold down a job. So in a sense he becomes a crook just by having to be on the road all the time. Nothing horrible, a little shoplifting here or there, pickpocketing. Things like that, which also add to his guilt a little. He’s a bit like Rambo in First Blood. A vagrant type wanderer that some towns don’t like the looks of when he first appears on main street.

          • Alex Palmer

            I assume he’d keep to the more desolate states (and, of course, near tornado alley). He’s clearly a survivor, and I’m liking the first blood image of the protagonist (part 1, though).

            I’m betting the film is one long journey for him to find meaning. Running away from a storm? Must make for a nihilistic existence.

            (This is much more fun than the essay I should be doing).

          • Hadley’s Hope

            Yeah, First Blood is the best of the Rambo movies, even though I do like the sequels to varying degrees.

            The more I think of this the more I’m liking both the hero (drifter guy) as well as the villains who are kind of starting to coalesce into something neat.

            What’s the saying, “every villain is the hero of their own adventure”?

            That sort of works here with my primary villains.

            As for the drifter sticking to desolate “heartland” states, that is what I’m thinking too. Tornado alley, although not to cover up things so much as to minimize potential casualties and collateral damage.

          • Alex Palmer

            Perhaps he has another faction of antagonists: a group of conspiracy theorists who alert the government that where one man goes… tornadoes follow.

            Soon, he’s being pursued not just be the storm, but by the people he’s trying to protect. If they get him into custody, he’ll end staying in one place for too long….

          • Hadley’s Hope

            That’s an interesting addition. Sort of a fringe media group (ala the Lone Gunmen from The X-files). Maybe they end up coming to help out the drifter in the end?

            The gov/military and some other baddies are the main villains.

            Perhaps one of the conspiracy theory dudes defects or sells out to the authorities and gives up the location of the drifter while the others join the fight to help him.

          • Alex Palmer

            Lol, please tell me your outlining this :P

            Next time on AOW:

            TITLE: Gale-Force DEATH!
            GENRE: Sci-Fi/Thriller
            LOGLINE: A lone drifter makes his way across tornado alley, a cataclysmic storm following wherever he goes. When he finds out that [insert motivation here], he realizes he has to stop [insert villain's name here] before it’s too late!
            WHY YOU SHOULD READ: Because it’s awesome!

          • Hadley’s Hope

            Actually on titles, I’m thinking of ditching Tornado Alley and going with Shaman.

            The reason being that I might have a spiritual Native American character as a sort of ally/mentor in there somewhere. Either way, it could work and fits with the whole heartland America as a sort of modern day wild west thing.

            I do already have an idea of the overall plot that I’ll start working on. I also really like the idea a lot, and you’re right… If I ever work up to submitting anything to the Amateur Offerings buffet o’ scripts it would have to be this one.

          • Alex Palmer

            Modern Western sounds cool too. The whole coming and going aspect rings a bit of Shane.

            BTW, there’s already a film called Shaman. But I don’t think anyone remembers it. All the good titles taken, huh?

          • Hadley’s Hope

            Is this the Shaman you speak of?

            http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0115861/

            Titles can be a bitch nowadays. Tons of the good ones are already taken. Then again, there are cases of same titles not many years apart.

            Example: Crash (1996, David Cronenberg) and Crash (2004, Paul Haggis).

          • Alex Palmer

            Yeah, that was just silly. Or perhaps an insidious plan to get the Oscar voters to watch some Cronenberg by mistake.

            Anyway, you could call it “A Shaman”, “The Shaman” or “Shamans”.

            Alternatively: Shaman Wars, The Last Shaman, Shaman: Revelations or Four Shamans and a Funeral.

          • Hadley’s Hope

            FRANCHISE!!!!!!!

            The plural form, Shaman, actually works really well. I know what you mean though about being unique with titles. I think once in a while it is okay to use one that is from an older or more obscure film/novel/comic book. In the end, what fits your script best and gets people to perk up when they see the title is probably the way to go.

            LOL at Four Shamans and A Funeral. Hugh Grant running from cataclysmic super storms in that special way that only Hugh Grant can do onscreen.

            Or going back to the notion of The Rock being a possible candidate for one of the characters… Hugh Grant and The Rock teaming up to kick ass in the same movie. Now that would be something.

          • Alex Palmer

            Yeah, I don’t think The Rock is suited for lots of cardio. You never know about Hugh Grant, he’s trying to reinvent his persona. Seen him in Cloud Atlas?

            It’s been fun bouncing ideas but I have a slightly urgent essay I should be doing. Know anything about the film Battleship Potemkin? I feel like I’ve said everything that is possible to say about it, and I’m still 1000 words short.

          • Hadley’s Hope

            Yeah, I gotta get to some work/chores/grocery shopping… and then SHAMAN’S SHADOW!!!!

            As for your essay, if you were able to switch subject matter from Battleship Potemkin to Battlestar Galactica I could really help you out.

          • Alex Palmer

            Ha, I don’t think we study that in basic history. I’m guessing you live in the states, because its basically midnight here in the UK.

            Definitely keep me posted on Shaman’s Shadow. I like the title (imagine Sean Connery saying that out loud :P)

          • Hadley’s Hope

            Sean Connery saying just about anything would be epic.

            Confession: I’m a fan of one of Connery’s oddest pictures… Zardoz, that odd 70s psychedelic sci-fi dystopia flick with the giant flying stone head that spews guns from its mouth.

          • Alex Palmer

            Lol, I’ll check that out.

          • Crcbonjour

            but they can’t come out in the sun (except their Bourne/Neo cloaked shape shifting dude) so they hide in their space ship wreaking this storm like havoc and the Joint Chiefs are hounding Madame President (A Cyborg) about what to do when they all realize the sun is this things weakness, so they have to get some old nuclear scientist to figure out how to BLOW UP THE SUN! Fade to BLACK
            But there’s a renegade former outlaw physicist who believes his Nuvo-star, if launched simultaneously could save the planet but it hasn’t been tested….

          • Hadley’s Hope

            Whoa!

            This sounds like an entirely different yet awesome movie in its own right.

          • Alex Palmer

            Maybe the Dwayne Johnson has a power of his own:

            He can create earthquakes!

            In the climax, he uses his power to trap him and the villain underground, where they do battle. With underground tornadoes.

          • Crcbonjour

            And then, THE SUN EXPLODES!

          • Alex Palmer

            Luckily, Jeff Goldblum was on hand to make a spare one.

            Roll credits.

          • Crcbonjour

            The high concept SEQUEL $$$

          • Trek

            Gosh. One of these days, all of us Scriptshadow guys and gals should outline and write a script together just to PROVE that a ton of writers working together could get one done.

          • Alex Palmer

            Why not? I’m pretty sure that’s how they write the Transformer films.

          • drifting in space

            I think the CGI department writes those films.

          • Trek

            Haha! This made me laugh!

            But seriously guys! Ten or fifteen of us creating a solid concept and turning it into a script has the makings of awesome. :)

          • Alex Palmer

            Sign me up.

          • Linkthis83

            Yeah….and we can give Disney a run for their money!!

          • Trek

            Sounds good to me. Let’s get this ball rolling!

            Anyone who’s interesting in attempting this can message me at trekscripts AT icloud.com and we’ll see if we can’t get a sizable group together to start working on something.

          • Hadley’s Hope

            You just need like 110-120 people to each write one page, and POOF!

            Instant scriptmosis.

            I call dibs on the title page.

          • Trek

            Hehe, as fun as it would be to attempt something like that, I don’t know that something like this could handle any more than about 20-30 writers, for logistics sake.

            10-15 writers though? That would be an amazing way to start a script!

          • Hadley’s Hope

            An exquisite corpse screenplay.

            10-15 writers, each cranking out 8-10 pages.

          • Hadley’s Hope

            A space opera or alien invasion epic where the sun explodes at the end… leading to the sequel where humanity searches the stars for a new homeworld.

            Then the third film in the trilogy is Earth’s last survivors defending this new world from some nasty aliens (perhaps even the same alien race that blew up the sun in film #1).

            HELIOS

            (cue Inception’s horns of ultimate doom)

            BWAAAHHHHMMMMM!!!!!!!

            MOVIE VOICE OVER GUY: from Scriptshadow comes the epic motion picture extravaganza that was crafted by more writers than even Armageddon!

            etc…

          • Crcbonjour

            Well those films have as many writers as the cgi depts, it seems. I like the old fashioned diagonal presentation myself, instead of the AND. Just alphabetical order. I’m fairly new here so I’ll have to wait to get in on a sequel y’all pass on ;)

          • Alex Palmer

            The exploding sun is your intellectual property, so we’ll make sure to mention you in the credits! :P

          • Dyland55

            That’s sorta like the Pixar method.

          • Hadley’s Hope

            I can’t wait for Independence Day part 2!

            Roland Emmerich is gonna blow up the freaking sun!

          • Hadley’s Hope

            Save that for the space operas!

          • Crcbonjour

            Anyone know the Imagine Dragon’s people? Or singing dragons?

          • Hadley’s Hope

            Singing Dragons From Sirius

            MARTIN LAWRENCE: are you serious?

            WILL SMITH: awwww hell nooo!!!!!

          • Crcbonjour

            Gotta think cross-media….

          • Hadley’s Hope

            Rock SMASH!!!!!

            (Dwayne Johnson punches the ground and creates an earthquake)

          • darren

            what if you took the Tornado, ok, and put something INSIDE. Something shark shaped…

          • Citizen M

            Theme song by Crowded House:

            Everywhere you go you always take the weather with you
            Everywhere you go you always take the weather
            Everywhere you go you always take the weather with you
            Everywhere you go you always take the weather,
            Take the weather, the weather with you

          • Hadley’s Hope

            It’s a perfect track for the end credits, or during a second act hitchhiking through the heartland montage.

          • Montana Gillis

            He runs to his ex-wife’s town over and over but she keeps surviving…

      • blue439

        Any kind of movie where the protag has to react to an external threat is not character-driven, whether natural (Armageddon) or supernatural (any zombie movie, most horror movies). They’re not running away because of some kind of inner need, it’s because of some physical threat. Which explains why a lot of the time the characters aren’t terribly good in these kinds of movies. Brad Pitt’s character in World War Z is just a cardboard cutout.

        • Alex Palmer

          To an extent, but surely any film with an active protagonist is “character drive”. Even if the character in question has no discernible traits other than a drive for survival.

          That’s why the term “character driven” annoys me. When it’s used in a negative context (“Hollywood isn’t looking for character driven movies”) a naive screenwriter might infer their focus shouldn’t be on characters.

          Maybe you disagree, but I believe story comes from character. Even if it’s high concept and commercial.

          • blue439

            Yeah, I do believe story comes from character — in character-driven movies. In story-driven movies, not at all. Survival instinct is not specific to any one character, it’s generic. Everyone runs away from a tsunami. This doesn’t make it character-driven. And running away from a tsunami isn’t active, it’s passive. They are REACTING to a threat. If say, a father CHOOSES to leave his wife and family to satisfy some inner need, that’s character-driven.

          • Alex Palmer

            I agree about survival being a generic trait to imbue a protagonist with. I’ve always thought of it in three tiers: active, reactive and passive. Usually in (good) movies that revolve around survival or escape, the protagonist switches from being reactive to being active by the midpoint at the latest.

            Not to blow Carson’s trumpet (lol), but I agree with goal orientation being intertwined with character.

            BTW, I’m not arguing that The Kid are All Right and Independence day are the same thing. Just that the phrase is reductive.

    • Trek

      Exactly! Thankfully, the Thanksgiving weekend gave the industry just a taste of the power that strong character driven films can have at the box office (Catching Fire and Frozen).

    • Linkthis83

      Ummm…I’m doing that now, duh!

    • Victor Alexis Willis

      Forrest Gump didn’t leave that impression on Hollywood by now, because Hollywood is a bunch of wussies. At the same time, I’m secretly glad that Hollywood is so fearful, because when a good indie does become a sleeper, it makes it that much more rewarding to the viewer and its creators.

  • ericmahlon

    This is an interesting article for me because I have just written a book about my adventures in screenwriting and filmmaking where I also came so close, but no close enough. I’ve written about a dozen scripts, made two indie features, attached well known actors to later scripts, and had a web series with millions of views. I’ve also started a family and now have a three year old daughter. I’ve also had struggles on my new scripts such as actors pulling out of a project, legal battles, and most recently, my investor was murdered in a home invasion robbery. However, the difference with my book and this article is that I encourage others to press on, as I do with myself. A script of mine was literally just included for Amateur Weekend Offerings called Capital Punishment. I wrote it 20 years ago at a time when we didn’t have cell phones or internet. I was a teenager when I started writing it. If I wanted feedback on my script, I had to print out a copy and physically hand it to someone or mail it to them. Today, all I have to do is email the PDF. I have all these scripts that I wrote that I never got feedback on, so when I found the script for Capital Punishment in a box recently, I thought it would be fun to get some opinions. The feedback has been generally negative, but that was fine with me. It only took 20 years, but people were actually reading it. A sincere thank you to those who did, and of course, to Carson. I currently have some interesting things brewing, but who knows what will come of them. All I know is that throwing in the towel has never been an option.

  • Linkthis83

    But….(dammit)

  • Kay Bryen

    Soul-draining, dream-crushing article. I applaud you for showing us the other end of the telescope. But here’s the contradiction in your argument:

    Since the odds of making it in Hollywood are so minuscule as to be almost mythical, then quitting your day job to move to LA sounds like the worst possible thing anyone could do under the circumstances. And don’t tell me you could temporarily waitress, because there’s nothing “temporary” about waiting 13+ years to break through, if at all.

    I’m a screenwriter trapped in an Economist’s body. I always knew I’d only use my Economist income to fund my screenwriting. Obviously I fantasize of the eight figure spec franchise sale, but it recently occurred to me that I never fantasize about what I’d buy with all those brazilians of dollars.

    Then it hit me: the only reason I want to make money from writing, is so that I can write some more, and not have to stress about a day job.

    So if you’re wondering if you’ve entered screenwriting for the right reasons, ask yourself: would write on regardless if I were penniless AND if I were a millionaire?

    • drifting in space

      As I hit submit, I read this comment in my email and absolutely loved it.

      • Kay Bryen

        Thanks a lot Drifter. I’m always encouraged by your comments too. Glad to know I’m not the only one trapped in a career that’s the exact opposite of screenwriting! Just don’t express your creativity in some “creative accounting” OK? :-)

        • drifting in space

          ;)

          2 + 2 = whatever makes the company money.

          • Linkthis83

            Oooohhh. Skyler’s gonna be mad.

          • drifting in space

            She is my inspiration!

    • Murphy

      Great post. I know exactly how you feel. I spend my drive to work, every single day, thinking about screenwriting, honing ideas and trying to figure it out. Then I get to the office and my jobs beats the crap out of me and screenwriting is forgotten till the next day.

      All I dream about is waking up with nothing else to do but sit down and write. One day….

    • blue439

      Yeah, you can’t even make the comparison to buying a lottery ticket because buying a lottery ticket takes no time/commitment, whereas moving to LA does. But then, you have success stories like Kelly Marcel.

      • drifting in space

        I love her success story. Very inspiring.

    • Breezy

      I have my bachelor’s in Economics.

      and I hate it.

      Well, no, not really.

      But I’m now in the Accounting department where I work. And accounting is what I really hate, as far back as high school.

      Being in a field that’s the polar opposite of what you’re passionate about isn’t that uncommon. I watched an episode of “Sweet Genius” (which is a pastry chef competition on Food Network) where this competitor used to be some Accounting Exec, and is now icing, designing and baking cakes, not in that order, and getting all creative and what not. AND getting paid for it.

      Patience is key, really. Dream big, but stay in reality and be patient.

  • drifting in space

    I think the stigmas represented here are detrimental to the screenwriting community. A lot of the negative occurrences in this individual’s life seem like they were avoidable. Not to say all of them, but it looks like he was aware of what needed to be done and just… didn’t do it.

    Us aspiring amateurs don’t need to be told we probably won’t make it. In anything competitive, especially jobs, only the best of the best are chosen. We should assume the mountain to climb is very steep.

    If you don’t already know it’s going to be hard, that’s on you. You should be well aware of the pros and cons of any endeavor you begin, especially a career decision.

    I wouldn’t obtain a degree in zoology unless I was either extremely passionate about animals or knew it was an easy and lucrative industry to get in.

    I’m sure a ton of people told Obama he wouldn’t be elected as President. He could have listened, not played the game, done things on his own terms… but instead, he’s the fucking President. He knew the challenges in front of him, but he said “fuck it” and did that shit anyway.

    No one says screenwriting is easy. In fact, almost all of them say it’s difficult and near impossible. It comes down to DRIVE. What are your goals? Are you writing for a hobby, or do you want to make it a career? How much DRIVE are you willing to put forward. Or would you rather dick around and find reasons to avoid it?

    If you KNOW and THINK you need to move to LA… do it.

    If you KNOW and THINK you should be writing commercial ideas… do it.

    If you KNOW and THINK you should be playing the game to make it… do that, too.

    Everything is a hustle, especially Hollywood. You have to out-work the next person that is vying for your job. You have to write a complete story. The talent has to be there, which comes from experience. Like he said, there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle and no one really knows anything. You have to focus on what you can control.

    You can control your drive.

    You can control your story.

    You can’t control how hard it is to break in. You can’t control if someone doesn’t work hard for you. Sure, it’s their job, but that isn’t an obligation. It’s my job to pay expense reports, but I don’t always give a fuck.

    I agree, it is hard once you are settled into life. If you’re straight out of film school and 22, fuck it, move to LA and work a shitty job and WRITE. Your chances may be better. They may not. How many shitty writers live in LA and how many prolific ones live outside of LA?

    If you’re like me, with a full-time job, a wife, a mortgage, etc, it isn’t as easy. But, it’s not IMPOSSIBLE either. It goes back to DRIVE.

    I’m very curious to read a sample of his work. Could be the heart of the problem, maybe not. Could be his choice in the types of films he wants to write.

    But it really looks like he let failures suppress his drive and therefor, he was spit out of the system. It seems he had one idea of Hollywood and it had another idea of him.

    I’m not trying to be the bad guy, but as I read this article, I kept saying “Well, yeah. That makes sense.”

    If you don’t live in LA, you want to write small indie films, and aren’t willing to play the game, what did you expect out of it?

    At that point, you are writing for enjoyment, and if you aren’t enjoying it… what was the point of any of it?

    /endrant

    • Kay Bryen

      “It’s my job to pay expense reports, but I don’t always give a f*ck.” Cracked me up :)

      But this is the truth that hurts:

      “If you don’t live in LA, you want to write small indie films, and aren’t willing to play the game, what did you expect out of it? At that point, you are writing for enjoyment, and if you aren’t enjoying it… what was the point of any of it?”

      • blue439

        Yeah, good point. The writer doesn’t come out and say it, but he wanted success on his own terms.
        Almost nobody is so good that they can do that. The only guy I can think of is Charlie Kaufman, and there’s only one Charlie Kaufman — and his ideas are hard to film.

    • Alex Palmer

      Drifting, you sly fox, are you hoping to have your post featured again? :P

      Good points and well made. Kay reposted the painful crux, and it’s something I might scrawl on my desk with permanent marker.

      I’d have an awful lot of fun writing indulgent weird little films for myself. But at the end of the day, I’m not writing stories for my own consumption.

      I’m writing them for other people.

      • drifting in space

        LOL! No, I just want everyone to succeed.

        You can write both, I have a few stories I write that are just little films I want to make on my own.

        But if you want a career, I think you have to aim commercial.

        What would be even better is if you make it big through commercial, then have the leeway to write/make whatever the eff you want.

        • Alex Palmer

          Not to sound like a broken record, but I agree. Particularity with the last point about getting into the business via commercial projects, thus earning greater freedom for yourself.

          After I write a few hits, I’m going to write/direct/star/do-the-catering for a 4 hour art house flick about the forbidden love between a German Sheppard and a tortoise.

          All shot in black and white.

          • drifting in space

            I’d see it. I love dogs.

          • Crcbonjour

            In French, naturally?

          • Alex Palmer

            I suppose I could change the tortoise to a snail…

          • Hadley’s Hope

            It fits in that it will make some people think of the myth that dogs are colorblind.

            Who are the villains? A gang of sassy cats?

          • Alex Palmer

            No villains, silly. This is a surreal, deadpan exploration of the tortoise’s crippling insecurity. Narrated by the barking dog (with subtitles, naturally).

            In the climax, the tortoise chokes on some lettuce and is buried by it’s owner in a shoebox.

            Palme d’Or winner right there.

          • Hadley’s Hope

            Sassy Alley Cats could be an entirely different movie then. One of the high concept scripts you write for “them” while you make the German Shepperd and the Tortoise one for “you”.

          • Alex Palmer

            Yeah, the world will have to wait to my amazing story of the solipsist tortoise.

          • Crcbonjour

            Agreed………a la “West Side Story” but like, in Marseilles, (lotsa fish) and gritty town (was) so gangs, cat ‘tude (the night throw downs I’d hear in Brooklyn!) and a diva, Himalayan or Persian (Farsi subtitles, so of the moment – wait both, let them fight too) so they fight for fish, for the ladies, the ladies fight for well, Bestest, losers go in the drink, or on a boat out to Chateau d’Iff. B story; the fisherman are wagering night after night; one is on the hook to a bookie…and losing his boat.

    • Gojuice

      JW’s comment above got a harsh reaction from me, but DIS comment is great. This is a great rebuttal to the post, but it still skews too much towards ‘with drive you’ll succeed,’ in my opinion- DIS, I hope I’m not putting words in your mouth.

      While it’s more true than ‘without drive you’ll succeed,’ in screenwriting it’s not always accurate. Skill and drive are the price of admission. Drive can’t compete with so many factors you can’t control have to line up for you to get an option that will pay for two months of rent.

      However, Drive will help you up to go at it again and again. And, as noted by Kay below, if you keep writing, then that’s when you know you love it. Doesn’t guarantee success, but guarantees that you’ll live to fail again. Until you make that one million dollar sale.

      This board would have so many fewer members if screenwriting was easy and paid $7.75 an hour. I believe the allure and money and lottery aspect are what makes screenwriting desirable despite the odds.

      • drifting in space

        Yep! I agree with that 100%. I did skew it, like I did my other post, because I feel most people lack it and think things will be simply handed to them. You gotta work for it.

        • Trek

          Here’s how I feel about it: DON’T write screenplays AT ALL unless you’re doing it for fun. I personally don’t write for Hollywood, and I may never even put my scripts into a screenwriting competition (though I want to someday… JUST FOR FUN). For you see, I LOVE audio drama. That’s why I write. I write audio dramas because I have fun doing it. And I get to entertain people too. :)

          My first few scripts sucked (and a sucky one even got made). But I got better. I quickly learned from the mistakes I was making. And I got BETTER. And even with that, half the time the ones I write STILL SUCK until I edit the living crap out of them until there ain’t an ounce of fat left to trim. And why do I do it? All for fun; I’ve never made a dime from my script writing, and may never anyways.

          If people took the same approach to Hollywood screenwriting, decided they were going to commit themselves to it no matter what, and did their best to be the very best like no one ever was (even if it means doing things like writing what sells) all for the sake of having fun? I can guarantee you their writing would be sooo much more fulfilling.

          And they’d have fun on their journey to the big screen too. Who can beat that? :)

          • drifting in space

            You speak the truth!

          • A Tribe Called Guest

            Cool! I was checking out some audio plays, and went back and listened to the Basil Rathborne Sherlock plays. If you can pull off an audio play then I am incredibly impressed.

          • Trek

            Well, they’re like anything else: anyone can do it, if you just give it a shot. :)

          • Crcbonjour

            Those things from when before there was no TV? People still do that? Cool……podcast?

    • fragglewriter

      I see that you’ve written another article for Carson to post :-)

      Great synopsis.

  • NajlaAnn

    Thank you for the share.

  • JW

    I’m conflicted. Part of me says, “Be PC and sympathetic to this guy who poured his soul out in front of everyone. That takes something.” And I am, sympathetic to anyone in a situation where they never made it to where they wanted to be, in any industry. However, and I have to say I’m a little surprised, but graduating in ’98 and giving up in 2011? Sorry guys, that’s not an effort. Straight up. Straight out. No bones. That’s not an effort. Especially in the middle when you talk about “repping other writers”? What is this? It sounds more like you got into writing, not for the love of it, but for the allure. It takes some people a decade to get a project off the ground and this guy quits in that time frame? Sorry, I can’t give it to you. I can’t give you the OUT you want. When there’s a million other people out there scraping by because of the “love of the game” and not the allure. This whole sob about hoping to help other people through your “failures”. You didn’t fail. In order to fail you have to try, you have to give an effort. You have to pound and you have to rise above yourself and do things you never knew you could do. You have to actually give it everything you had from front to back, top to bottom, morning to night, Top Ramen to almost stale milk. That’s it. Anything less? Walk away now.
    And, while this guy graduated college when I graduated high school, I have to say that the approach is more of a newer generation kid. The generation of “Wait, I don’t get rewarded for my effort?” No, numbnuts, you get rewarded for the outcome. If everyone got rewarded for their effort, everyone in Hollywood would be millionaires because people work mother*cking hard! What was it? Michael Arndt placed in the finals of Nicholl in ’97 and ’01, only to finally get to do Little Miss Sunshine in ’06? That’s a decade folks. And, how many years was he writing before that? This is hard, hard work and no one else is going to do it for you. It’s great when you have someone who believes in you and will push you to heights you never realized for yourself, but at the end of the day, it’s you and you alone and you have to know and understand that going in. If you think it’s fuckin’ roses and red carpets, run for the hills now, ’cause this sh!t is real and you need to have stones.
    I hope this article does actually help some who may not be fully aware, but I’m surprised C that you chose someone who got in and out of the industry faster than my first premature ejaculation as a warning to other writers. What’s the real take-away here? Get in for the love of the game and not the allure.

    • klmn

      “Especially in the middle when you talk about “repping other writers”? What is this?”

      Good point. I would think that it would be more important for a rep to be in LA than for a writer.

    • Gojuice

      It’s a business, and this guy didn’t have the business acumen. Not allure. Every writer, professional and amateur, I know hates writing. There’s no love in writing. There’s just hate in a desk job. It’s not PC to sympathize with this guy and it’s not un-PC if you don’t. You’re entitled to your opinion, and your thoughts are well constructed, so please don’t take offense: your rebuttal pisses me off. You sound like a 39 year old waiter that thinks you’re gonna make it. I’ve worked in the industry (theater and film) for years and the post is dead on and, frankly, more people give up well before that. Arndt’s arch and this guy’s arch, time-wise, are similar. Arndt did not fail, this guy did (by his own admission). Think about any other field. If you’re not good at advertising or running a restaurant, or accounting, you’re going to bail well before 14 years and not get bagged for bailing. The poster was attracted by the allure, and I appreciate the fact that he admitted it and think his post was more honest than yours- profanities and ‘having stones’ withstanding- save that for your writer’s group.

      I’m not saying give up or don’t, 10 years later or 40 years later. Doesn’t matter. It’s not a warning. Anyone who loves writing, while valiant, should keep a journal. Anyone who wants to make money screenwriting needs to know the business, probably sell out, talk the game, write commercial and even then will make most of their money tweaking Boat Trip 2 based on focus group feedback before polishing a big screen version of Candyland for a Christmas release. There are exceptions to this, of course, and I hate to sound cynical. I just appreciate the post’s honesty and truth and your response is two things: great if you’re a dreamer; silly if you’ve been through it (successful or not).

      I remember I was a program manager at a popular actor’s workshop in New York in 98. A famous actor and his producer (both of NYPD Blue and/or Sopranos fame) spoke to the 100 young aspiring actors in the room and told them to bail on their dreams. There was skill, the ‘lucky club’ and everyone else. They noted that they could get 100 of these rooms together at once and there would be one or two skill actors and one or two lucky club (Scott Wolf being the current ‘president’) actors who may make it through in the next 10 years. And the response to that was exactly your response to the post- that’s bullshit because I’m willing to work hard and I love it! In several years of that program, one person makes a living acting.

      Anyway, sorry to rant. No disrespect to you or your post. 39 myself (and not a screenwriter) I just believe you are not responding to the post, you are defending the feeling (which will eventually lead to you doing well or not) that you are going to pursue this forever. When you look at the business side of it, it’s more like a desk job than you can ever imagine and anyone can leave whenever they want to.

      The art of writing took a direct assault in the poster’s re-telling and that’s going to offend a lot of people, I bet. The business of screenwriting is licking it’s lips- another one down.

      • Gojuice

        Replying to my own post to clarify something. Above, I said every writer hates writing. Please know that I meant that in relation to writing to be successful. A passion becomes deadlines and pressure and there is nothing more daunting than a blank page. Stephen King, William Goldman, Tennessee Williams and many others have great quips about how they procrastinate (or would like to).

        But, people who write for the love of writing couldn’t care less if they make it or not, no? And while commendable, that’s a hobby. Writing for a living is a business and then it becomes like accounting or advertising- a job, and all that comes along with it (including not liking it most days).

        • Crcbonjour

          My uncle does….every day, gets paid and loves it. I don’t think he could live without it. The money isn’t always great, sometimes it is. He’s met and worked with A list to D list and people all around the world. He HAS to write. He always did. It’s who he is. He DID also work as a teacher; like most, he needed a fallback at first (the pension comes in handy now too, even though gigs are non-stop) and health insurance since they had kids, but well, writers write.

          I’m hoping I’ll be like him…..or more. But if I got what he has, it’d be awesome! He was able to start sooner than me; we had different lives but thankfully he’s always been IN my life. Inspiring. Success is relative (no pun intended) folks; it isn’t ever going to be blockbuster for everyone. Quite honestly, most might not even want it. You know the old saying “be careful what you wish for”

          I think it’s OK to expect the unexpected but plan well, be happy with any success and don’t ever give up. Look up the list of “late bloomers” one day; folks who “hit it” late it in life. One never knows.
          More time to hone your craft, perhaps?

      • JW

        No offense taken whatsoever and no I’m not a waiter, have never been one, and I’m not even close to 39. I’ve been unbelievably successful in the business world, traveling around the globe and some of it came easy and some of it didn’t, but the point of the post is to say that choosing writing as a profession is unlike just about any other profession. Either it’s in your blood and you feel the most alive when creating or you don’t. My second script ever written made the quarters of the Nicholl and each and every year after that I’ve improved to go on and even place in the finals (top 8) of a competition. But, I don’t think anyone owes me anything for doing that. I do it because I love creating and I love storytelling and there’s nothing like being able to go through the creating process for me. I think you’re right in that if someone gives it a shot, but it doesn’t work, there’s nothing wrong with walking away. What I take offense to is mainly this notion of “woe is me – confessions of a failed screenwriter” somewhat BS as though a monumental effort was made, but somehow it was the pearly gates that held him back.

        • Gojuice

          Fair, and great, points. I believe we are both responding to opposite sides of the ‘failed’ coin. I take it as he admits he failed from the business end and walked away. And your take on the post, in your last line above, is well put and I agree wholeheartedly.

          • JW

            There’s no doubt it’s tough, but I always tend to fall on the side of personal responsibility (whether that be good or bad). I got into a conversation with someone on LinkedIn about when that Walmart put up a bin to help out employees that were in need of extra during the holidays. Everyone runs around talking about how evil Walmart is and how it’s ridiculous that they can’t pay a fair wage (all of which I agree with), but my approach is personal responsibility. As a consumer, I disagree with their model and their business practices, so I don’t shop there. I’m not sitting around waiting for a corporation to grow a heart. I support the businesses (as much as I can) that I believe are doing better in the world. In contrast, the world yells about how horrible Walmart is, then bum-rushes the doors on Black Friday. I believe there is a time and place where we need to sit down and ask ourselves where OUR responsibility lies and stop blaming external forces. Thanks for the replies. I get where you’re coming from for sure.

          • drifting in space

            Well said.

          • Midnight Luck

            absolutely agree with what you say.

            if you don’t agree with Walmart, buy all your supplies from a small local family owned Hardware store. Need gifts, buy cool handmade stuff from people on Etsy, or whatever.

            Big Corps will not grow hearts.
            They care about 1) Money and 2) More Money.

            So do not support them with money.

            Your dollar is your most powerful vote.
            Use it where you want to give your vote.

          • A Tribe Called Guest

            This was well-written.

    • A Tribe Called Guest

      Nah, man, it’s not a “newer generation kid”, although I commend you for regurgitating a wide-scale BS opinion as your own. There are tons of people like that in every generation, most of them who haven’t had the experience of entrepreneurship or any sort of hustle, both of which are necessary to have a career in any industry.

      • JW

        When I referred to it as “newer generation” I’m basing that on having been in the business world for more than a decade and having worked alongside many, many other people of varying degrees of everything. This is a personal opinion and one I base, not on conjecture, but what I’ve seen around me. It may be different elsewhere, but that’s not my experience.

        • A Tribe Called Guest

          Ah, that’s fair. To be honest I was basing my return volley on my own personal experience of seeing incompetence across different age ranges in a few industries. Let’s be pen pals.

          • JW

            Ahahah! Incompetence doesn’t discriminate, you’re absolutely right. It is an equal opportunity offender for all…

  • wlubake

    So as for working for free, the lawyer in me has worked with the writer in me to come up with a proposal for the production company:

    Set up a new company (NewCo) and convey the IP rights to the project to NewCo. The production company will own 75% of NewCo and the writer will own 25% of NewCo. While the production company maintains control over the project, the IP cannot be conveyed out of NewCo without the unanimous consent of the owners. Then, the production company gets the right to buy out the writer for a set fee, say $300,000. This gives the writer protection of his work that the production company won’t profit at his expense. It gives the production company low start up cost for the project and a cap on the writing cost. If the project takes off, you pay the screenwriter his fee and cash him out of NewCo.

    Yes, there is still risk for the writer that he’ll waste time, but it won’t be his risk alone. Plus, he can’t get screwed as easily.

  • Nate

    Me too. I think the best way for an amateur screenwriter to break into Hollywood is by breaking into their own country’s film/TV industry first.
    Best way to do that is by writing a good script set in that country. A UK based studio will be more interested in buying a London set action thriller than a Hollywood studio will be.
    At first all I wanted to do was write a Hollywood blockbuster but I quickly realised that it’s very naïve of me to think a British amateur screenwriter has more of a chance to sell an action spec to a Hollywood studio than an American amateur screenwriter. And vice versa.

    • Alex Palmer

      Do you find you write a lot of American stuff?

      I’m more the “write what you know” kind of guy, so I keep my settings familiar. I like to think I can better capture the essence.

      • Nate

        I do actually, yeah. I research the shit out of whatever I’m writing about no matter what it is but it is quite hard.
        For example: I’ve seen countless films set in New York. I’d like to think I know enough about that city to make it feel real in a script. But those fifty plus films I’ve seen over the years are nothing compared to the one year I lived in London. I learned more about London in one year than I have about New York in 23 years.

  • Trek

    Wow. Where do I even begin.

    First off, thank you so much for this article, Randy. I admire the shear amount of honesty in your write up. Second, while I disagree with portions of it, I refuse to refute it or put down anything you’ve said for a couple of reasons. Namely, because you’re already gonna get plenty of that from some of the other commentators and because I myself am not perusing a career in screenwriting (though I do do plenty of screenwriting).

    That said, I really feel like you must have been one of those people who didn’t have their heart in the right place at the time. I think this because it sounds like the scripts you were trying to sell are what are generally considered indie fare. And that begs the question: why you weren’t trying to sell your scripts to indie producers? Big studios won’t take scripts they think are risky, so why not go the other way and sell them to producers that DO want your work? If you’re a good writer, somebody’s gonna want it. Somewhere, somebody will, and they will pay you for it if you’re good.

    Additionally, I think you may be onto something with the “write a good story” bit, if only in the Hollywood sense. Now, writers should still write a good story. No exceptions. But these days, movies HAVE to be big and bold. There’s millions of dollars at stake, and for them not to be is suicide in the studio’s eyes. This train of thought is partially why a lot of writers think TV’s where it’s at these days, creatively speaking. And there are other places as well (i.e. online audio drama, YouTube, cross media, ect.).

    Also, I don’t know if it’s something you’d want to or would feel comfortable doing, but it would be really, really cool to read some of your scripts. I for one would LOVE to see the kind of good writing that still wasn’t good enough for Hollywood. I’m sure it might give everyone here a fresh perspective on things.

    Randy, I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors outside of screenwriting. And I really do hope that someday your work is given the chance to shine in some form or another. You deserve that at the very least for your decade of hard work.

  • ThomasBrownen

    Thanks for the article Randy! It’s a difficult, painful, and dream-crushing story to read, but I think it’s important for us all to be aware of the difficulties we face in this industry. Whatever you do next in life, I hope you find success and enjoy your work.

    That said… I’m sort of hoping this post gives you all sorts of exposure and your scripts are suddenly the hot new commodity in LA!

    • Trek

      Yea, me too! Oh the things the power of Scriptshadow can do!

  • Midnight Luck

    I believe one of the best things one can do, to help in life and better their long term successful chances, when looking at the doom of the Screenwriting lottery is,

    and I am sorry this may seem totally off topic, but it really isn’t:

    learn to minimize.

    Figure out how to scale down to the bare minimums. Don’t have a life that needs huge expenses to continue. If you are the world’s bitch, or societies bitch, or a mortgage companies bitch, every choice in your life is directed by them, not you.

    Being broke isn’t necessarily bad. Being minimalist, or the controller of your own life, allows so writing choices can be at the center of it. You can make clearer choices then. Seriously a partner who wants a bigger house, another brand new car, more children than the 4 you have, wants all the new dazzling tech crap, or whatever it might be, will keep you in the proverbial “dangling carrot” race forever, and you will NEVER get it. And LO if YOU are the one who wants and needs those things. Minimize, Simplify. It makes life way easier. Make your decisions simpler and easy. Don’t chase after the Jones’.

    I have -nothing- which tugs at my life in a way that forces me to bend or cow to anyone. Yes I know people have husbands, wives, kids, partners, fish, bosses, uncles. This is all normal, but doesn’t have to guide your life. I am not saying this in any way to impress anyone. It has been a long, long journey to get here, filled with mistakes and pitfalls like anyone has.

    People who have millions and people who have hundreds of dollars can both attain greater freedom in their life by learning how to minimize every single aspect of your life to the basics, the essentials with a just a few perks. Most people have no idea how much their lives are governed by the things they own, what they owe, what they believe is expected of them. So many many things infringe on our life and make simple choices so complex. The BIGGEST problem ends up being: you live your life for THOSE things and debts, not for you, or your future. When you have no debt, don’t need to buy anything, don’t need to spend Black Friday shopping all day, and shopping all Thanksgiving weekend, oh and shopping all day on the New Cyber-Monday, it gives you a sense of freedom. Nothing owns your life but you. Then you can figure out how to move toward your goals.

    I spent way too many years as most people have, working at large companies, small ones, bosses up my ass everywhere, buying a house that ended up owning me, all the while trying to reach up higher to find the “things” that would make it all feel happy and worth it. Well it’s ALL BULLSHIT. The only thing that gives a feeling of completeness and satisfaction is making your life owned and run by you yourself. I gave up my high paying job, eliminated everything I owned (stuff) that really didn’t matter to me. Now all my possessions that matter fit into a 5×10 storage unit. Everything.

    All that matters is my writing, my dog, and the people I care about. And good food. And water. And breathing. And taking amazing adventures and road trips.

    I have freedom.
    Now all is possible.

    And if I never sell a script it doesn’t matter.

    Yes I would absolutely like to, but not for the typical reasons. I love creating, I love writing. I love the experience. I don’t give a shit about a ton of money, it does nothing for me. I will never let chasing after money own me. Becoming a minimalist you see the ridiculousness of chasing money. I don’t care about being in the limelight either, it really does nothing for me. BUT, I would love to see the thoughts and words I have put on paper become light and beauty on the screen, because, well, I LOVE MOVIES. And I would love to see something I created up there.

    p.s. here are a couple great sites from Leo Babauta talking about how to minimize your life and why, if anyone is interested:

    http://www.mnmlist.com
    http://www.zenhabits.com

    • ximan

      Get out of my MIND!! :) But seriously, I couldn’t have said it better.

      How blessed folks are to have spouses and children and houses!! Yet I wouldn’t trade in my minimalist life for the world. And I sure as hell wouldn’t write as much as I do.

      • Midnight Luck

        I just think people don’t understand how many things in life we are taught or think are necessary and absolutes, just aren’t. Doing away with things you think you MUST have is hard, but once they are gone, you turn and look back two months later and realize you haven’t missed once. I put a ton of stuff in storage and 6 months, hit the road, later had no idea what was int there and hadn’t replaced any of it. So came back sold, put on the corner or got rid of it all. Do I really need 4 wheels and tires from a vehicle I no longer own? that someday I might sell on Craigslist? No way, I will put them on the corner and they become another person who picks them up problem or an amazing gift they can’t believe someone just gave up.

        I wouldn’t give up my freedom and simplicity for anything either. Good to hear I am not the only one.

        there is Power in little.

    • Acarl

      Smart and oh so true.

    • drifting in space

      I do agree with this but I disagree that you need that lifestyle to write a lot.

      My wife and I are introverts, so I get tons of time to write while she paints. But we still like owning our home, new gadgets, and our newer car. We have 3 dogs that are our world. We don’t strive to keep up with the Jones’ but we like our comfortable lives.

      However, I would drop all of that (except wife and dogs) to move in pursuit of the dream, but I am too much of a realist to do that without at least general feedback that what I write is good. Plus, I really just like storytelling. I have a great job that isn’t very stressful and I get to write while I’m here (like right now! :) ).

      I will say, however, that I am insanely jealous of your adventures and road trips. That is something my wife and I are changing about ourselves as we speak.

      • Midnight Luck

        I wasn’t saying “this is the way”. There are many lives and ways to live. I wasn’t saying to axe the wife or husband or kids. I was trying to say that writing is difficult, but if it is put up against a house payment, or the wife or husband or kids are wanting of something, invariably, the Writing is what gets axed. It loses 99.9 times out of 100. Simplifying is one of the best ways to make sure Writing isn’t on the chopping block first, or isn’t the automatic loser. Writing is hard enough. Debt and expenses can make it so much more difficult.

        I am a realist too, but choosing to have something you have written get applauded before you go after your dream or move can be problematic as well. I am still not sure though if “Having to move to LA” is as absolute as everyone says though. There are good arguments for it, but not so sure it is an must when each person is at a different stage in life. I think it is a bit grayer than that. It seems another part of the dreamer idea. That you will move there and “poof” it happens, or problems are solved. Being in LA is just fraught with so many issues. Expenses are enormous just for living there, let alone getting there for most people. Cutting off a leg to get a watch isn’t always the best answer.

        • drifting in space

          “Cutting off a leg to get a watch isn’t always the best answer.”

          I love that.

          And yeah, you’re right. It’s a precarious position to be in. Move and hope it works, or hope it works so you can move? Writing getting axed for me would be a tragedy. I totally see where you’re coming from though.

          At least I have the accounting thing to fall back on. Could probably just find a nice job down there and do that while I write. My wife surely wouldn’t complain about the weather (It was low 30s this morning).

          • Midnight Luck

            it’s snowing here. and 24.

            I fell into the “I have a great job to fall back on” thing for a long time. And it hurt my writing. So many things came up that needed to be done. Boss, job, house, car, whatever called and it ALWAYS came first.

            Now, I have a small life and literally can live on less than $900 a month, less than $700 if I push it.

            As soon as you move to LA? that’s out the window.

            I just love having the freedom to not be ruled by money.

            speaking of need and money:

            Caramel Macchiotto, give me a break, for $5. Who gives a crap? I don’t need it. no one NEEDS it.

            I have so many friends that HAVE to have their Starbucks or Coffee Bean or Local Coffee, couldn’t LIVE without their (insert addiction of choice). Really? Just try cutting it out for 3 days, a week, a month, and when you get to a certain point see if you REALLY care you haven’t had it (now take into account the getting through the addiction to caffeine or coke or meth or heroine or snuggles or sugar packets or twinkles first, and come down off it, THEN take the time off and look back at it. Addiction talking isn’t what you want to listen to. The 3 days or week or month after you are off the Bends is what you need to listen to and what counts) (not “you” Drifting, I am using the global “you”.

          • drifting in space

            Oh, my god, yes.

            I got my wife to quit going to Starbucks and brew coffee at home. Saved us over $100 a month, not even kidding.

            I’m lucky enough to have a laid back boss, no car (I take the bus, car is my wife’s), no real responsibilities (selfish with my time). So in essence, I’m on board with you.

            It’s mostly that pesky mortgage, but in comparison, is cheaper than any rent in LA, I’m sure ($1200). It’s nice living out in the boons sometimes.

            I don’t have any addictions or habits other than seeing movies, but I call that research. And Netflix. Again, research. ;)

            Where are you located if you don’t mind me asking? It was supposed to snow here on Monday, but it didn’t. :(

          • Midnight Luck

            N. Arizona

            where are you?

            I won’t get any kind of cable, and yes Netflix is included. I love watching movies and some good tv (breaking bad is calling) so much that I will just do that forever if it is available, and I do not agree with paying the cost for cable (the average American supposedly spend $190 a month on cable but lives below the poverty line, what?).

            I love, love, love going to the theater so much that when I do (it is also my one and only addiction) I feel like I was just living in another amazing utopian universe.

          • drifting in space

            North of Seattle, WA.

            I do have cable, but it’s only $60/mo. After football is over, I will most likely cancel it, like I do each year. I can’t believe how much it is and how much people are willing to pay. Between that and internet, that’s $100. Add a cell phone, another $100.

            UGH!

          • klmn

            I stopped watching pro football (never did watch much college ball).

            Between Sundays, Monday nights, and Thursday nights I freed up a lot of time. Part of my decision was based on a political stance the NFL took, but the found time is great.

            Wish I had done it sooner.

          • drifting in space

            I only watch the Broncos, I could care less about any other team/time on TV. Most everyone I know is how you described above. What a cash grab.

            But my DVR is swollen with shows I use as an excuse to avoid writing if I’m not feeling inspired AKA lazy.

            Even on off days, I still write for an hour or two. Getting rid of TV would just eliminate the threat of procrastination and help me focus better. I am so scatter brained with ideas, it’s annoying.

          • Midnight Luck

            well if you truly write 1-2 hours on you off days AKA lazy days, then you are 5,000% ahead of most everyone. You must be pushing the extreme on regular and great days. plus you have a job you work at. That is phenom.

            You could be clocking in a finished script a week…

          • Midnight Luck

            yeah I toss around the moving and hope it works vs. hope it works and when i get the right / good / positive / sale and then move puzzle non-stop in my head and heart.

            It is a tough one.

            When I get a few really solid scripts done and ready to go that are sitting there screaming at me, it will be time. Not ones that are almost or just about, but the ones I say Hell YES these are it! and not ONE but a few, meaning more than 3, that just rock my world, then I am ready.

            I hope it doesn’t take 30 years, I hope it takes 1.

            But without that arsenal I am really happy with, jazzed about; The ones I am positive and sure about well moving and living there just isn’t a good plan in my mind. (maybe a bit too logical, but it makes sense I believe). Being here living minimally while my Script Stockade is building makes sense.

    • Malibo Jackk

      Used to think all I needed was a car, a six string guitar and a rug.
      Bought a used Corvette, a six string, and a beautiful Kmart red shag rug.
      Loved it. Easy to move from one place to the other. Then one day I bought a twelve
      – and it was all downhill from there.

      Now I’ve got stuff. Lots of stuff. And all the problems it brings.
      I got to simplify. Get back to basics. Remember who I was. I need to.

      I’m sitting in traffic, thinking about this.
      And a black Lamborghini pulls up along side … .

    • Crcbonjour

      Leo is awesome….great on writing, on living

      • Midnight Luck

        yes he is.
        And he connects minimizing your life to all aspects of it, not just the stuff you buy and hoard, and I love how he does that.

  • Midnight Luck

    “A writer writes, always” – Billy Crystal – via writer Stu Silver, and possibly Director Danny DeVito in THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN

    I hope Randy comes back to it, or changes his mind. I hope he loves writing and decides the goals can always change. I hope he keeps writing.

    • Acarl

      “Looks like we foiled ‘em again.”

  • A Tribe Called Guest

    Randy, first off this much-needed advice and a great article. As a young writer myself, I needed to hear this and I’m sure that this has affected many more aspiring and professional writers on this blog.

    There’s a takeaway that I found and I wanted to expand on: this is a JOB. I feel like I’m seeing a lot of people romanticize this path. *Why* is it that so many writers seemingly fall into a trap writing *only* what they love, and nothing else? Does nobody recognize that you have to work on projects you might not like in order to have a career in anything?

    I graduated at the top of my class from a business program and was asked to give advice to a bunch of first year students. I told a class of a hundred twenty 18 year olds that the person next to them is better than they are and that they’d have to work their ass off to beat them. Was I invited back? Nope.

    Fine, just work out your legs, but when it’s time to pull yourself over the edge you won’t have any strength left in your arms. Is that a terrible analogy? Yes. But I’ve lost muscle mass and wanted to complain about it to someone :(

  • A Tribe Called Guest

    In The Loop is one of my favourite comedies. Can you guys bottle up U.K water and distribute here in Canada? Thanks.

  • Mark David

    Lean years, folks. Lean years…

  • Crcbonjour

    Randy, thanks for sharing your story. I don’t think this is all there is for you but I get how hard it was….seems many of us do. You may yet sell a script or a play or book; dude you can write but I’m sure you know that. Your piece felt like a mini boot camp or a gritty “Inside the Writer’s Studio” w/Carson eating Captain Crunch while you spoke; no blue cards but great drawings. Your story goes on; can’t wait till we get to hear you tell some agent/producer to “piss off!”

    Arriving in LA with a laptop full of material & some way to make money sounds smart & I suppose there really isn’t anything like the face-to-face. Coming from a business background like many other SS followers, the resume gets you in the door but the interview gets you the job; it’s essentially a conversation….(two way…you need to be sizing them up while they are doing the same thing to you) during which you both ought to be thinking: is this someone I can see myself working with?

    You’d not have gotten the “interview” (movie world/meeting) if your work had not already recommended you, do they know you’ve got something very great.

    Next comes the “package”……you’ve got the goods, they dig you. What will they offer you? This brings back an old phrase from where it came, I know not: there is NO free lunch! You want to do something for free, go volunteer. I sprint a LOT of time writing for a travel website because my manager scored a paying gig

  • ChadStuart

    Yeah, I don’t get it. I don’t get why all of these issues added up to “quit”. I don’t understand why the author feels that learning these lessons “late” in anyway shape or form means they can’t be applied in the future. Dude, you’re only 40. That’s not decrepit. You still have lots of life to you.

    Obviously, writing is not my full time gig (well, screenwriting isn’t, copywriting is). I have a job,a wife and a child. I spend lots of time with all of those things (would rather the scales be tipped in the wife and daughter side, but that’s life). But, I still find time to both write scripts and market them. I have a manager, but still work the phones on my own behalf. Why? Because it’s fun. I enjoy it. So, I’ll still do this for many, many years to come even if I don’t “succeed”. But I’ll never “fail” because it’s just so much fun to do. And I’ll never “quit” unless it’s no longer fun.

  • treestandwater

    Failed cause you quit, you can’t fail if you never quit. A dead guy just sold a script, he’s not getting paid for it, dead and penniless but didn’t fail.

  • blue439

    Great article. Still, this is about as specific as you can get without getting too specific, as if the writer STILL had ambitions to get back in the game and did not want to step on anyone’s toes or burn his best ideas. If, as he said repeatedly, he was out of the game forever, then he could have named names without consequence. I would have really liked one good, specific war story over a lot of vague situations. Just what was the agent’s idea that the writer worked on to no avail? Just what was the specific true crime story he was hot on?

    This guy is NOT out of the game.

  • garrett_h

    Agree 100%. And the thing is, it doesn’t even necessarily have to be a huge action or adventure script. You can still write your drama, just give it an interesting hook. Like Saving Mr. Banks. Or Dogs of Babel (which I think may have been a book first?). Even The Kids Are All Right. It can’t be people just sitting around talking. There has to be SOMETHING interesting, SOMETHING they can put on the poster. You’re still stacking the odds against you, but at least if you can get on the Black List or something with this marketable premise, you can get some meetings, maybe even get your script sold.

  • Crystal

    I think a lot of people here are over-stating the need to write “commercial” scripts. There is a lot of middle ground between period dramas and big action movies. Commercial also doesn’t mean idiotic. There are smart, commercial scripts. Often, these scripts are dumbed down by the time they make it to the screen, but they often start as smart, well-executed ideas with developed ideas. Writing commercial doesn’t have to mean forgoing your artistic tastes.

    Even independent films need a hook, an interesting idea.

  • Somersby

    Nicely said.

  • Matteo

    You can take that line, sure. You could also tell your son after he’s finished fourth in a swimming race “you failed”. But ‘having fun along the way’ isn’t a sugar coating – it’s kind of the point of life. I’d rather be happy and not sell a screenplay than sell one and be miserable. And it’s having this mind-set that puts me in a position to sell one AND be happy.

    • Citizen M

      Yoda: “Try not. Do… or do not. There is no try.”

      Personally, I don’t agree with Yoda. We should be adaptable; not go after a single goal like a monomaniac and call ourselves failures if we don’t achieve it.

      By that standard, Bill Gates is a failed Traf-O-Data developer.

  • peisley

    Kelly Marcel started as producer/writer of Terra Nova, a high concept tv show. Somehow, she connected with Spielberg for that. Charlie Kaufman also started out in tv before Malkovich. Not saying I disagree with following your passion, but these two had established backgrounds before their “big break.”

  • Tom

    I think people are focusing too much on the specifics of Randy’s story.

    There’s a certain amount of schadenfreude in some of the posts. A bit of “Ha! The dumbass failed because he didn’t want it as much as me.”

    The message here is broader, and ultimately more important to everyone’s career, than a simple “Move to LA. Don’t write other people’s ideas. Be commercial.”

    The real take-away is that Randy reached the mountain top that so many amateurs agonize over. He doesn’t go into specifics, but it sounds like he was repped. He was getting read. He was meeting with producers and getting pitched ideas. So many writers think to themselves, “Once I get an agent…” “Once I meet some producers…” “Once I get read…” They probably read Randy’s story and think, “If I was in that position, I would have knocked it out of the park. This fool wasted an opportunity, but I won’t.”

    The truth is that Randy made it to a certain level, looked up, and slowly came to realize that even from his false summit, the mountain peak was as fucking far as ever.

    I applaud his conviction to actually turn around and climb back down. To be honest with himself and say, “This mountain sucks. I don’t want to climb it anymore.” Most writers sit on that false summit for years, waiting for the mountain peak to somehow magically become lower.

    The truth is that the fortunate, hard-working writers here will scratch, claw, and fight to become those “professional amateurs.” That purgatory spot on the mountain. That place where Randy sat. You may get repped. You may even sell a script. But you’ll probably end up thinking, “Things should have been better by now. Why aren’t I making a living at this yet?”

    Don’t use Randy’s story as a checklist for things that he did wrong. Use it to prepare yourself. Look up. Look at that peak in the trail right now, where the path goes up and around the bend and you can’t see anymore. You can’t imagine a point beyond that little peak, because you can’t see it. You think the trail ends there. You really want to get there so you can rest and take a few pictures. You can post on Facebook that you scaled “Screenwriter Mountain.” One final push is all you need…

    Well, I hope you brought your ice-axe and crampons because just over that hill, it gets a fuck-ton harder.

    • drifting in space

      I like this and almost want to delete my comment on this thread.

      • Crcbonjour

        Your comment was terrific. Both are reality based. Expect the unexpected. Everyone’s journey is different and we’re all here to share and learn. Mistakes will be made but they are opportunities to learn/grow/decide. Giving up is easy; persevering is the road less traveled.
        There are no guarantees to success in ANYTHING really; everything requires ones best at 120% at all times; on top of an almost indescribable factor that makes one stand out from another; Excellence.
        This doesn’t mean there can’t be many greats. It doesn’t mean there aren’t other avenues to pursue.
        No two journeys will be alike; similar perhaps, but not the same. The minute one begins to compare, one marginalizes oneself. DON’T. But always keep it real. That will also always be different for everyone, as are everyone’s choices.
        There’s no shame and, as Yogi always said: “It ain’t over till it’s over” so, ya never know.

    • Crystal

      Thanks for this comment! It’s so ridiculous seeing how many people here are criticizing him for only putting 13 years in. ONLY 13 years, Jesus. People who are just starting this path don’t realize how freaking long it is. I know I didn’t and I’m still not repped, nor have I sold anything.

    • Hadley’s Hope

      It is kind of frightening reading your comment after just a couple of days ago having read up on all of the mountaineering casualties of Mt. Everest.

      There are something like 200+ icy corpses frozen to the mountainside. Current climbers pass by many of them.

      Reading your comment which used scaling a mountain, well it chilled me to the bone a bit thinking of it in conjunction with the real life Mt. Everest.

      I need some strong coffee or hot chocolate now to warm myself back up.

  • Crcbonjour

    Sincere question: having attended undergrad & grad business school (go ahead yawn) ……I never thought there were other options…..do they teach business at Film School and if so, what elements? Management, Law, Marketing, Acct/Finance? I realize that’s a lot and perhaps squarely off the map for a BFA but as I’ve studied the film industry, I can’t help but inquire. It seems so vital to anyone striving for a career in the arts and while there are indeed people (like me, but not forever!) who can assist, one still ought to be adept at the business side of their creative endeavors to add a a bit more chance of success, n’est pas?

    • blue439

      No, they generally do not teach business in film school. USC has a producers program which I imagine they do, but in general, no. Most people who go into the arts do not make money, so having business knowledge is irrelevant. If they are commercially successful in the film business, they have accountants, lawyers, managers and agents to take care of that for them. if you’re saying business people can help craft commercially-successful material, well, the entire Hollywood film business is about that.

      • Crcbonjour

        No, my point was that writers would be perhaps, better prepared if they had some business knowledge not to create their material – far from it, but to interact with producers/agents/managers and handle negotiations if classes were taught within the program.

        Initially, most writers won’t be repped or have an arsenal of the folks you mentioned but they will have to make decisions and choices that could have a huge impact on their career in the present and future. Hence my question. Advisers generally come at a hefty price and not all are worth it. A few unscrupulous ones will even take advantage of uninformed or folks to trusting/to busy to stay tuned in to all that’s going on; giving folks more power than perhaps they ought to have.

        As a rule, this is most often NOT the case. Most lawyers and CPA’s have worked WAY to hard to attain their credentials and live/work the ethics that they are bound to in their career and tend to live by personally; it spills over. That said, when a professional has a client earning $XXX they’ll go ahead and charge $XX when, really, did they do enough to earn it? Did the manager really earn 10%

        Initially one might need to know a lot more now than they do. That does not require a degree but maybe a few books to get the basics and learn the lingo; get started doing a deal, not feel intimidated by a lawyer (lol) and manage money. I selected a few to post on Twitter for writers after looking through MANY: take them or leave them….just basics but, essential.
        Mgmt: “How to Win Friends & Influence People” Dale Carnegie
        Finance: “30 Minute Money Solutions” Christine Benz
        Law: “Business Law” 8th Ed. Henry R. Cheeseman

        That’s why I asked about film school; unless you want to write about accountants (I’m one, and I don’t really want to) my intent/interest was purely from an interest of the writer in business. Although I’m surprised no one has jumped on the Enron/Madoff/Lehman story (some have, but boring “Margin Call” yawn) but then it always usually still comes down to lawyers….but Enron ENDED a legendary Accounting firm. Probably too touchy for too many reasons.

        When the time comes anyone needs to hire people, maybe you won’t need to hire an army and you’ll be better able to decide whom to hire.

        My uncle’s (writer) CPA seriously undercharges but that’s kind of cool and what I always do now. I worked for the billionaires; they never cared. So if I have to hire a lawyer/manager, I know I can handle them.

        Want you all to be able to do the same.

        • blue439

          That’s why you have agents — they negotiate the deals. Without an agent you probably won’t get the job so no need for an accountant. Agents negotiate deals in Hollywood. You gotta remember it is not business, per se, it’s show business. In other words the rules of business that normally apply in most businesses don’t apply in Hollywood. For instance, many actors do not sign their contracts, yet the movie still proceeds. This is unheard of in any other business. A lot of it is relationships and handshakes — not standard rules of business.

          • Crcbonjour

            That’s why I never mentioned agents; it’s implied yet most writers won’t have one straight away. A lawyer posted earlier about setting up a company to place a percentage of his rights in; someone else proposed a two tiered option proposal that most would likely not have thought of……….perhaps through word of mouth or in making contacts once in LA.
            I think, though that what agents do for actors….your words, is not necessarily the same thing that they do for writers. Represent, yes. But the very nature of the work, in that it is copyrighted material, intellectual property, money is involved, rights going forward, (the more success, the more complex the contracts will get) well, no agent is signing anything like that for me. Ever. I will read every contract and if that makes them want to un-want (yeah I wrote that) my script than so be it. Obviously this isn’t “nobody” me; because I might not be repped but I’d like to be know what’s going on to the letter and then later, damn straight, I’ll see those papers. If I can’t I’ll just make sure I hire an agent who is/was a lawyer and can read a contract.

            It’s Hollywood, yes. So we’ll sit poolside with wine while I go over the contract.
            Everything is negotiable if you’re polite, even play dumb blonde if I have to, smile, whatever.
            It’s 2013, business is business – too many people have gotten screwed in EVERY business by now to not be relatively tuned it to what’s going on. I plan to be sweetly/smartly tuned in. I’ll gladly shake hands after the deal is done :) I expect to.

  • Hadley’s Hope

    “Just write something you feel passionate about while you’re outside the Fortress walls, Someone may see and share your passion, or they may not.”

    I think one of the things I’m just finally getting decent and is coming up with ideas that I love, yet are also commercially viable (sci-fi, action, high concept, etc). I agree that just writing purely “commercial” ideas for the sake of how marketable they are, is not the best way to go. If anything, it won’t be fun if one sits down to write something purely on commercial terms yet has no connection to the characters or theme of the actual script. Although, maybe sometimes a writer starts out with a purely commercial idea and their own personal quirks and hangups work their way in and a stronger bond is formed between the writer and their script? Of course, that wouldn’t be guaranteed to happen, which is why I think it best to start with an idea that both moves you and also has something about it that appeals to the masses.

    I guess maybe we should always ask ourselves why we are writing a particular story or screenplay. Why does it need to be told? Does it illuminate something profound about history or the modern world we live in? Does it break boundaries and have the potential to make the audience think differently about a certain topic? Does it detail the uncovering of some dark truth, like All The President’s Men did? Maybe it is a character that speaks to the writer and is just pure expression of our inner demons.

    It is like a cook saying “it needs more sauce.” Or, “where’s the marinade?” It has to have more than a nice aroma and tons of salt. The full range of what we taste must come from a deeper layer in the entree.

    Damn, now I am hungry.

  • Linkthis83

    My mantra: Find a concept you love and write you’re fucking heart out.

    How many successful writers state when being interviewed: Well, I knew I needed a commercially viable idea, and once I had that, the rest was history.

    BTW, you looking to co-write that Cupid’s Bow and Arrows idea? :)

    • Hadley’s Hope

      What if Robin Hood found this mythical bow and arrow, and teamed up with Cupid to fight evil?

      • Linkthis83

        Are you trying to kill evil with love? My first thought would be, people who are evil are capable of love. Some of them love being evil. It’s a tough sell, but you put the right person in the writer’s driving seat and this has commercial franchise written all over it.

        • Hadley’s Hope

          Or maybe shooting the Sheriff of Nottingham with Cupid’s Arrow will make him love again, and will turn him from evil lord to gentle prefect?

          I don’t know… it would probably get rewritten as Robin Hood 2 for Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe.

          • Linkthis83

            Right now, I feel it’s Grendl’s baby. If he so chooses to sell it to me on the black market, then I will probably dive into it.

            It’s such a fantastic, original and commercial idea. How could it not sell!!

  • Jaco

    “which most likely will be read by no one” . . .

    I read it. Enjoyed your take. Well put.

    • J•E•B

      Thanks Jaco.

  • Breezy

    I know right

  • Mike.H

    235 ENGORGED comment day because topic is TRUE TO HEART! We feel it with EMPATHY.

  • Breezy

    TRAAFFIIICC on this site. DAMN
    Hope it doesn’t crash like Harvard’s system in The Social Network

  • Panos Tsapanidis

    The only kind of script I can see as almost a “recipe” to break out as a writer is “Buried.” Brilliant whether you look at it from a writer’s perspective or from a producer’s/businessman’s perspective.

    Since I appreciate the act of directing, I looooved Gravity. But I am willing to bet that it would have never been made if there wasn’t an established director behind it. And even then, Cuarón still had to fight hard to keep the script the way it was. There were tons of studio suggestions, one of them being about showing the NASA employees back in Houston.

    “Just write something you feel passionate about while you’re outside the Fortress walls, Someone may see and share your passion, or they may not. You can only control one thing, the writing unless you’re worried about demographics, in which case you might look into becoming a studio executive instead.”

    I agree one hundred percent with this. Don’t half-ass anything.

  • Jaco

    Thanks for the timeline – inspired me to chart mine out and . . . whoa. Where does the time go?

    Good luck going forward – sounds like you are on a good path.

    • D.C. Purk

      The funny thing is I never charted mine out. It just sorta happened. The only common goal was writing. Good luck to you, as well.

  • drifting in space

    I feel like you are my soul mate.

    • D.C. Purk

      Whoa, slow down. Aren’t you married?

  • Breezy

    Heheheh
    Man, I wish I had a local TV industry to break into.
    Im not chasing Hollywood, but I am writing an animated pilot with heavy anime influences. If I could get over to Japan, Id do so in a heartbeat. But Japan’s system is pretty hard to knock into especially from where my monolingual ass is firmly put. I dont want to be a screenwriter per se, Im more interested in interesting some company with this spec pilot. I love animation, so my case/goal is a bit different than what this article is talking about. I dont want to write features. Id break into animation with artwork, except I CAN’T EVEN DRAW. not yet. But I have high hopes, high apple pie in the sky hopes!

    • Alex Palmer

      Cool, that’s not an ambition I hear very often. Maybe kidnap some art school grad and force him to draw your concepts?

      • Breezy

        Not a bad idea at all.
        Funny you should say that because I do walk around with an empty purse and kidnapping would be the only way to get it for free.

  • blue439

    One thing I wanted to point out about the moving to LA thing. If you write a commercial script that Hollywood wants, that doesn’t matter. Tyler Marceca was in Brooklyn when he wrote The Disciple Program. John Scott 3 was not in LA when he wrote Maggie. Kelly Marcel was in England when she wrote Terra Nova. Now they have Mark Wahlberg, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tom Hanks starring in their pics. If you write something that raises you above the crowd, then all bets are off.

  • Midnight Luck

    great links and articles on this page about Film Noir,
    http://cinephilearchive.tumblr.com
    including scripts for:

    5 essential film noir screenplays every aspiring screenwriter must read:

    Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, and D.M. Marshman, Jr.’s screenplay for “Sunset Boulevard”
    Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler’s screenplay for “Double Indemnity”
    Orson Welles’s screenplay for “Touch of Evil”
    William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthman’s screenplay for “The Big Sleep”
    John Huston’s screenplay for “The Maltese Falcon”

  • Trek

    Good-ness! If you ever get discouraged D K, re-read this. RE-READ IT. My law, I know I will be. You win best Comment of Wednesday Award. Hands. Down.

    And good luck on your writing endeavors. I hope to see your work reviewed here by Carson in the near future.

    • D.C. Purk

      Wow, thanks! It was kinda fun trekking through the past 10 years of my life in my head, which is why the comment ended up being so damn long. Good luck to you as well.

  • Breezy

    Kudos to you.
    And alot of people need to realize at least a basic “business” knowledge/background really helps in whatever area they are. Or prevent you from being a total schmuck ignoramus inside of a bank, but that’s a different story.

  • pmlove

    I’m curious as to why Gravity wasn’t commercial? It’s a very basic idea, founded around a central premise (shit wouldn’t it be scary if you drifted out into space) followed by a series of A to Bs. Easy marketing, easy idea, straightforward idea, packed with ‘GSU’. It’s almost boilerplate to absurdity.

    Voice, passion, all that is great but I feel Gravity epitomises everything Carson talks about here. Same, but different.

    A shit boring story with one hell of a hook. Now I think that seems like something to strive for if it’s commercial you want.

    • carsonreeves1

      I think the studios were afraid that it would feel too “small.” It’s just one person (sometimes 2). You can count on one hand how many single-performance movies did huge box office. Is it one? (Castaway?) And even that had a lot of people in the beginning and end. So yeah, it was this strange movie that had high-concept elements but was very “small” story.

  • Auckland Guy

    I found Randy’s comments sad and I’d urge him not to give up if it’s a true passion. Always keep it alive somehow even if you have to do other things for money for a while.

    Something I heard a while ago… ‘you’re not beaten til YOU say so’… it doesn’t matter what anyone else says, only what you say to yourself.

    Don’t dwell on your ‘mistakes’ as if they’ve been fatal blows, see them as stepping stones instead… we’ve all made plenty and will continue to. If you enjoy screenwriting, don’t give it up, you can’t, just regroup for a while…

  • Malibo Jackk

    How long did you stand in line?

    • silvain

      Three years and four months, starting exactly when I stepped off the plane. That’s when I sold my first script. It would be another three before I got that first movie made. And between them, various and sundry assignments and rewrites. Worth its wait.

  • Midnight Luck

    wow, you are really fringe.

    and I thought my minimalist life was pushing the boundaries.

    Way to go. So glad it works for you and you enjoy it so much.

    I am still working on minimizing. All my stuff that fits into a 5×10, well, it really could be brought down even more. Small steps though. I went from having so much stuff in so many different places, parents, brothers, house, other storage units, to just this one 5×10. It was a monumental change.

    I love hearing other people’s stories of their simple lives. Thank you for sharing.

    • Stephjones

      Fringe? Hah! That’s the perfect word! I always just thought of us as a couple of dirtbags. ;)
      We have about the same amount of storage as 5×10 so you’re not doing too badly. I actually have a lot of stuff on this boat. 2 bikes, a paddle board, and we have 2 dinghies, so we still have stuff. When I talk ” valuables” I guess I mean what I’d hate to lose if I had to abandon ship. When we’re hunkered down somewhere for a hurricane I make us a ditch bag. Most of the room has to be saved for my 25 lb cat but my other valuables, things that are essential, will fit in with the fat ass. The rest of it I can let go.
      You could duplicate our lifestyle for about $15,000. A 33 foot sailboat can be had for under $10,000. I can’t imagine ever paying rent. If you ever come to St Thomas, look us up. You’ll be amazed at how cozy our little boat is.

  • drifting in space

    That sounds amazing.

    • Stephjones

      Hiya DIS,
      Thanks. Sounds like you and your wife have things figured out. Trust me, a boatee life isn’t for everyone. I’ve had folks visit and ask me how I can stand living in such a small space. It always surprises me. Isn’t it just cozy? ;)

  • Malibo Jackk

    Read the book Dove a while back.
    He started with a 24′ (I think) then moved up to a 33′ on his trip around the world.
    (Now lives with his wife in a cabin in the mountains.)

    What brand sailboat? What’s her name?
    Where do you sail?

    • Stephjones

      You best be careful, MJ. I read that book when I was 16. It lit me up and had a lot to do with why I’m 57 years old and have never owned furniture!
      That is an amazing story! Uh-oh. Someone just ran onto the reef in front of us. More to come.

  • bruckey

    It’s nice to read something that doesn’t say ‘believe in yourself’ or ‘keep writing and you’ll get there’.

  • davejc

    Wow! Whatever happened to the good ole days when all you had to do to succeed was hang around a shooting set until the director ripped up the script, fired the writer and then turned to you and said, “Hey Kid, Can you type?”

  • peisley

    You’re welcome, I guess.

  • N.A.

    I didn’t read all the comments here, so I apologize if this is something many others have said, but I feel like we all write for the HOPE of making something that hits it big critically or commercially. It’s that hope that drives us and survives us. I’ve been writing for ten years and have made a total of about two thousand dollars doing it. I don’t need the money from screenwriting and I don’t need the acclaim potential success would bring. I need the hope of writing something that affects the world. I will never give that up nor will I ever have to give that up and that’s all I need.

  • tom8883

    Numbers are a big aspect of the game. You can’t control all the variables so just keep developing concepts with a creativity informed by both market sense and artistic sense. Do enough of the right things consistently and develop enough concepts and eventually something will hit. It probably won’t even be the best thing you’ve written.

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