Sorry guys. I couldn’t get into Gerald’s Game. I wanted to watch and review it but I immediately realized the movie was less about the story and more about Acting! With a capital “A!” I’ll revisit it at some point because I want to see how they handled the ending – still one of the most gruesome and clever endings I’ve ever read in a book. But that will have to come at another time.
Instead, I decided to do something I’d been putting off for years. I have this giant folder of screenplays I haven’t filed away yet. Every pdf is just a script title. Which meant I would have to open the script, see who wrote it, Google the info, then file it away depending on what I discovered (Read, Produced, Black List, Read Later, etc.).
These scripts ranged from 2 years old to 20 years old. After about an hour of this, I noticed that my mood had changed considerably. Earlier I was watching football, eating a Shack Burger, feet up, happy. I was now noticeably downbeat, on the verge of depressed.
What had happened?
Well, every time I looked up a script, it went like this: Find an old article mentioning the script (made the Black List, got a director attached, optioned it, if they were lucky sold it). And then, when I checked their IMDB to find out what they’d done since… NOTHING. It was like every one of these writers had been erased from existence. This happened a good 100 times, lol. And I chuckle when I say that more as a coping mechanism than anything.
It depresses the hell out of me when writers don’t succeed. I want them to reach their dreams of paying their way through life as a professional screenwriter. I don’t want anyone to fail.
This led me to the question: How DOES a screenwriter succeed? How do they avoid this curse? Is there one thing they can do to rise above everyone and become one of the cool kids for good?
This is a harder question to answer than you’d think. I remember asking it to the agent of a writer who’s on my Top 25. We both agreed that his client was a much better writer than several big name screenwriters who wrote in his genre. So why wasn’t it him who was getting those big assignments? Why was he still struggling to break into the A-List? Point blank the agent looked at me and said, “I don’t know.”
One reality that might help answer this question is how Hollywood determines success. They do so via produced credits. There are some caveats to this (a straight-to-VOD credit doesn’t carry a lot of weight) but for the most part, that’s the endgame. Because while selling a script makes YOU money. Getting that script turned into a movie makes EVERYBODY ELSE money.
So how do you do that? How do you write a script that gets made into a movie? There are clearly a dozen ways to answer this question. You can write something “marketable.” You can write something “actor-driven” in order to attract high-caliber actors. You can hop on the current trend (Jane Wick The Biopic). And if you’re a good writer who’s honed their craft, any of these can result in a sale. But I think the best way to break in and stay in these days, is to write a script that gets people excited. Scripts that get a lot of buzz get major talent interested. And once talent is interested, the movie finds a way to get made.
The formula for a “Get People Excited Script” is four-fold.
1) Give us a concept that’s fresh in some way.
2) Give us something that promotes your unique voice.
3) Give us something that takes chances.
4) Give us something you’re passionate about.
The reason I highlight these four things specifically is because these are the things that are directly responsible for getting people to talk about your script. Whenever you come across a fresh original idea, you feel the hair on your arms stand up. Whenever there’s a writer with a weird new voice, everyone wants to talk about them. Whenever you read a script that surprises you with the chances it takes, you want to tell someone about it. And the way passion works is: if you’re passionate about your script, we’re going to feel that passion on the page. Your passion then becomes our passion.
Because think about it. All of these readers and managers and agents and producers are essentially filing through the same ether of screenplays I am. And if they’re anything like me, they’re seeing all these scripts they’ve already read before: “Really, another version of Crank?” “Really, another dark Western?” “Really, another biopic about the first whoever?” That’s not to say those scripts can’t be executed well and turn out good. But everyone’s looking for that script that’s unlike anything they’ve seen before – something they can get behind, announce to the world, and really be excited about.
And once you’ve written a movie that’s pulled in big actors and a big director? You’ve bought yourself work for the next ten years. So when you sit down to write your next script, I’m not saying you need to check all these boxes. Writing a great screenplay is never that black-and-white. But you should definitely be thinking about this list. In other words, if you don’t have the “take chances” component, maybe you make up for it because you’re Level 100 passionate about the story. Cause, in the end, I do think that the way you become a part of this town is to write something they’re never going to forget.