So I got to thinking after Monday’s post. Because people wanted me to expand on the topic – How to break in. And I’ve spent the last two hours, sitting in this chair, staring at the wall, thinking about that and only that, looking for that kernel, that ONE MAGICAL MORSEL, that could somehow distill this answer down into a single actionable piece of advice. “JUST DO THIS AND YOU’LL BECOME A PROFESSIONAL SCREENWRITER” was the goal.
Needless to say, that was a failed experiment.
Whenever I thought I’d come up with something, I’d realize, “But they still need to put 7500 to 10,000 hours of work into learning how to write.” There was no way around that. And I think that’s the part no new screenwriter wants to hear. Or, it’s not so much they don’t want to hear it. It’s that they’re looking for a shortcut, a way to shave off a thousand hours here or a thousand hours there. I suppose that’s possible if you’re one of the lucky ones – a writer with innate talent. But, baseline, we’re talking about 5000 hours AT LEAST before you’re ready.
Assuming you’ve put in that time, there’s ONE THING I’ve found is the closest you’re going to get to a single “Holy Grail” piece of actionable advice on how to break in. And I figured it out by going in the opposite direction. I asked myself, “Okay Carson, what is the WORST thing a screenwriter could do? The one thing that would ensure failure?”
And the answer to that was easy: A bad idea.
The most common problem I see in amateur screenwriting is BAD SCRIPT IDEAS. I read so many submission e-mails where I literally close my eyes, slowly shake my head, and think, “What is this person thinking??” I know, just by looking at that logline, that the script has ZERO CHANCE of being good. Not even .00001%. Zero. And it’s sad. Because even if they’re a good screenwriter, they’re working with a faulty premise. There’s no strange attractor, no clear sense of conflict, no irony, no clear goal, no imagination, no clarity. The idea is just HORRIBLE.
Horrible idea generation tends to break down into two types. The beginner screenwriter who doesn’t yet know what constitutes a good idea. And then the more frustrating scenario – a writer who simply doesn’t realize his idea is bad. This usually happens because a) he doesn’t ask anybody whether his idea is good or b) nobody tells him his idea is bad. And “b” is, unfortunately, a common scenario. Nobody wants to be the asshole. Nobody wants to destroy the writer’s enthusiasm. What they don’t realize is that by not being truthful, they’re sending that writer on a one-year journey of misery where they’ll be turned down again and again, because people either won’t like the idea enough to read it, or the ones who do read it, will hate it because the idea was faulty in the first place.
This is why I encourage people to send me their loglines. I rate them 1-10. If it’s below a 7, I tell them not to write it. And if you don’t have $25, find a friend who knows screenwriting and ask them to do the same. Make sure you preface it with, “Please please please be honest. Tell me if it sucks.”
This indirectly leads us to our Holy Grail answer. The one thing that gives us the BEST CHANCE at breaking in is… A GOOD IDEA!!!
That’s all it takes to open all the doors, to line up all the agents, to get the studios bidding. Ehh, not exactly. But what a good idea does do is it INCREASES YOUR CHANCES AT SUCCESS EXPONENTIALLY. Everyone will at least open your script if it’s a good idea. And since Hollywood is a numbers game, the more reads you get, the better the chance you’ll finally get that “yes.”
All of this begs the question: What is a good idea, Carson?
Look, if I had a bunch of great script ideas, I wouldn’t be posting them here for you guys. I’d be writing them or hiring other writers to write them. A great script idea is no different from a great song hook. You don’t know if it’s going to catch unless you put it out there and see what people think. The advantage YOU have is that it only takes minutes to come up with an idea. And it only takes minutes to send that idea off and get someone’s opinion. So there’s power in that. You can send a lot of ideas out there with very little time wasted. That’s preferable to wasting an entire year of your life on a script only to learn afterwards that the idea sucked.
Or you know what’s worse than that? Is writers who don’t even realize that that’s the reason their script failed. They might assume they’re just bad writers and quit. But had they been working with a GOOD premise instead of a BAD one, everything about their writing would’ve been better. I’ll give you a real-world example of this. Dan Gilroy, who wrote one of my favorite scripts, Nightcrawler – great character, unique premise – also wrote a new Denzel movie, Roman J Israel, Esq. Awful premise. Confused concept. Bad script. From everyone I’ve heard who saw the movie – they say it’s bad. That bad idea turned Gilroy into a bad writer for one script. That’s how important concept is.
Cause I don’t want to leave you guys out in the dark. Here are the last three articles I wrote about how to come up with a good script idea. Read them. Embrace them. Make the most of them.
But the main thing is GET FEEDBACK on your idea. Hell, you have one of the best screenwriting networks on the web right here at Scriptshadow. Take advantage of it! Tell people to be “brutally honest” when assessing your idea. Because if you’re SUPER DUPER EXCITED and tell them, “This is my best idea ever,” before asking their opinion, they’re going to lie to you. They don’t want to rain on your parade.
Carson does feature screenplay consultations, TV Pilot Consultations, and logline consultations. Logline consultations go for $25 a piece or 5 for $75. You get a 1-10 rating, a 200-word evaluation, and a rewrite of the logline. All logline consultations come with an 8 hour turnaround. If you’re interested in any sort of consultation package, e-mail Carsonreeves1@gmail.com with the subject line: CONSULTATION. Don’t start writing a script or sending a script out blind. Let Scriptshadow help you get it in shape first!