I've gotten a great deal of satisfaction out of writing this column over the last year, more than I expected. At best, I hope I've given back some of the help freely provided by the online screenwriting community. If not helpful, I hope I've been entertaining, and if nothing else perhaps I've provided a few extra minutes of procrastination before you sit down and write.
I also hope that I've shed light on the inner workings of development departments. A civilian businessman once gave me the following advice: Sales isn't about selling people what YOU want to sell them. It's about selling them what THEY want to buy. Knowing what readers typically expect and desire from a script is my essential source of confidence when sitting down to write, so I strongly encourage you all to read the scripts of your peers or better yet, work inside the development machine to get that inside perspective. It is invaluable.
- Bette Davis, when asked for her best advice to young actresses, replied "Take Fountain." Fountain isn't what it used to be, especially around La Brea. Take Willoughby.
- Set goals. If you fail to meet them, at least you won't be fooling yourself about screwing up and wasting time. Failing to complete something you swore you would finish makes you feel like Grade A dung, but painful self-loathing can be a wonderful motivator. Sometimes the only reason for writing is to avoid another lashing from the internal critic.
- Don't date actors. They're either too crazy or too busy.
- When you're on the phone with a development exec listening to reasons why he/she/it is passing, don't listen too closely. You'll rarely hear the real reason behind the pass.
A young producer goes to a Mini Major with a supernatural action-adventure piece. Here's the honest-to-God pass call:
MiniMajor CE: ...I just didn't believe in the world of the story. It seemed a bit out there.
Producer: Really? Well, I hoped it would grab you, but ok. Thanks for taking a look.
MiniMajor CE: So... Is this [world of story] real?
Producer: (jaw drops) ...
- Come up with an idea that would sell regardless of how badly the script is written. Then write the script with a gusto and clarity that could sell a spec for SHOWGIRLS II: THE FINAL DANCE.
- It's not only illegal to copy any part of The Hollywood Creative Directory; it's also exhausting. Don't do it.
- No matter what you say, no matter how clearly you reiterate to a reader that your script is a working draft, rough draft, or a spitball draft, whatever you submit will be seen by the reader (at least subconsciously) as the best writing that you are capable of. Don't give in to the compulsion to turn your work in early.
- "Making it" isn't always the result of an external moment. Most people who make it had an internal shift long before they wrote something that wiggled past the barriers. They went from "I will try this" to "I will do this or die trying."
Finally, despite the negativity chugging up from the engine room of this town, the declining state of the film business and your personal setbacks, remember that writing is an art. Unlike acting, producing, or even directing, you can write for free and be your own audience. Don't think in terms of black or white, produced or unproduced, professional or amateur writer.
Think progress, not perfection. In the words of Joe Gideon in ALL THAT JAZZ: "Listen. I can't make you a great dancer. I don't even know if I can make you a good dancer. But, if you keep trying and don't quit, I know I can make you a better dancer."
No one can keep you from getting better if you don't quit.