Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My essay on how to make it in this town even though I haven't made it yet in this town

Last week I spent a day in a writing workshop, so basically my school paid for me to sit and write all day. Oh the horror!

During our half hour freewrite I finally tackled a page in my current script that's been giving me fits, but first we were required to write an essay. This is that essay:

One time at the gym I wanted to use a stationary bike, but there was a screenplay resting on it. This is Los Angeles so that’s not an uncommon occurrence.

I asked the guy on the next bike over if it was his and he said “Oh! Do you want to read it?”

“No I just wanted to use the bike,” I said. His face drooped. For one shining moment, he thought I was a producer and this was his big break. He must be new here.

Ask around at your next gathering in this town, and every second or third person will tell you all about the genius idea they’ve been concocting. “Okay, so there’s this chick and she’s like, morbidly obese, right? So this guy hates fatties, like Bob from The Biggest Loser or something, and he kidnaps this woman and makes her eat right and work out or he’ll kill her. Right? I’m gonna make a million dollars on this idea, man.”

That’s obviously a stupid idea. Except that a couple of days ago Dead Weight, a story about a morbidly obese woman who is kidnapped and threatened with deadly consequences if she doesn’t lose weight, sold to a production company called Vesuvio Entertainment. A year from now you may be able to buy this fine film on DVD, or even see it in the theater.

This might make a normal person think selling a screenplay is easy. If that guy can sell such a dumb story then so can I! I mean, I can sell a totally better one! So you buy the books on screenwriting, you read all the blogs and the boards and go to the Robert McKee workshops and watch Adaptation four or five times, then you start typing.

Oh man, this is the best thing anyone ever has written! Look out, Dead Weight, here comes Naked Vampire Assassins from Mars! It’s going to make me rich!

Congratulations, you have just started your lifetime journey of frustration and self-doubt. Today you think you’re better than sliced provolone, but I promise you that if you’re any good at all, by tomorrow you’ll think you are worse than Bubble Yum under my 3 ½ inch heel. Thanks for putting that there, by the way.

Every year new writers show up in town with brand spanking shiny new scripts, proudly displaying their WGA registration numbers to avoid all the hungry old desperate writers from stealing their amazing one-of-a-kind ideas that we haven’t heard since at least last week. These writers know they’ve got what it takes and all they need is to get this thing in the right pair of hands. If only I can get an agent, they tell themselves, I will be a millionaire.

Look at Diablo Cody. She was a stripper and she won an academy award for her first screenplay! If she can do it, so can I!

Okay, genius. Name me one other screenwriter who’s done that in the last 20 years. Diablo Cody is a freak in this world. She is proof that it can be done, but you should know that it most likely will not happen to you.

If only I knew the right people! If I knew Speilberg then I’d be a famous screenwriter!

So first of all, name some famous screenwriters.

Wait. Name some famous screenwriters who aren’t also directors or Diablo Cody.

Anyway, there IS a who-you-know element to this town. Scripts get passed from hand to hand until suddenly the right person reads it, calls you up and bob’s your uncle, you’ve got a job. Then, of course, you have to apply for the next job all over again, but that’s a story for another time.

But even if you know all the best people you still aren’t guaranteed a spot in the great Hollywood tour bus. There was a  guy on Done Deal a while back whose wife was an agent - nice guy all in all, really passionate - who talked about how successful he was going to be now that he had all these deals going around town thanks to her help. Some time later that guy has completely vanished, most likely because, well, after you tell everyone how successful you‘re about to be with all your big deals, it‘s a bit embarrassing to show up and admit you‘re not rich and famous yet. And his wife is an agent at one of the big three, for heaven’s sake. Knowing somebody in high places certainly doesn’t hurt, but it can’t take the place of-

-Well, of what, exactly? What am I getting at? If it’s not who you know, and it’s not your brilliant idea, and it’s not your unending enthusiasm, what is the answer? How do you make a career in Hollywood?

Some say perseverance. Some say skill. Some say luck. Some say to show a little cleavage.

So what do I say?

How the hell do I know? I’m not there either, but damn if I don’t I keep trying.


  1. A lot of people show up every year, it's true. A lot of their scripts suck and they don't realize- you don't just write the one script. Sometimes you have to get rid of what brought you and get real.

    I am happy to be teaching. OK pay, long vacations and the kids are either amusing or a good challenge for my acting chops and cop-voice. I've sold stuff. It was great, a lot of fun, I have an IMDB listing and somewhere, something I wrote is on TV (in europe [okay, EASTERN Europe]).
    But I still don't have an agent. I have a sleeper cell working for me; we'll see how that works. What I have is:
    HOPE. I hear stories of good writers getting good work sold AND made, I read about that- original stories. original ideas. I also have
    CONFIDENCE. I know what's out there, I've read enough scripts to know that my stuff is good. and I have
    PATIENCE. Life is (usually) long. I'm not so tied up in all this crap that I can't see the arc of my own life story; the guy who makes it near the end has better three-act structure.

  2. My goal is simple.

    Write shit I love and that I would pay to see in the theatre.

    Show it to all sorts of people, friends, family, other writers, and learn from the their feedback.

    Rewrite it and enter contests and query folks that may want to read my type of story.

    Rinse and repeat.

    I write because I love the stories I want to tell. If someone wants to pay me for it someday... awesome.

  3. Anonymous7:25 PM

    Well, you may not have made it yet but there seems to be an upswell in interest in female oriented action movies. Not sure if you're familiar with Brad Thor but apparently his books are heading to the big screen.

  4. Callie Khouri won an Academy Award in 1991 for her first screenplay, Thelma and Louise.

  5. Okay that's two in two decades. Clearly it's a trend.

  6. I have just downloaded iStripper, so I can watch the hottest virtual strippers on my desktop.


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