BREAKING INTO THE FILM INDUSTRY AS A WRITER
MURMURS FROM THE SCREENWRITERS' LIST AT YAHOO
You're going to have an easier time selling your script being in the LA
area instead of elsewhere. Being away from where 95% of the business
takes place and networking happens will hinder you more than your age
ever will. As someone looking to produce films for a living, I don't
give a damn about the age of the writer, I care about the story being
told and that it is commercial. I'm not looking for the weepy drama that
has major character development, but instead I'm looking for the project
that has the biggest audience potential across multiple ancillary
As a screenwriter you need to know marketing. You need to know who will
SEE your movie and if they're an audience that goes to the movie
theater or waits to catch it at home. You should analyze the marketplace
paying attention to what companies are buying what as this will dictate
the market 2 years down the line. Instead of complaining that there is
nothing but remakes and adaptations being made, you should look at the
financial figures and see why the studios are more apt to do this over
something original. Remember, screenwriting is an art, but it is also
ruled by big business. Everyone from the investor to the below-the-line
guys need movies to make money. If they don't make money in the long
run, less and less will be made.
So pay attention to the market. Stop worrying that your age will keep
you from making it in this business. Know your market audience and who
you can sell to. Write the most marketable and commercial thing you
can... sell out if you have to... but make sure it is still a story
you want to tell. Once you've made it, then you can hopefully sell or
film that script that means so much to you.
Okay, I've repeated myself too many times and I know I'll have my
naysayers but don't listen to those who say someone over thirty can't make it.
It happens all the time, just open up your latest issue of
Screenwriting Magazine where they feature tyro scribes breaking into the
biz. I'm not saying that ageism doesn't exist at all, but it isn't as
prevalent (especially in film over 30 minute sitcoms) as those are
making it out to be.
MAN ON MY FILM LIST SAID: "If you're willing to put in the time to take
the business seriously and know what people are actually looking for,
anyone can break into this business. I broke in and I'm older than 30 years of age
and I did it after working in a completely different industry.
There wasn't one single moment where I suddenly went from being outside the
industry to in it, but over time, I established myself as a hard-working
screenwriter who understood the business. It helped that I simultaneously
established myself as a hard-working producer too, but not in the way one
might think. None of my initial producing work led to writing work. In
fact, I had to prove my abilities all over again and to different people.
However, once I got into raising financing for feature films, my writing
improved immeasurably, as I realized the risk being taken by others when
they optioned or purchased my material.
Now I do both -- albeit still separately like the old Chinese wall on
Wall Street -- and with somewhat more success each year. I've written
for minor producers and major ones as well and learned from both
experiences. My manager can get me to Spielberg directly if my
material's right for him as the latest spec I'm polishing will be. But
I'm still in the trenches every day too on my own. Recently, I landed an
adaptation gig of a well-known graphic novel for one of the producers
involved with the SIN CITY franchise. All my manager did was help me to
raise the amount I was paid after I brought her the contracts. But she's
always dropping my name to new producers too (one of the ways Radar
Pictures -- who produced THE LAST SAMURAI and PITCH BLACK,
became attached to finance and produce one of my specs on a $20M budget).
And how did I meet my manager? Through contest wins and attending a
Sherwood Oaks event -- all accomplished from outside Los Angeles. Now I
speak on the panel of many Sherwood Oaks events trying to help writers of
every age and in every location get their best opportunity to break in.
No aspiring screenwriters want to hear it, but the number one obstacle
to their success is usually the fact that their screenplays are
poorly-conceived, poorly-written, derivative and stale. Last week, I
requested a script from a contest my company sponsors, truly excited to
read the material. As luck would have it, his premise was perfect for an
A-list actor who recently started his own production company. One of my
good friends runs that company and let me know what they're looking for
last Christmas. The screenwriter is a middle-aged family man from NYC,
but I could care less. I get the script. The first ten pages are so
professional, I'm getting ready to prepare an option agreement with a
small but fair sum up front. I'm already planning to put in a call to
the A-list actor's company to set up a priority read, but then the
script goes downhill... and even further downhill. It meanders, pacing
goes out the window, the structure weakens, and more importantly, it
completely fails to execute on a clever premise. The guy in NYC will
never know how close he came to a deal with a top Hollywood company (the
A-lister's, not mine), and it had nothing to do with access. Instead, it
had everything to do with the craft.
Anyway, that's my rant on the subject matter. I hope it inspires
screenwriters to keep at it, but also to consider: 1) getting their
craft to a professional level before submitting anything anywhere; 2)
studying up on the market daily to get a sense of what real producers
are looking for; and 3) by all means moving to Los Angeles if they can
Someone sent me an email about using Craigslist to break into
screenwriting, and wanted to know how I had managed it. Actually, it
really wasn't that hard, but I think that it might provide some
information for someone else on the list that can be used.
I found an ad asking for comedy writers, and I contacted the individual,
who turned out to be Michael Z. Gordon, who had produced "Narc"
(starring Ray Liotta). Michael was doing a comedy pilot for a show, and
he gave me the basics.
I sent him a script and it wasn't what he was looking for -- but he had
a couple of insights into the script that he thought might improve it.
I rewrote it.
He liked it, and that night, I wrote another episode...which he liked.
This went on for about three weeks, and by the end of that time, I'd
written about ten scripts -- on spec. Keep in mind that we were just
bouncing ideas around and these were not intended to be polished episodes.
This began my relationship with Michael, who then gave me the confidence
to start submitting my work to others, and before I knew it, I was
getting some rewrite work here and there, followed by doing some
freelance "reader" work through some other connections that I'd made online.
Eventually, Michael optioned four or five episodes for a decent amount
of money, and even though the series hasn't been made yet (but it might,
in the future), I'll forever be in the man's debt -- because he helped
me to believe in myself and because he gave me a shot.
So, if you're on Craigslist and you happen to see something that you
might be interested in, you might as well take a chance. Let's face it
-- unless we're working on the next James Cameron movie, none of us can
afford to be choosy -- and the people who help you along the way might
open doors further down that you never expected.
LAST POST, TV OR FILM. The writers' group was discussing fact
that Academy neglected to mention two big stars in their OSCAR DEAD LIST:
Montalban, Farrah had the TAINT OF TV! In times of darkness, the caste
system is all the 'winners' have to hold on to, that illusion that THEY
ALONE climbed the pinnacle oF FILM and the rest of us are wannabes,
hoipolloi, outcasts, of the cretin gene. TV? Uhkkkk! Perish the thought.
Never mind that producers in tv like Bruckheimer, Wolf, Cannell, JJADAMS
haul in moola. FILM is the VATICAN. TV is some slop pot baptist church in
ANSWER FROM LIST:
That is true. But, in this day and age, it's getting very hard to find an
actor or actress that has never been on a TV show. If Charlie Sheen or Jon
Cryer died, then should they now be snubbed by the Academy simply because
they are each in Two and a Half Men? Should the same apply to Michelle
Rodriguez because she was on Lost? Or Mathew Fox because he too is on Lost?
What about Timothy Hutton and his role on Leverage? Clint Eastwood was on
Rawhide, will he be snubbed? I could go on and on and list numerous actors
that float between TV and films. Hell, James Franco (Spider-man franchise,
Pineapple Express, Milk, and more) just acted in 23 episodes of General
Hospital in 2009. I suppose he'll be snubbed for that.
I just find that TV reason so hollow. And yet, it's true...
In earlier post, I implied that if you're not young enough for Hollywood
standards, you're not going to get your foot in the door, and I stand by
that statement -- for certain avenues. For example, you're not going to
get anyone at Revolution Studios to look at your work if you don't have
a previous connection there or an agent who can work miracles iF you are
not young and happening. That's the nature of the beast and there's no
getting around it.
That's not to say, though, that you can't make a connection through a
different avenue -- but it's not going to get you into Revolution
Studios. If all you're looking to do is see your movie made, you can
definitely make it without being a certain age. But, if you're looking
to be a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood, it's not going to happen
if you're not the right age and from the right circles.
But, let's say that you just want to get your movie made and you're
forty or fifty years old. How the hell can you pull that off?
Simple -- you go with a smaller studio, a smaller producer, and a
You're not going to get Jerry Bruckheimer to produce your project. No
way, no how. I was a freelance reader for Bruckheimer Studios, and I
know how difficult it is to get anyone in the upper echelon to read
something from a known commodity, let alone from someone that no one has
ever heard of.
That doesn't matter, though, if you're looking for someone to produce
your movie and you're not trying to land an "A-lister."
The first producer who ever took a chance on me was Michael Z. Gordon,
who was behind the Ray Liotta movie, NARC, and MAFIOSA. He actually
found me on Craigslist of all places, and one thing led to another,
ending up with me writing several episodes for a sit-com that he was
working on. The project never got off the ground (surprise, surprise!)
but the things I learned from him were invaluable.
One of the things that I learned was that even if you are a producer
with several big movies under your belt, if they were outside a certain
time frame, you hardly have any pull. Sure, that really sucks if you're
talented, but it's the nature of the beast around Hollywood, and that's
never going to change. If you haven't been in the spotlight recently,
you might as well be Norma Desmond around here.
Why am I telling you this? Simple -- if you're trying to break in,
you're going to have producers approaching you. They'll be producers
that you've heard of, and the fact is that they'll have done movies you
remember from years ago. That being the case, they might be worthwhile
contacts...or they might be hasbeens who can't do a damned thing for you.
Personally, I suggest you hook up with a producer who has done something
recently -- even if it's a bad movie, even if it's a straight-to-DVD
shot. In the long run, these people will have more street creds than
someone who hasn't been doing anything for years.
Then, there's the indie route.
Look, movies are becoming more and more public access, in a way. A
decent digital video camera is within a lot of people's price ranges,
and that means that there are more and more movies coming out that don't
have the backing of a studio. There's nothing wrong with that, though.
Hell, a lot of people enjoy making movies entirely on their own terms,
and if you hook up with the right people, you just might have something
worthwhile on your hands.
In fact, going the indie route might be the only way to break in these
days if you don't have any contacts, but I'll visit that at a later time.
TRY THE YAHOO LIST on screenwriting.
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