My good friend, Seth Talley, sent me an email this morning suggesting that I take a peek at one of the threads on Wordplay and chime in. Thought it might be good to also post my response here, too. Since, you know…this blog has at least something to do with…ummm…writing.
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First off, thanks to Seth for the props in this thread. He asked me to poke my head in here, so…
Yes…yes…I, apparently, was one of the chosen few. My first script sold. Meaning the first screenplay I’d ever written.
Yes, it felt great. Still does, in fact. I got great reviews,
screened at most of the A-list festivals, and won a national award.
And you know what? That was three years ago. My career is
moving forward (FINALLY!), but I suffered greatly from "What else you
got?" ‘Cause my answer was "nuthin’."
It’s taken me quite awhile to recover from my own initial (and
humble) success. It has been both a blessing and a curse. I struggle to
get work, and I struggle to get and then keep and then get an agent. At
this time, in fact, I am without one.
Someone in this thread said something along the lines of
(pardon my paraphrase) "First time scripts sell on premise as opposed
to execution." I think this concept is profound and largely true. I
think my first script was pretty good, but I look back now on the
version that was sold and I go "oy!" The producers obviously saw
something, but I believe that what they saw were more the raw materials
that could be shaped. And, quite frankly, I think the fact that the
production company could shoot my script for a smallish budget had as
much to do with them buying it as anything.
Thank God I became friends with the head of the production
company. Thank God he graciously let me stay on and do my own rewrites.
That, my friends, is where I started to realize just how much I DIDN’T
know about screenwriting. Every day I was wringing my hands and
gnashing my teeth because trying to keep up with these folks who had
made a helluva lot more movies than me (read: any) was one of the most
difficult and exhausting experiences of my life. I am proud of the work
I did and proud of the contributions I made to the movie, but I felt so
unprepared. So behind the eight-ball all the time. I suppose I would
have felt some of that no matter what, but it was amplified to the nth
degree because I was such a newbie–even more accurately, like a
I look back, and I sometimes wish my path would have looked
more like Larry Kasdan’s. He kept the day job and wrote five or so
scripts. By the fifth one, he *felt* ready. Then he moved.
My path, however, is my own. I have no regrets and, in spite of
the underlying tone of this post, I know that I am one lucky
My point, however, is this–if writing to sell is your primary
reason for writing a screenplay, stop and rethink. For one thing,
writing for money (i.e., to get rich) is an oxymoron. For the
other–and this simply echoes sentiments already well-expressed
here–writing isn’t about selling something in the first place. It’s
about your passion. Your calling. All of the best writers I know would
write even if they could never make money at it. It’s nice that some of
then do, though, because it’s nice to put bread on the table, too.
It’s been eight years since I told myself I wanted to be a
screenwriter. Three years since the release of RUNAWAY. During this
time, I have gotten paid a smattering on various assignments. Not
enough, however, to fully sustain me. It’s been a difficult road. Far
more difficult than I’d imagined and far, far more difficult than
*before* I sold my first script.
I’ve written five more scripts in the past three years. FINALLY
I am feeling what Larry Kasdan felt. Ready. Educated. Versed (at least
at a base professional level) in the craft. Happy that the sixth draft
of my latest script (versus my 11th of RUNAWAY) is getting great play
in Hollywood and has that high-pro glow.
Oh yeah…and by the way? Eight years is ahead of the curve in this business.
As my amazing and wonderful wife would say, "Calm the hell
down." Don’t be in such a hurry. This is a journey. A long and arduous
one. It’s not for the feint of heart. If you’re standing at the
starting line and already grousing, there’s something wrong. And it
ain’t the process.
Hopefully I don’t sound too offensive here when I serve up a
little tough love–screw your head on straight. I gotta tell you,
reading the original post left me with a familiar feeling–one that
I’ve had a number of times as I’ve traveled around the country talking
to would-be screenwriters and listening to some of them complain like
that. It’s the feeling of, "Oh…I guess that person’s not going
My grandpa used to tell me, "Keep your ass up and your beak
down." Keep working and embrace the struggle. Because the struggle’s
not going anywhere. It’s part of the process. Part and parcel with it.
You’ve written a screenplay…congrats! Now be a writer. Do it again. And keep doing it. Every day. And maybe…one day…
All the best to you…Bill