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Posted by Keith Hannigan

CHYRON: 18 MONTHS EARLIER

We’re focused on a computer screen. An email is opened. It’s Stage 32. It says, BLOG UPDATE: 5 Lessons Learned From an Aspiring Screenwriter. By Keith Hannigan.


INT. LIVING ROOM – DAY

The one reading it is KEITH HANNIGAN. His face red, his mouth agape. He looks like what would happen if the Sun were turned on by a Full Moon.

In this case, the Full Moon is his blog. He instantly shares it anywhere it can be shared. When he’s done, he pauses. Closes his computer and belches out…

KEITH: Oh shit. 

CHYRON: PRESENT DAY

A printed copy of the aforementioned blog is all we see. We close-in on the first tip. #1: Learn the Business

A big X in bright red marker, like a Tsunami wiping out a village of consonants and vowels, destroys Lesson number one.

INT. LIVING ROOM – NIGHT

The man playing God to the world of words is Keith. You ever see a person go downhill real quick? Like one day they were wearing suits, getting expensive haircuts, shaving. Then the next they look homeless? Well, he’s not quite there yet. But that moment in life is on-deck.

He flips another page of the blog, a big X is painted on the paper. He drops the sheets and exhales…

KEITH: Oh shit.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

It was September of 2018 and I was freshly transplanted from the dairy farms of Vermont to the state declaring itself as Y’Allywood—Georgia. If every state has an antagonist, Vermont is Georgia’s and Georgia is Vermont’s.

I didn’t know a logline from a landline, but there I was, sweating my ass off while taking acting classes. Sweating my ass off going to writer groups. And sweating my ass off as I arrogantly pecked out 5 Lessons Learned From An Aspiring Screenwriter for Stage 32.

The purpose of the piece was to let people know what I had experienced as I made a mission of becoming a pro screenwriter. Giving my five major takeaways from all the knowledge I hoarded. Trying to let people know they weren’t alone.

AND…

I hoped some independent film producer would be enamored by my excessive use of vulgarity and poor punctuation. Because, you know, that happens.

 

5 Lessons Learned From An Aspiring Screenwriter One Year Later

 

After it launched though, I was sick to my stomach. What do I know? Nothing?

Who has produced me? No one? What credits do I have to my name? Well, actually I have Craft Services and a Henchman #3 in the movie Illegal Aliens starring the late Anna Nicole Smith and the late Joanie “Chyna” Laurer.

But, it’s nice to write. Isn’t it? And I actually received a ton (about 20) comments. Some saying thank you. Some asking questions. And some just giving a nod of, “Ya, I hear ya.”

The purpose of today’s piece is to go back over those five lessons. And I’m not going to destroy them. There is still a lot of truth to what I wrote back then. Today though, well, today I’m just a little more calloused. Little more weathered. I simply want to add to what I wrote back then.

A five-part cocktail consisting of three parts brutal honesty and two parts cynicism.

And who knows, in 18 months I’ll bang out part three and let you know how full of shit I am in this piece.

Until then though, let’s talk about the first lesson, “Learning the Business.”

 

5 Lessons Learned From An Aspiring Screenwriter One Year Later

 

1. Learn the Business

The late, brilliant William Goldman once, with great cognizance, declared about Hollywood, “Nobody knows anything!”

Now, if one day there were ever to be a Mt. Rushmore of screenwriters, Goldman’s image would be etched into that fortunate hillside.

So, when he says that nobody knows a thing about the industry many of us, yours truly included, wants to break into--it probably sends a lightning bolt through your internal muse.

A feeling of relief cut with anxiety. What he meant by it, and I can’t recommend the book Adventures in the Screen Trade enough, is--

  • Who the hell knew a series about a gay guy with a mullet abusing tigers would become a sensation?
  • Who knew there would be an equal amount of movies about sharks flying around in tornadoes as there is about the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit combined?
  • And why the hell are they still making Fast and the Furious movies?!?

Think about that. And I really need you all to listen to me--Don’t let people convince you they got this inside connection that can be yours for the low, low price of hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars. It doesn’t work like that.

My suggestion, be a better writer. How do you do that?

 

5 Lessons Learned From An Aspiring Screenwriter One Year Later

 

2. Learn the Craft

“Ya, I don’t outline. I feel like it restricts the creative process.”

Translation: I have no damn clue how to outline.

Whether you’re writing:

  • A feature-length film
  • A pilot
  • A short
  • Or a play for the stage

You should see what those who are successful do or did, and then do that.

I once sat with the script for A Few Good Men, and typed it out word for word.

Why?

Because I was itching to have carpal tunnel.

That and the fact I wanted to get a sense of timing. Of beats. An understanding of what happens, when it happens, how it happens, and what the characters say or do to get you there.

Also, if you’re looking for a fantastic free resource (other than reading scripts, which I’ll get to in a moment)--my teacher Corey Mandell is offering free courses on his YouTube page. I promise, it’s different from the rest of the stuff you see out there…

Because, as mentioned above about those who have a cousin whose best friend's sister's boyfriend's brother's girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who's going with the girl who was a gaffer on Jumanji--be careful who you talk to.

My suggestion, look for teachers who don’t have credits. Look for teachers whose students have credits. And remember, teaching can only go so far because, at the end of the day, you need to...

 

5 Lessons Learned From An Aspiring Screenwriter One Year Later

 

3. Practice, Practice, Practice, and then...you get the point.

Perfection can be called paralysis by analysis, which can be called analysis paralysis, which can be called not writing.

Raise of hands, how many of you have had an idea and then thought about 9,000 different reasons why not to start writing it?

An internal naysayer screaming about your lack of a logline. A self-composed critic yelling about not hitting the catalyst until page 29. An imaginary internet troll criticizing you for having a protagonist who lacks internal conflict.

My suggestion, cut the shit and just write.

Yes, at the end of the day you’re going to need all the aforementioned, however, and here is the thing that seems to escape so many…

Writing is the only way to get all of those things.

Sitting around and bitching about not having any ideas while refusing to write is equal to sitting around and bitching about being out of shape while refusing to workout.

Yes, you’re going to meet a “writing guru” who will tell you that before you put pencil to paper, you need to be able to peel back the layers of your story as if it were a Vidalia onion…

And I’m telling you that will cripple you before you’re even walking.

Write, then write, then write about writing, then write about how much you hate writing...then rinse, wash, repeat, and write...

Notwithstanding, there actually is a way to procrastinate while doing something vitally important...

 

5 Lessons Learned From An Aspiring Screenwriter One Year Later

 

4. Read Scripts

Can I tell you what is amazing? Reading for a film festival. If you have a festival near you or any festival that needs readers, I highly recommend volunteering.

Because, holy-f-ing-shit, there are some god-awful scripts out there. Or as a brilliant writer once told me, “some stories are better not being told.”

Now, while reading for a festival can provide a much-needed adrenaline shot of writing confidence, they can also graciously gift you some humility. Truth be told, after your done reading the 15th script about an alien finding their soulmate in a guy living in his parent's basement...

You’re ready to murder someone by way of papercuts (Not literally)…

You’re also dying to be blown away.

Consuming a story written by someone you’ve never heard of and realizing they are much, much better at this than you--it’s a backhand of reality wearing motivational mittens. At least it is for me. For you, who the hell knows.

My suggestion - read as many scripts as you can. The bad ones. The good ones. The great ones. And the iconic ones. I discovered this book, Annotated Godfather: The Complete Screenplay with Commentary on Every Scene, Interviews, and Little-Known Facts.

Read it. You’ll learn how much thought goes into a scene. Plus, it offers a peek behind the curtain of what goes into making a movie, from all aspects. Which leads me to the last part...

 

5 Lessons Learned From An Aspiring Screenwriter One Year Later

 

5. Network

I don’t know what your situation is like, but at the time of this being written, I’m under a COVID-19 shelter in place order.

So, getting out and meeting a producer looking to have an idea turned into a script may not be ideal at this moment, like it was for me only a year ago.

(Side note: I have also been lucky enough to meet some stellar people within the industry through Stage 32 Screenwriters Lounge. And it’s COVID-19 compliant…Unlike Georgia…)

However, by discovering a screenwriters group is how much dumbass stumbled into a contractual agreement to write a feature.

Now, understanding that this script will only bank me money if and when the primary investor recoups their investment through sales - if it gets made at all- I wrote two drafts of a script while receiving detailed notes.

My attitude, this is a chance to sharpen my skills, while learning more about the business, and hopefully throwing enough good fastballs that my name will be brought up for future projects and/or rewrites.

All because I Googled “screenwriter groups near me.”

More than anything though, it required me to get off my ass and out of the goddamn bedroom. I get it, writing is a world of isolation, and god knows we’ve done enough of that lately.

Understand this if you understand anything (other than just write), it’s of paramount importance that you meet people who do what you do. Or they do what you want to do. They need to know you. They need to like you. They need to love you. So, go out and just let them love you goddamn it!

However, don’t fall victim to those who prey on people just like you. Those who sit atop a weathervane like a turkey vulture waiting long enough for your hope, the lifeblood of dream, to stop flowing.

Writing, for the majority of us, is the one way we can get into the motion pictures or on the TV. And because writing is able to be executed by the masses, it makes us all writers. Right? And for those who are out of work, have a credit to their name, or are fantastic snake oil salesmen or women--they all have these tips, techniques, habits, rituals, insider connections that will help us get one step closer to touching that dream.

And it pisses you off.

Because all you want is what you’ve always wanted-- to be a professional screenwriter.

There is a great line in The Disaster Artist, “Just because you want it doesn’t mean it will happen.”

And unfortunately, there are those out there who will tell you, combining that want with their low-price advice, will get you what you deemed impossible-- to one day seeing your name on a screen.

 

5 Lessons Learned From An Aspiring Screenwriter One Year Later

 

Conclusion

Do I honestly suspect 18 months from now I’ll be contacting Stage 32 inquiring whether or not they want another installment of 5 Lessons? I really hope so. Not because I don’t have anything else to write about (I don’t), but because I will hopefully have acquired 18 months’ worth of lessons learned.

Funny thing, for the past few months I’ve written 150 video scripts for a Government Contractor. In Government Contracting, the client asks the company writing a proposal for “Lessons Learned.” A section dedicated to writing about what they’ve done, what has worked, and what hasn’t.

These blogs are my lessons learned. But, and I hope this is the section part that sticks with you, it comes down to, like Curly said in “City Slickers,” one thing…

So, if there is a sixth tip...it’s this… Get off your ass and just do it.

Because there is one undeniable fact, you’re guaranteed of accomplishing nothing as long as you do nothing.

I wish you the best of luck and I’ll see you in 18 months!

 

About Keith Hannigan

5 Lessons Learned From An Aspiring Screenwriter One Year Later

Keith is a freelance writer with over a decade of experience in scriptwriting, copy writing, marketing and advertising.

He’s written nearly a thousand ads for a variety of industries, from farming to auto dealers to government contractors.

To contact Keith, email him at kth08250@gmail.com or find him on LinkedIn. And be sure to check out his portfolio and Stage 32 profile.

 

Resources referenced in this article: 

Book: Adventures in Screen Trade

Script: A Few Good Men

Videos: Corey Mandell

Book: Annotated Godfather: The Complete Screenplay with Commentary on Every Scene, Interviews, and Little-Known Facts

 


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