We’ve all read those “14,962 Things You Should Do to Become a Successful Screenwriter” lists before, right? Well, halfway through this article, I’m going to give you a slightly different kind of list.
It’s a revolutionary, paint-by-numbers guide to how you can become a paid screenwriter, just like me.
THUNK! Phil falls off his chair. Rolls on the floor. His face stretched. Tears on his cheeks, laughing – or is he crying?
Sorry… I’m ok. (wipes his face/ retakes his seat) Where was I? Oh yes, the list. If I told you the real-life version of my career so far, the path I’ve taken, it would look less like a how-to guide and more like a demonically possessed 3 year old had doodled on the page with a crayon.
And that’s why I’m here. I want to save you time and heartache by giving you a different kind of list. A list of things that I’ve actually tried, and that worked.
But first, let me briefly tell you how I really f****ed things up.
When I was in my 20s and had some support from my family, I did what many in Hollywood suggest you do if you can – I moved to LA. I was so pumped about it, too, because I’d been accepted into the USC Grad program for film! I literally drove into LA with a giant smile on my face, a joint between my lips and LA WOMAN blaring from the speakers of my ratty Ford Tempo. I kid you not. After all it was the 90s, the spec-script bubble in Hollywood hadn’t popped yet. Joe Eszterhas and Shane Black were gods and I was determined to get me some of that action!
Christ, I was naïve.
My first year in LA actually looked like this –
It was like a season of Californication, minus the success. Admittedly, like Hank Moody, I was also my own worst enemy. While I was at USC I partied too much in between one exhausting assignment after another. What I should’ve been doing is asking those who knew more than me – how do I make it as a writer in Hollywood? Instead, by the end of my USC days, despite my student film being in some festivals and my screenplay being a Nicholl’s semi-finalist, I was just an over-educated, under-employed, thirty-something schmuck. Yay me!
Being fresh out of college, young(ish) and dumb, and with no mentor (or clue of my own), I didn’t know how to climb the invisible ladder that is the feature-screenwriter’s career path in Hollywood. The internet was no use. It’d just been born and was full of porn, not sites like Stage 32. I briefly joined a cult (an MLM, really) to try and pay the bills while I wrote, but you can guess how that went. So eventually I fled LA as if a flaming comment had been shoved down my jockstrap.
Despite all that craziness, though, my initial instincts had been right – I need to always be putting myself in a place where good things can happen, career wise. One day LA may be that place for me again (God help me), but until then, it’s up to me to make things happen outside of LA, waaay outside, a.k.a. Australia.
So what are the 10 things that I have done (right) that you could do, too?
Holy Flying Snowballs, Batman!
So that’s it. That’s how I got my first paid screenwriting gig - one action, one lucky break, one ounce of perseverance after another. Don’t get me wrong, it took years, and I haven’t “made it” by any means. Fark no! I’m still on Struggle Street! But opportunities are slowly coming my way now because of the groundwork I’ve put in. For some it can happen fast, for others it could take years, and for some it may not be meant to happen at all, but as they say – if you give up, you have a 100% chance of failure.
Best of luck to you all! Nanoo Nanoo!
About Phil Parker
Screenwriter Phil Parker is one of ISA’s Top 25 Screenwriters to Watch. His WWII spec THE THIRD BOMB is currently being packaged by a BAFTA-winning producer. CATSAWAY, the animated feature project he was hired to write, is in development with Tent Pictures. And KINDRED, the Aussie sci-fi he was hired to rewrite, was given a major 'thumbs up' by a big VFX house in Sydney this year. For more info visit www.storiesbyphil.com. You can follow Phil on Instagram at screenwriter_phil_parker.
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