Have You Found Your Community Yet?

Posted by
Richard "RB" Botto Richard "RB" Botto

When it comes to creatives, more often than not, the difference between those who make it and those who don't is effort. Sure, you can point to luck. But I happen to be one of those people who believe you make your own luck. You can sit back and wait on destiny, or you can put a full court press on fate.

Today's guest blogger, to me, is the epitome of someone who "gets it". Nathan Gower is an Assistant Professor of English at a liberal arts college at Louisville with dreams of working full time in the film industry. In both pursuits, he's tireless and proactive. He has a bunch of tools in the bag, and he knows how to use them all. The result has been recognition, accolades, and awards. Steps forward... Steps toward a dream.



Let's get this out of the way up front, "AA style": My name is Nathan Gower, and I am a screenwriter.

There, that feels better. But I still need to qualify that statement a bit. I have never been paid a dime for my screenwriting. I don't have a laundry list of IMDb credits. I don't have industry friends "on the inside" (wherever that is). I don't have a fan club, a following, or a Wikipedia page.

But here's what I DO have: I have words. I have characters. I have stories, plot points, and passion. I have a burning desire to see my work come to life on the "big screen," and I have a commitment to the hard work that is necessary to get it there. In many ways, I suspect I am a lot like many other members of Stage32: people with vision who are struggling to wiggle their way into a very difficult industry. So if you'll indulge the ramblings of a newbie for a few moments, I'd like to talk about filmmaking community, and why it is crucially important for all of us who are just getting started.

Let me first give you some context. From my earliest memories (watching The Wizzard of Oz over and over again until the tape stripped from the VHS), I have been in love with movies. As a child, I devoured movies, and as I grew older, I dreamed of making them myself. Like most Americans who don't live in the shadows of Hollywood, though, I knew that making movies was an impossibility; it was a magical process that a select few "chosen ones" were able to do, by birthright or divine appointment. So I gave up a dream that I really never let myself have in the first place, and I focused on a creative outlet that middle America told me WAS attainable: fiction writing.

Fortunately, I found some success: I'm proud to have a smattering of fiction publications here and there, along with an outlying poem and academic essay. I parlayed that into an Assistant Professorship at a small liberal arts university where I teach literature and composition. It is a fantastic job, and I'm lucky to have found my little place in this world at a relatively early age.

Last year, though, an anguish that had been eating me alive for years came to a head: I couldn't accept the fact that I had skirted my first writing love, screenwriting, because I was too scared to ever give it a go, because the odds against success were so daunting. I decided, then, that I would leave off fiction writing for one year and focus on learning the craft of screenwriting (I know, I know... one year? I was setting myself up for failure from the start, as one year is hardly enough time to scratch the surface of a new craft). If I didn't have any "success" (whatever that means) after one year, I would turn fully back to my doctoral studies and fiction writing.

So I began my intense, self-directed education. I scoured the internet to find the very best craft books on screenwriting I could find, and read them cover-to-cover as if searching for the holy grail. I read Syd Field's Screenplay, Robert Mckee's Story, and Blake Snyder's Save the Cat amongst others. Most importantly, I read the crap out of every screenplay I could find in my genre (comedy, either romantic or buddy movie).

After several months of prep, I was ready to face the page. I wrote a flurry of short scripts and then began a feature screenplay. And that's when it hit me: Now that I have these pages, what am I supposed to do with them? I hit the beginning screenwriter's wall of despair - I had no way to get my pages in the hands of anyone important, I had no way of producing the scripts myself, and ultimately I had no way of knowing whether I was simply wasting a year of my life pounding out pages that would eventually collect dust in that desk drawer every writer has where good intentions go to die.

I had read books and scripts. I had written pages. But I hadn't sought out screenwriting community.

Look, I don't have to tell you that filmmaking is a collaborative art; anyone who doesn't know and accept that concept doesn't understand the first thing about the industry. But before my screenwriting journey this year, I didn't know how important it was to find a place in the filmmaking/screenwriting community even while I was scratching out pages in my own quiet corner of the world. You need to know other screenwriters to exchange ideas and boost your own morale. You need to know directors to understand how they visualize pages, and how you can write accessibly for them. You need to know producers to understand what makes a script worth the risk and how to minimize production risks and costs in your scripts before they are read. You need to know actors to understand what makes them yearn to play a particular character. Once I began to realize how important community and connections were, I got active. Here's what I did:

  1. I joined Twitter. I know I was late to the party here, but I didn't see any value in Twitter until I realized how easy it was to make #screenwriting and #filmmaking contacts with a little bit of #sexyhashtagaction. What amazed me about my Twitter experience was that relatively "big names" in the industry would actually engage me in conversation if I had something interesting to say. Twitter allowed me to stay up-to-date with current trends and opportunities in the filmmaking world, and I would argue that it is absolutely indispensable for the aspiring screenwriter.
  2. I joined Stage 32. Since you are reading this on the Stage 32 blog, I will make the assumption that I am preaching to the choir here; but if you aren't a member, you won't find a better place to make connections with likeminded people. Stage 32 gave me a platform to share some short scripts, invite others to read my loglines and ideas, and maybe most importantly, it allowed me to see the plethora of other folks "out there" who were groping their way into screenwriting and filmmaking just like me. There is a comfort there, and a sense of belonging that is indispensable.
  3. I found a local writing group. Social networking is great, but there is nothing like sitting across the table from fellow creatives and exchanging work and ideas. Not only are local writing groups a great way to get honest feedback, but they might open up collaboration opportunities in your own community that you didn't see before.
  4. I carefully chose screenplay contests that had an aspect of community directly built in. We all know that script contests can be a crapshoot. Many screenwriters refuse to enter contests because the odds are usually so staggeringly bad that you are better served burning your cash on virtually anything else. I'm pretty conservative about this myself, so I only entered two short screenplay competitions, both of which set up discussion forums and social networking pages for feedback and community. In short, even if you lost, you won by making connections and learning.

In the end, it was a combination of the above that lead me to my relative success in screenwriting this year. I learned about opportunities via Twitter, workshopped my ideas on Stage 32 and in my local writing group, and entered two promising script contests that had a built-in community-building component.

Remarkably (considering these were the first scripts I ever wrote), I had some success in both contests I entered. My short script The Warehouse won second place in the first round of NYC Midnight's 2012 Short Screenplay Competition, and is currently being considered for publication in a respectable arts journal. My short script Colton's Big Night was selected as a winning script for the 50 Kisses International Film Competition. As a winner, the script is currently being produced and will be edited into the world's first crowd-sourced narrative feature film. The film will have a theatrical release on Valentine's Day 2013.

I truly believe that the small successes I have had this year, and any future success I might enjoy in this industry, are in large part indebted to the ever-growing screenwriting/filmmaking community of which I am a part; and the best news for all of you fellow newbies out there is that the macro-level community of industry folks really is interested in grafting you into the network. If our ideas are excellent, our passion is strong, and our work-ethic is unwavering, I have to believe there is room for all of us.

P.S. If you have interest in learning about (or producing) a feature comedy about a self-destructive father dragging his prankster daughter across the country to crash his ex-wife's wedding, feel free to contact me about my spec script Nothing Happens in Echo Heights.

Don't forget to check out Nathan's Stage 32 profile and Follow him on Twitter @nathan_gower.

Feel free to leave Nathan accolades, remarks, or questions in the Comments section below.

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