Screenwriting : Only in screenwriting by Dave McCrea

Dave McCrea

Only in screenwriting

do people write one script then ask how do i get this sold/made. Guys who play pickup ball in the park for 2 months don't ask "how do I get signed to the Knicks"? Just because you have a clear vision of a movie in your head that excites YOU doesn't mean it's ready to be made into a big budget movie for the masses or even a low-budget one. And just because the basketball feels really good in your hand and you get in "a zone" when you're playing doesn't mean I'm paying you $20m per to be my franchise player.

Mark Souza

Yeah, but shouldn't every writer believe in their work and dream of the possibilities? It's natural and it's part of the process (as is usually having those dreams crushed and going back to the drawing board).

William Martell

You can believe in your work but also be realistic and self critical. The basketball analogy illustrates this. People who want to play pro basketball know that they will have to practice practice practice by playing a lot of basketball and working their butts off playing, just to take the next step up. When they are playing on their high school team, they know they have to work hard just to make it to the next step: getting the college bball scholarship. Then on the college team, play hard and improve their game so that when the scouts come they stand out. They know it's not just playing in one game, that it's a series of steps and they need to improve their game before they are good enough to go pro. For some reason people who want to write screenplays think differently... even differently than novelists (who are known to have some novels in a drawer that they knew were not ready to send to a publisher).

Michael L. Burris

The real challenge is for a writer to not fall off the High Horse through adversity, challenges and even humbling experiences. I have found that when I feel humble no matter how eloquent or descriptive I feel I'm conveying something it falls flat. As far as writing screenplay numbers go I think everyone should try to write a feature and for television in each genre. Try commercials, poetry , lyrics too. Hollywood and media for the most part after all is about the illusion of grandeur. We are all fools and fooled about something periodically. Never assume that a writer has one script although I'm sure that happens. Do you really think a true writer is going to put all their eggs in one basket. The High Horse feeling is not the same as having delusions of grandeur either.

Ian Lynch

Well, it doesn't help that there's no real method or route to getting a screenplay sold. If you're a musician, you write songs, play gigs until you get signed or have the money to release something indepentendly. If you're an actor, you get lessons then audition for roles. If you want to play for the Knicks, you start with trials for a smaller team or start at college level, then move to a bigger team if you're good enough. That question is asked because, in many ways, screenwriting is the most difficult job in the world to break into. Sometimes people aren't asking because they believe their first script is a masterpiece. Sometimes they're asking because advice from screenwriters is always vague and/or conflicting. Because sometimes people want something a little more practical than "Just keep writing!"

William Martell

The majority who want to write screenplays tend to not want to play all of those gigs for free and write all of those songs. The question is always: I have written a screenplay, where can I sell it? The strange thing when you are on a panel at some event and they open to questions, instead of questions about improving their craft the questions are always "How do I get an agent?" Yes, there is no one path to breaking in, which is a great thing. There are many paths. If you are not someone's nephew, they tend to all start with having great scripts. But few seem to focus on that. Hence the "keep writing" advice. Practice, practice, practice. And why that is important? Most scripts just suck, even though their writers think they are brilliant. So when someone reads a good one, something happens with that writer. And that "someone" who reads the script may be some unimportant crew member on a film set (which is basically how I broke in). You need a script that people read and want to pass to their best contact. Here's an article I wrote on paths in... http://www.wordplayer.com/pros/pr11.Martell.Bill.html

Beth Fox Heisinger

Everyone thinks they may have a shot selling that first screenplay. It's part of the process. That first slap of reality is what determines if a writer is in it for the long haul or not. Those who are roll up their sleeves and get to work. Never lose that enthusiasm, just adjust your expectation. Try to be optimistically realistic. :)

Danny Manus

Amen and Hallelujah to this post and every word Dave and William just said.

Dave McCrea

great article William! I bought a couple of your books a couple of years back.

Ingrid Abrams

I agree 110% it's about the craft. I just want to write excellent stuff that will be remembered. Truthfully, the money would be nice, but more than ANYTHING, ANYTHING, I want to write great stuff. I have paid good money for classes for this and that, but truthfully, a lot of writer's can't afford these tremendous script coverage fees. I have paid for several, and frankly, just don't know if I can keep putting the family funds through it. $300 is a month of groceries, or fuel for work. I'm in it for the long haul, willing to put in the work required, try to read every suggested book, podcast etc, but can't someone come up with a program that you pay a small monthly fee for ongoing help? Sometimes these script notes you get back are so subjective, and it becomes the film the reader has in THEIR head, that they want you to rewrite. For me, it's truly about the art of writing, but the system doesn't seem to be set up for that.

Michael Khamis

It's ok to dream but you have to be realistic about it when you are writing it and that means studying and knowing when you know what to write about. My first script takes place in the Roman Empire. I had to read books about Rome to know everything I can about the settings and the culture. Than I read about writing screenplays and selling them which opened my eyes about the industry. Then I finally started writing my script. All that time I was dreaming about selling it and when didn't go anywhere (yet) I was not surprised. I was actually very happy with the feedback I got from the script analysis. You can buy that lottery ticket and dream but don't be upset if your numbers aren't picked.

Sandra Campbell

Totally agree. When I told a former associate (emphasis on former) that I was a screenwriter and how much work I put into my craft, he flippantly said "Oh, yeah. I could do that. No problem." THIS from a dude who could barely string two words together coherently and called himself a writer. Go figure. People don't realize that this, like any other skill, is a craft.

CJ Walley

It's easy to scoff and mock the naivety of new writers but how many of us really had a well rounded idea of how tough screenwriting is when we first started? I certainly had an overlay romantic view of Hollywood when I wrote my first slug. I'm pretty sure I still do to an extent. The perception that you can walk right into success isn't that unreasonable. You can't really compare the industry to many others, it's rife with overnight success stories, there's even fictional ones laced within the content of some movies. Plus when you write your first screenplay it seems brilliant, you feel uniquely talented. And it's not like there's a clear path to progress down, especially when it comes to the topic of craft. And we all just so happen to draw that threshold right below ourselves. It's often a case of we're ready and they're not. Maybe the answer here isn't to look down on others but really look hard at oneself.

Cherie Grant

CJ I have always had a realistic view of screenwriting.

William Martell

I knew it was going to be close to impossible when I started. There's this thing I call "Punishment Fits The Crime" in my Action Screenwriting book that says if you are going to steal the most valuable diamond in the world you can't just put it in your pocket when no one is looking. The degree of difficulty is tied to the value of what you are stealing. Since screenwriting is only second to ransom notes in "highest paid writing jobs" it just stands to reason that it will be incredibly difficult to break in. But back then I also did my research and read everything available about the business and every article, interview, quote, whatever by working screenwriters. This basic research told me it wasn't going to be easy. So I knew it was going to be tough and that I would not be an overnight success (there is a backstory to every Cinderella story). Since they announced they are remaking VICTORY today, Jeff Maguire is a good example. Everyone thinks his first sale was IN THE LINE OF FIRE... but he'd been fighting in the trenches for years before that film. One of his credits was VICTORY a dozen years earlier. And his first credit over a dozen years before that was a T&A horror flick called VAMPIRE LUST. He'd probably been writing for close to 30 years before IN THE LINE OF FIRE made him flavor of the month! Paul Haggis became an overnight success with CRASH... except his first credits were on SCOOBY DOO and other Saturday Morning Cartoons 25 years earlier, and he makes more money from writing for WALKER TEXAS RANGER than on any single big studio feature since then (CASINO ROYALE included). How many years did he write before getting the SCOOBY DOO gig? Who knows! But every overnight success story has an asterisk with the cold hard truth... and it's danged easy to find this stuff now that we have the internet. When I was starting out, no internet... so you have to read through stacks and stacks of magazines and trade papers to find this kind of info. I always look before I leap.

CJ Walley

I wasn't implying the Cinderella stories are all true. Just that there's a perception many are and that a few genuinely are. Fair play to any writer who started tapping keys with the clear mindset they're doing something near impossible. I have a lot of respect for anybody who can continue to do that. Personally I have to dilute my perception of reality with at least a little delusion/hope. I just feel that there's this sort of facade and hypocrisy to our attitude sometimes. We talk about being prepared to work the trenches but secretly dream we're special and waiting discovery.

Edward G Gordon

I think we all forget that it's a business. It doesn't matter whether we call ourselves, screenwriters, novelists, or storytellers it all boils down to the same thing: we are in the BUSINESS of selling our stories. It doesn't matter the format. And to be successful in business you must work harder and longer and smarter than the guys and gals around you to succeed. Turning into Cinderella is more about hard work and discipline than talent (although talent helps) - the longer and harder you work, the more successful you will be. (hopefully)

Dave McCrea

CJ/Dan believe me I thought my first script was going to put me right up there with the greats - in fact I self-produced it (don't look for it on boxofficemojo). But aside from a knack for comedic dialogue, all my other skills such as structure, theme, concept, etc. were like a 1 on a 10 scale, and each one of those takes a couple of years to fully grasp. So my message to me of 10 years ago NOW is: young Dave, this shit is actually really hard. Much harder than acting. It requires you to be not just an artist, but an inventor. So all I would say to someone starting out is this: You're probably already a 7 or 8 out of 10 at ONE of the skills you need to write a great script, and that's what's making you think you've got a great movie. But there are 5 or 6 other skills you need to master, and each one will take 2 years to figure out. Do the math.

CJ Walley

That's cool, Dan. Good on you for saying you were also in that place when you started. I'm still a noob in my third year, and my start was exactly like you describe.

Michael L. Burris

Finally writers with honesty of self. Now if we can just make our characters do that we'd all be pro's. This is what makes people look up to and not down on writers. It does me anyway. Awesome discussion thread.

Christian S Valenza

Funny, Boondocker Saints was made after the first submission, Sliver Lining was written in a dinner sown the street first time submission, the Kings Speech was in the works for twenty years, so go figure, " get kicked by a mule eyes go crossed, fall down a well right as rain."

William Martell

I have no idea what "Boondocker Saints" is, but the film BOONDOCK SAINTS was absolutely not made after the first submission. In fact, the film wasn't even made by the first company that bought it, as they "unbought" it because the writer/director was a moron (if you haven't seen the movie OVERNIGHT SUCCESS, it's a great lesson in what never to do). The script/project bounced around town after that before landing at Franchise Films (makers of BATTLEFIELD EARTH) who made the film. When the film was released in the USA it made a grand total of $30,471 in its entire theatrical run... a major flop!

Beth Fox Heisinger

Yes, this industry is unbelievably difficult and full of unrealistic dreamers. I know I have huge obstacles to overcome; being new to the industry; being a woman; and being my age. However, what I do have, and so do many others here, is complete resolve. I know the realities. I have realistic expectations. I have a deep love and respect for the craft. But, more importantly, I have zero tolerance for skepticism. Anything can happen and nothing can happen. All we really can control is our own writing. And, only great writing will make anything happen.

Ingrid Abrams

CJ has it really only been about 3 years? I thought you said it was 3 years when I first chatted with you when you were on Amazon. You're doing pretty good then.

David Rountree

I would like to ask for support our upcoming film 108 Stitches! Releases in theaters September 12, 2014. I directed and co-wrote the story with Jake Katofsky (also Stage 32 member) LIKE US! https://www.facebook.com/108StitchesMovie FOLLOW! https://twitter.com/108STITCHES_MOV IMDB http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3073898/?ref_=nm_knf_i3 108 Stitches Movie https://www.facebook.com/108StitchesMovie

Comedian D'Lo Hutchins

Congrats David! I'll look out for it.

David Rountree

Thanks D'Lo. I see you're from Raleigh. I am originally from Raleigh and went to NC State. Been in LA for about 13 years though.

Comedian D'Lo Hutchins

Wow! Ok! I live MINUTES from State. Mannn, again... CONGRATS on you doing your thing. Do you know Chucky Brown? He will be in my basketball movie I'm looking to film.

David Rountree

Cool. I love Chucky Brown. We used to throw footballs over on the practice field at State. He's got hands like catcher's mitts. If he didn't play basketball, he would have been a great wide receiver or tight end. I would love to learn more about your basketball movie. I just directed a comedy baseball movie with some of the winners of last comic standing playing significant roles. It will be in theaters September 12. The trailer will be out in about 2 weeks. My other one is a horror/thriller called CUT! which will be in theaters in late October. CUT! Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zsP4_Pj_dY&feature=youtu.be

Comedian D'Lo Hutchins

Yeah. He is a great friend of mine. We both play in the same basketball league. Check this out www.streetballgameover.com. Let me know what you think. This really is a small world!

Comedian D'Lo Hutchins

I love Last Comic Standing. I auditioned in NY and ummmm, yeah.. I didn't make it.. LOL!

David Rountree

Dat Phan (Season 1 winner) and Josh Blue (Season 4 winner) were two of our actors. I checked out your film site and it looks like it's coming together. This movie looks right up the ally of one of my closest friends: Allen Maldonado. Allen is opposite Denzel in the Equalizer (coming out in September) and is a current series regular on a new BET series. He is an incredible actor and basketball player. He's in both of my films coming out this year as well. I can put you guys in touch if you would be interested. He's another name which may help your production, especially if you are are still working on raising money. Allen Maldonado: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1280286/?ref_=nv_sr_1

CJ Walley

Ingrid, it's actually been more like two and a half years for me, I started writing at the beginning of 2012. As William touched upon, the internet has changed things for writers a great deal. Getting the recognition I did for my first couple of scripts couldn't have happened without new approaches like Amazon Studios and the Blacklist. But I didn't start querying until the start of this year, after writing six features and eleven shorts.

CJ Walley

In all fairness, as big an asshole as Troy Duffy is/was, he was an example of a Cinderella story. He did get that amazing lucky break in terms of a sale deal. He just managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. But yes, it's well worth watching Overnight as it shows the perils of being completely unprepared and unsuitable for success. Another example is Diablo Cody, although do I appreciate some have good reason to think she was marketed as a Cinderella story when in fact she'd really been struggling in the screenplay game a lot longer. But these are the exceptions that prove the rule. They only further fuel that perception that the industry is all about lucky breaks and big rewards. Look at Tarantino, the reality is he spent years struggling, once he got an agent his scripts were rejected with disdain, his first sale insulted him, Dogs barely got made, Killers was hacked up into something else, and Pulp Fiction was rejected by the very studio who commissioned it. But we get the Tarantino who strutted into Hollywood, wise-cracked with Laurence Bender, shot Dogs, and was twisting on the dance floor at Cannes with his career laid out ahead of him. And it's because, in a way, we need it.

Greg McGee

But, we can dream....

Joe Henriques

I was one of those people who thought my first script was a masterpiece and would fetch seven figures easy. I was also 20-years-old at the time--this was in the 90s. Of course, that 150+ page turd was horrible, as were my next two SPs. Wasn't until honest readers pointed out the faults of my SP (and not till I was ready to believe them) that I was humbled enough to go back to the drawing board and really study the craft. Now, after writing another 12 scripts, reading about 40 books on writing, attending a half-dozen conferences, joining various on-line communities, and reading a couple hundred bad SPs from other newbies, and a hundred great SPs from movies I've enjoyed, I might just be onto something. Maybe.

CJ Walley

Lyse makes a good point about the attitude of entitlement demonstrated by some of us. I have to admit that's something that never fails to get my back up. It's like we believe HW is more of a charity than a business sometimes.

Greg McGee

It doesn't really matter why one writes, or if your work ever sells. If you get into writing only for the money, it's unlikely you'll ever make any. Writing = thinking, which most people are loathe to do these days where the deluge of media choices does all our thinking for us. The mental exercise of putting your thoughts down on paper, crafting a sentence, then a paragraph , then another, forces you to use your mind for something other than a receiver. Its the difference between being a creator and being a consumer.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Alle, while you are more or less correct about scripts based on the writer's personal life experience usually not being marketable to wide audiences, writing from personal experience -- whether for therapeutic reasons or not -- does inspire someone to write. If anything, those exercises give a writer some writing samples and allows them to hone their craft.

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