Screenwriting : The Harsh Reality or Ignorant Bliss? by David Liberman

David Liberman

The Harsh Reality or Ignorant Bliss?

Basic Math. in excess of 10,000 scripts written per year. 1,000 optioned/purchased (tops). 400 Movies made. You hear these numbers over and over again, but we often forget some bigger truths behind them. Of the 1,000 scripts that are purchased, at least 9/10ths of them are written by already produced screenwriters, who were hired on to write the script by either Studio execs or Produced/Working producers. So, that means of the 1000 scripts bought, about 100 were spec scripts (that's aiming high). Of those 100 spec scripts that were bought, how many would you guess were written by new/unproduced writers? I'd guess 5, tops. Maybe 6 if I'm being generous. So, my question to you good folk here, is do you want to know the harsh truths of this business or do you want to turn a blind eye to these truths so you can live in a happy little bubble? I get it. This makes me sound like a dick... so be it. Entertainment is the only industry where any plumber, wall st. exec and/or retail store employee believe that they too, with no training and little effort can make it big. It's why every day the airports unload these bright eyed, fresh faced girls and boys who came here (hollywood) to be a star, yet, within a year are back on that plane heading home. I've seen it waaaaaaaay too many times. Why is this? Unrealistic expectations. Screenwriters are no different. We believe that if our script is soooooo awesome, someone has got to buy it, right? I mean, why wouldn't they? Look at all the crap they put out every year. My screenplay is sooooooo much better than that crap! Recognize that perspective? I thought it too, when I started out. Hollywood is beyond cutthroat. It is a brutal business... and that's the key word. BUSINESS. Everyone here, and I mean EVERYONE is here to do one thing. Make money. This is not a business of art. No one here cares about art. They care about money. Let that soak in. So ask yourself, why would a producer hire you to write a script, an unknown, instead of hiring someone who has a proven track record? Where is the incentive for them? Now, the reason for this post isn't to be a dick, but rather to help those who live in the happy bubble. The more informed you are, the better are your chances. A) In response to another post, If you want to work in this biz, you have to live where the decision makers are. It's just that simple. Wall Street is New York. Silicon Valley is the San Jose area of California. Government is Washington DC and Hollywood is Los Angeles. Why is it always the unproven/unproduced writers who test this and argue this, but every professional in this biz will agree with me? If I hear someone say "But it's a global business!" One more time... Yes, it's global in regards to sales. In regards to filming, but not in regards to deal making. Deals are still conducted, almost entirely, in LA. Thems the breaks. B) This leads me to your script. I don't care how good it is. If it ain't commercial, no one's buying it. If the subject has been done to death, no one's buying it. If you're untested and unproduced and it would cost the studio $100 Million to make, they're not buying it (even if it's the next Star Wars). C) Staying positive and Keeping a chin up and Knowing in your heart that you're"gonna make it!" is all well and good, but it is useless. Yes, you should remain hopeful and positive so you can push yourself forward, but let's get out of our heads that if you really want it bad enough, it'll happen. This is naive. There are thousands upon thousands of actors out here with that same attitude. It's nice. But in the end they still work at starbucks. (Not that I'm knocking working at Starbucks. I'm no class warrior.) So, in my humble opinion, here is what it takes to succeed. A) Write an awesome, commercial, affordable to make, script. Then write another. And then another. And then another one after that. B) Now, get on a plane and move to LA with your 3-4 completed, top shelf, commercial screenplays. C) Get an normal person job here. Meet folks in the biz. Keep writing. Because let's be honest, after you finish that 4th script, the first one will seem kind of shitty. That's what they call learning and growing. D) Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. 99.999999999999% will say "No" to everything you submit. "No" is job security. Everyone wants to keep their job. E) If you get that "Yes" prepare to say "Yes" to every request they have of you, no matter how absurd. Aliens in your 15th century period piece screenplay? No prob! You want Ninjas in my modern day retelling of Romeo and Juliet? Done and done! Why? Because the writer who is disagreeable and unable to be worked with is the writer who will not be worked with. and finally... F) Have loads and loads of luck. I recommend sacrificing a woodland creature or selling your children to Satan... your choice.

W. Keith Sewell

yeah, been there, done that... and you can starve in LA just as well as AL. commercial marketability is the key - because it is a business - first and foremost. And pray a lot.

David Liberman

Yup, you can. But wouldn't you rather be in LA, just in case? Here is a recent example that happened in the last 30 minutes of my life. My manager called me. Circle Of Confusion (Producers of The Walking Dead, The Vanishing on 7th Street) wanted to meet me ASAP after reading a script of mine. It is at 11:30am at their officer in LA, this Monday. This is why you have to live in LA. For reasons such as this.

W. Keith Sewell

I agree, it's still a who you know, more than what you know business. But I wouldn't leave Atlanta, at this time just to build a more personal business network. Atlanta is quickly becoming Hollywood East, as far as filming and support industries. Screen Gems is here and Pinewood is on the way - a major studio player. (isn't "The Walking Dead" being filmed in Georgia?) True, you want find your numerous talent agencies, prod cos, and connections that you would walking down sunset on a sunny day in L.A.. But I wouldn't uproot my whole life here just to make a connection. I think the quality and marketability of your script is still most important.

Rachel Reaugh

And, yet, still no one talks about 'beating the odds.' Yes, all that you say is a version of truth. But, there is another version. It is a version no one wants to talk about. But it is this: everything, no matter how big and all consuming it may seem, does change. The key to any kind of success, is to believe (without doubt), that what you can imagine is indeed possible. Yes, many can sneer and be skeptical at this thought, it is easy to sneer and even easier to be skeptical. I mean, this is how we have created a class system in the first place. But, I have out-lived every odd which was predicted for me. How I did it, and how I continue to do it? I do it by believing 'that what I can imagine, I can create'. I am confined by many, many barriers and have excruciating pain, but I know, with absolute certainty, that I will become a famously successful screenwriter in demand by high profile Directors. I know this, because I believe it. I believe it to my core. It is not naive, nor an illusion of thinking. I work hard at developing well-crafted, entertaining stories that are infused with heart and mind. And, I know, that this is why I have fought to live 34 years past my 'predicted' expiry date. We are all given gifts to share with the world. Do not ever let anyone or any 'statistic' discourage your reasons for being Alive. Breathe. Believe. Become.

David Liberman

Look, I can believe that I will one day be Pope, until I'm blue in the face... It still doesn't change the fact that I'll never be Pope. This isn't religion and it doesn't require you taking a leap of faith. You must be where the decision makers are and you must be good at your job. And I think this is the key. Know your strengths. Are you really meant to be a professional screenwriter? Ask yourself this. Are you? Not everyone is meant to be a screenwriter, even if they really really really want to be. I want to be a pro baseball player, really really bad. I know, in my heart of hearts it'll never happen. I have the desire... I just lack the necessary skillset to do so. Now, Rachel, not to discredit you, because it would seem that you fought some health issue, and I by no means want to diminish that, but anecdotal evidence of something is not factual proof. Seeing Jesus' image appear on your poptart, doesn't prove that god is speaking to you. You may want to be a "famously successful screenwriter in demand by high profile Directors" but if your work is not up to snuff, if you don't live where these high profile Directors are, if you can't even get them your script to read because you lack the agent and/or manager to do so, what makes you honestly think you'll be famously successful? It's nice to dream, but let's start with baby steps. 1. Move to LA 2. Keep writing. 3. Meet people. 4. Keep writing. 5. Meet more people. 6. Keep writing. 7. Land a manager or agent (easier said than done) 8. Keep writing. 9. Have numerous, commercial scripts available for your new manager or agent to sell. 10. Keep writing. 11. Deal with rejection. 12. wipe up those tears and keep writing. 13. option a script (easier said than done) 14. keep writing... This list could go on and on. It will not happen overnight, if it happens at all. I am not sure that "famously successful" will come into place until about step 3, 572. The problem with sites such as this (no offense Stage 32) is that they create echo chambers. People spout out ignorant, uninformed information based on what they want to believe, rather than truth and facts and people who want to hear this nonsense respout it out for more people who choose to "feel good." Me? I'd rather be told the truth. oh, and Keith, yes they may have an ofice in Atlanta, but the decisions are still being made in LA. This is fact. I guarantee you, the office in Atlanta is there to help the facilitate filming in Atlanta, not to decide what movie to buy next.

Rachel Reaugh

You have your mind made up about your reality, which is okay. One last thing I will say on this (mostly for other readers), is that... ones views of 'truth' in any given situation, is completely dependent on what they believe. Being able to rattle off a grocery list of statistic around a given subject, does not make one 'informed.' And by the way, I don't like being called ignorant. Nowhere, in my response to your post, did I sling insults at you. I also, believe screenwriting is a hard gig and yes, I do work very hard, as one should to succeed with a dream.

Eric Raphael Harman

You NAILED IT!. Good Job! Most are Jewish Pricks with little Dicks!!

W. Keith Sewell

TJ The studios leaving should not be your barometer for how Hollywood is branching out into more tax incentive areas of the country. Studios are mostly distributors and buyers today than producers of movies. Prodcos and the ability to put together a package deal to take to a studio are more beneficial, less expensive and time-consuming than actual studio productions. Wouldn't you consider Screen Gems and Pinewood major studios? Albeit, it is more for facilitation and production services right now than development projects.

David Liberman

Uh, John... I'm Jewish, asshole. Nice. Glad to see anti-semitism is alive and well on this site.

W. Keith Sewell

yeah David, that is true - no argument with you there - but you got to start somewhere. They are basically just facilitators at this point. Still this does not discount the amount of filming being done in our area - So , I guess you could say - if not L.A. - I rather be right where I am now.

Andrea Bosshard

Not all filmmakers, writers etc aspire to succeed in the Hollywood/American-centric model of filmmaking. There are many other ways of making films outside this paradigm, but the dominance and cultural imperialism of Hollywood, its homogeneity and its focus on genre films serves to blind many aspiring writers and filmmakers to other ways of working, story-telling, filmmaking and to the possibilities present within our own local communities. It is necessarily a modest way of working, but that in itself is something to aspire to in a world of diminishing resources and the increasing gap between rich and poor of which Hollywood is perhaps one of the most glaring and public examples. In an era when filmmaking has never before been so inexpensive, films have, ironically, never cost so much to make. Issues around financial sustainability are not part of the language of the notoriously money-hungry film industry. To have a healthy and prolific film industry, it is crucial that we start thinking and acting outside the square to develop new filmmaking models and quite simply have more people making films. As French filmmaker Jean Cocteau said, "Film will only become an art when its materials are as inexpensive as pencil and paper." We mightn't be there yet, but digital technology certainly brings us closer to this than ever before. Use it!

Andrea Bosshard

And by the way, I live in a small town on the southern end of the North Island of New Zealand. Wellington.

W. Keith Sewell

It's getting more of a great place to network with industry insiders. Whether on the set or regional offices. Again, remember it's who you know - more than what you know. Then when it's time to pitch and make a deal. i'll be on the first plane out. But not the way we did, as you said, at 20 - stepping off a bus on H'wood boulevard - wondering what the hell to do next.

Eric Raphael Harman

That is not anti-semanitc it is a FACT. I love Everyone!!! I may even convert to the Jewish Faith because I like their Death Hymn.

Kamala Lane

All this real-world advice helps a lot!

David Liberman

Andrea, I'm not trying to diminish your ability to do things where you are. I am not aying it is even impossible. But this industry is difficult enough as it is, by not being where decisions are made, you are making it more difficult. Now, not all of film is Hollywood. That is just one paradigm (albeit the biggest one). New York is the mecca for American independent film. London for British film. paris for French Film and Sydney for Australian film. I would say, that if you wish to make films in your region, Sydney would be the place for you.

David Liberman

Yeah, John. You're an Anti-semite. If it quacks like a duck. And it swims like a duck. And it looks like a duck. It's a duck.

David Liberman

And second, John. Take a lesson from Mel Gibson. Keep those feelings to yourself. If you really believe Jews run this biz, why on Earth would you offend them? Genius.

Eric Raphael Harman

David, I could care less about the "Biz" I am happy and successful, I am not anti-sematic. STOP attacking me or you will find yourself unhappy and in court. If you can't joke around in life what can you do?

Eric Raphael Harman

And by the Way, the Majority of Studios are run by Jews. That is just a FACT, so LOVE THEM WE DO!!!

W. Keith Sewell

easy does it guys - getting a little personal around here. That's another aspect of your personality that you need to develop in this business - a thick skin.

Brian Trim

Same goes for the Music Biz as well. I've watched a million great songwriters and musicians bang their head against that wall too only to finally decide to do something else later in life when the bills aren't getting paid and the spouse or significant other just can't take "it" anymore. I know this because that was me.

Brian Trim

You HAVE to be realistic and know where you stand in the game. To quote a famous hockey player (ok-Wayne Gretzky) "Go where the puck is going to be, not where it is." Something like that anyway.

Randy Brown

Dear David or should I call you El Davisimo? Why is your imdb page missing any credits, not just substantive ones but any at all? Writers can find work on film, tv, satge, commercials, print, blogs, etc. You have pontificated. We've read it. Any background to your missives or is this the only writing that you have done that has actually reached an audience? We have suffered through Melissa Ede how decided that she needed to cut her balls off with a pair of scissors to find herself. That story I actually got. What's yours?

William Martell

It's worse than that. About 75,000 items registered with WGA every year, plus all of the stuff registered with LoC, and scripts tend to circulate for about a decade - that's a million scripts out there. About 100 spec scripts are sold every year. That info tells you the level of difficulty - this is not going to be anything close to easy, so bring your A game and know that it's not going to happen overnight. You have to work for it. Years ago WGA did a survey - average pro writer wrote 9 features before they make a dime. But every year writers break in. And we live in a world where you can just make a movie yourself... giving yourself the break. More ways in than ever before.

Philip Sedgwick

Here's a question: Does any sane writer think that it's going to be easy? We all know it's difficult, and that in this craft we battle astronomical odds. If you add great skill and literary prowess with a lightning like strike of fate, maybe a writer's ship comes in. I don't see the value in the stats. To me that seems exceedingly negative, even troll-like. Those of us who have been around a while know what it takes. We are aware of the need for thick skin and the reality of this incredibly difficult business. But writer to writer, should there not be encouragement and support? In the category of experts on another thread, I have cultivated great relationships that are heading good places with notable companies, applying things that others said, no way... it won't work... it's worthless. It's a nobody knows nothing world out there, methinks. But what's the point of dumping the stats on a thread? To me it feels like an attempt to dash the hopes of others; but why makes no sense. A few years ago I replaced ignorant bliss with renewed effort to cultivate and refine my talent, and added an attitude of for the sake of life itself this is what I must do. Was it Flashdance where it was said, "if you lose the dream, you die?" (That's intended to be rhetorical.) So if you believe in the stats, why do you guys even bother? (Intended to be more rhetorical than the above.) I choose to be aware of the astronomical odds and see the stars anyway. Otherwise I would have not gone outside the other night to see the comet and moon in alignment. Did I see it? Yes, I did. Though many forecasters told me it would be damn near impossible.

Rachel Reaugh

Thank you for the 'Heart' in your words Philip.

John Hager

There are many paths to Buda. Weather you're blissfully ignorant of the situation or highly informed of your odds at selling your writing, what's the difference? No one's going to stop writing or stop what ever art field they happen to belong just because it's hard. And most people aren't going to uproot their lives just to move to where the "action" is. You're going to do it no matter what because you're an artist. Your medium is your outlet of expression. I'm a cinematographer, but when I don't get the kind of jobs I want to work on, I write my own. I learned to write because I wasn't going to NOT shoot what I wanted. And so it is with everyone here. We'll write, shoot, paint, sculpt, and play happily till we die. If success comes along, so much the better.

Todd Folts

... yet stuff gets made, it would be interesting, as an experiment, to go through all this films on Netflix, Hulu, crackle, amazon, redbox, etc... and see how many different writers there are... or maybe that's an bit of data that could be mined from imdb... from what I have read here I would suspect that there are only like what 100 maybe 200 writers that have ever in the span of the past 20 years or so has their films made.... ok, sure. Odds stacked, slim chance, be "marketable", write about what you know, buy some elixir, make a deal with a deity, believe in yourself, live in la or ny or don't... jeez..... life themlife you love, use the gods you trust, don't take it to seriously, blah blah blah blah blah. I am making a film this summer. I'm making it for me. I'm going to share it, some people are going to like, some people aren't, and I don't care. When I get done with that, I will make another, someday I might stop, I might get rich, I might not, its all ok by me, I just don't worry about it. Call me crazy... ok done with my babble...

David Liberman

TJ, the subject of this thread seems to be shifting a bit. It is now about "Writing a screenplay for the love of it (or for art) vs. Writing a screenplay for $$$." Fair enough. Here is my POV on the subject. There are two perspectives on this. The first is that you are writing for love. Now, if your goal is to film the screenplay yourself and you plan to raise the capitol to do so (which is done all the time) or your goal is to write the script for the act of writing and completing it, with no intent to sell it or film it, then hell, write whatever your little heart desires. 15th Century Incest? Go fo it! Gay Samurai Love Story? Have at it! Chess addicted Vampires? Write away! But, if your intent is to sell your screenplay, then commercial viability must come into play. It must be viable on the market without feeling tired. Teenage vampires in love? Been there. Done that. Zombie comedy? There's been three in recent years. The trick is to not only write it well ( and by well, I mean perfect), but to write something that someone would want to throw their money at to make. Ask yourself this. If you were a producer. And someone presented you with a screenplay that was beautifully told, perfectly written, and exuded excellence in every way, but you knew, for a fact, that it would bomb in the Box Office. A bad investment. You would lose money... Would you still make that movie? Would you still put your money on it? I wouldn't.

Rik Carter

Don't forget there are forms of screenwriting - specifically TV, both network and cable. It's an accurate average that 400 movies made each year - by the studios. Then there are close to that in independent film (paying indie film) across the country. And thousands of TV episodes being written. It's wide world out there for screenwriters and it's getting wider. Not to suggest selling is easy, it isn't. But even paying jobs for web series is expanding. Original web and VOD based product is growing. "Hollywood" is slowly losing its monopoly so it is no longer as necessary to live in Los Angeles to get a foot in the door as a writer. It sure can help, but it is no longer the only way. A new, unproduced writer can hang on to the old ways or they can embrace the every expanding new ways to break in.

Randy Brown

Well said Rik. There are lots of ways of making a living as a writer. A Feature Film maybe like a 'home run', but hitting single, doubles, triples and even stealing the occasional base can be quite rewarding. Lots of people working on independent films, commercials, television, web series etc. It's about finding your niche. I could have been a plumber making $100,000 a year but I don't like shit that much. I have an occupation and enjoy writing and will keep on writing whether I have a 'Hollywood' feature produced or not. To paraphrase- I write because I have stories to tell, I write screenplays because I want my stories to be seen, not just read. I like the responses from so many which are positive. The creator of the thread was so negative. Maybe he's just trying to scare off the competition with his post.

Mark Ratering

David I just have to say that India makes more many more films then Hollywood. One of my markets Oman is working hard tp develop it's own films and market. Because of RED you will see so many markets and countries making their own film deals and production. The Philippines another one of my markets has been making their own films fir 60 years. China is now getting in on the act. This biz is changing daily.

Amanda Murray

Well, I live near Wilmington, NC which IS Hollywood East. Wilmington has the largest studio outside of California and there are lots of producers living in Wilmington. Now, I don't write screenplays to sell. I am a filmmaker. I make my own movies. And I know, that, even though, I don't live in LA, I can still make it big if I try hard enough. With my movies, all I need to please is the audience. Then the studios will come running to me. If they don't, their loss.

Mark Ratering

Most famous words in show business "If they don't, their loss." Hollywood is about flash it's about "The Deal" it's about the most important thing distribution. You can still work anywhere. Why is college important...it teaches you a way to think. Why is Hollywood important.......it teaches you a way to think. Gates didn;t graduate from college. Lot's of things are done in New York buuuutttt Hollywood for now is a important shrine.

David Liberman

I think there seems to be some confusion about this. I am hearing from multiple people here that it doesn't matter where you live. That not all films are made in Hollywood. A) Correct. Not all films are made in Hollywood. Someone mentioned India and how India is making more movies than Hollywood. True. But if you read all my posts (which I am sure you didn't) I did say that if you want to make French films you have to be in Paris. Australian Films? Sydney. British Films? London... and yes, with that same logic, Bollywood Films? Wherever in India Bollywood films are made... But if you want to sell your screenplay in the Hollywood system, get your ass to LA. B) You people are saying things like "I make my films here, where I am, in South Carolina" or something like that. Again, if you are filming your own work and doing it yourself, then yes, you do not need to be in LA. Now, if you are a screenwriter (and this is a thread in the screenwriting section of Stage 32, not Directing or Producing) then you need to be where the decision makers are, because you are utterly delusional if you believe they are going to be chasing after you, an unknown, unproduced screenwriter, no matter how good your script is. When you have a name, they will move heaven and earth to work with you. When you don't, they won't even pick up a phone. Their assistant will set up a meeting for you to meet the producer on their turf, at their deeming. So, rather than attempting to diminish what I am saying, which is spot on, by the way (and for those who don't believe me, I recommend you download every podcast of Scriptnotes with Jon August and Craig Mazin, who repeatedly say the exact same thing as me), just ignore me, if you don't agree and continue to do things as you choose to. Do it however you'd like. I am just offering up my two cents.

Kamala Lane

I asked a writer in another thread about how he fared in paying to host his script on the Black List. He got an inquiry but when the agent learned he's not in LA, he passed.

David Liberman

Then Jacqueline, do things however you'd like. Again, I was offering up my two cents. Use it. Ignore it. But do not diminish it.

Marcelo Grion

I agree with you David.

Mark Ratering

People like David are another reason you go to Hollywood they tell it like it is.... no fing around. See a project...do the project. Hollywood Is worth the price of admission if you make good use of your time there. You have to get into the right circles.

Robin Chappell

I agree with you 100% David. 99% of the people who come here to be in the business, come here for the "Glamour!' and then find out the hard way about the -- "Street!" A lot of those coming have no idea what it is to be a 'Professional.' Hell, I"ve been here almost ten years, and I'm still amazed at what I'm finding out, after all those years on the -- "Street!" -- what that "P" word means. Yes, if you live in Podunk (name your State), you can still be in the film business. If you have an iPad or an iPhone (or any PC variation thereof), you can get your friends and family together and make 'a movie.' Don't have to live in LA. You can start the same way that Spielberg and JJ did (albeit with Digital instead of Super8 or 16mm). You can hone your craft at home. You don't need to come to LALALand. I came, dragging myself kicking and screaming, because I knew I had too. That was Seven Scripts (with re-writes, make that 21) ago. I'm still slogging in the trenches. Unless your name is either Robert Orci or Alex Kurtzman, most likely you're not going to get a Studio Screenwriting credit any time soon. If you write and shoot your indie with your Friends, well... Maybe, just maybe, you'll have a product at the end that attracts attention. Or maybe a production or two in the can down the road. Until then? Stay home. If you're Talent (and you live in NY, La., MI, or GA), you're more likely to get work than you are here. If you're a Writer, come for short visits (fly in, fly out). Stay where you live, where you don't have to make new friends, and then come here when you're Ready.

Robert Sandage

Dan I am one of them people who is open and willing to move to LA if I knew that what I am writing would help to make a career out of it. I am working on my first script and I pitched it last night. I have not heard back or anything and I am not even sure if they liked the idea. I did not answer the executives question on what caused me to want to get into film. Well a lot of it has to do with the love of being able to watch films. I love movies and that has been a goal of mine since I was a teenager was to get into film.

Robert Sandage

I love what you have put down sir! It is very true about what you put in to get back out of it. If you are not willing to work then it will not work out at all. I intend to bust my tail and work hard for what I want!

Padma Narayanaswamy

Rightly said Robert

Georgia Hilton

the only thing i would disagree with is the implication that you have to be in Hollywood. IF.. you are trying to sell or make your $20 Million dollar film, i would probably agree... If you are trying to make your indie film based on your script and you are 4 walling it.... you can do it in Podunk Iowa.... ( my apologies to all those living in Iowa ) ... The rest of the story discussed is SPOT ON! Here's a old adage that i coined a few years back "The difference between NYC and LA is that, in New York, at least they stab you in the Chest..." cheers geo

Justin Kapr

Sacrificing your children to Satan!? lol That's so funny bro! I agree with your points if you're targeting Hollywood specifically. I disagree if you're an independent filmmaker like myself. I write my scripts for myself. Not for anybody else. I have a film team that has been assembled both in-person and over platforms like Stage32; people I have never met. We've already had that discussion. Independent filmmakers have taken over a large portion of Hollywood's market. Hollywood is actually forced into high-production movies like Avatar to keep their competitive advantage over the independent market. The diversity, creativity and feasibility (ability to make movies using editing programs like Sony Vegas and through cheap DSLRs, etc.) has made life as an independent filmmaker AWESOME! And life for Hollywood unbearable. Your odds of making it in Hollywood are next to zero. Your odds of making it as an independent filmmaker are almost flawlessly in your favor. I'll take my odds living in a world I control. It's basically the same exact formula as you described David. The only difference is one has you trying to fit the mold of what they want; the other has them accepting yours. We both can agree that hard work and time invested cannot be replaced, and that the end goal is the same. Great article by the way! Glad we met. I like your hardcore approach.

Lauri Matisse

ha ha, I think you are totally correct lol! :)

Rebecca Ferrell

I appreciate your candid honesty though I'm not sure what you're going for. It sounds as if you're purposely, bitterly chasing people away. It certainly isn't "win one for the gipper" pep talk. Anything worth doing is worth starting out badly. Even Mozart practiced.

Warren Weisman

Yeah, I wasted 3 years trying to go the agency route, getting lectured about story from semi-literate "execs" who couldn't punctuate correctly and chewed gum while talking on the phone. The independent film route is much more encouraging instead of discouraging and basically an extension (or substitute) for film school where people can learn by doing and share encouragement and advice. Once you have a body of work to show people you're proud of, maybe pick up a few awards or something, then you'll make the connections you need.

Brian Shell

David, I really appreciate what you wrote in this post (every single one of them)... and respect all of those who contributed. In 1995, I left my engineering career (in LA) to write my first screenplay... moved home to Detroit, moved to Seattle to write it, and moved to LA to sell it. However, I didn't sell it and was told it's easier to get published than it is to sell a screenplay... so I now have 24 eBooks published. However, I've never stopped learning and honing my craft. I've never stopped reading books on the biz and never stopped taking classes to get better. So while that first film idea turned into ten... I still haven't sold a script (now living back home in Detroit). Yet I still network everyday... I still continue trying. And David, in 1996 I read a WordPlay article written by Terry Rossio (co-screenwriter of Shrek) who said almost the identical thing you wrote here... and honestly, it's true. While Michigan has a tax incentive... when they're here, they're all from LA. The deals went down there. They came here to save $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$. The point is... I appreciate the entire thread... but show biz is BUSINESS. But the love of movies and telling great stories, despite the odds... ...should NEVER detour us from trying to do what we love. Because creative people are the happiest ones I know. Peace, namaste, blessings... and shalom. Brian Shell PassionHero.com

Mark Ratering

Brian I'm from Bloomfield Hills and went to Hollywood in 1987. Could only work on million dollar features but now the guys on this site are making high quality work with no money. Make your own feature you won't regret it.

Brian Shell

Thanks for the words of encouragement Mark. As for Bloomfield Hills, last year I was a docent there for the Frank Lloyd Wright Affleck House. A rare, cool opportunity. I think the take-with is: Being Good doesn't make you Good... Doing Good does.

Mark Ratering

I grew up part time in Holland MI and have a neat Frank Lloyd Wright house. My nest friend was Mark Preston and I spent a lot of time with Howard Preston who designed parts of Cranbrook. Cheers

Lauri Matisse

I'm totally down for story telling and persistence. I think both will pay off if you've got talent, a story worth telling and are willing to work. I've written 5 features, 2 TV pilots, and working on 5 other features. Meanwhile, I've published 2 books and am working on more books, am making several shorts, and will make my own feature soon. I think David's trying to tell it like it is, so people can be realistic. Good luck to all! I'm an architect as well, and Frank Lloyd Wright, he's still my fave! I lived in a house designed by one of his students, does that count?? :) Peace

Mark Ratering

Was it really a student maybe matbe IT WAS FRANK!!!!!!

Brian Shell

@Lauri... great last name for being in the architecture biz. It's only a conductor who can keep a train from coming down the tracks, right? @Mark... most excellent... Gregor Affleck was quoted as saying (loosely) it's almost impossible to have a FLW house made and once it's finished it's almost impossible to live in it (i.e. - everyone wanting to check it out). And yes, I love Cranbook too! :-)

Justin Kapr

After first telling David I disagreed with him, I spent the time researching his claim through other creditable sources, and have found him to be spot on. He cuts through the pleasantries to serve your dish cold. He's changed my opinion completely around. Even if you do it for fun, for love, for your own independent film... following "the craft" of screenwriting, if taken progressively forward and from anywhere in the world, will lead you to the same conclusion; you must live in LA. It does not have to be permanent. It does not have to start or finish there, but if you want to take screenwriting to the next level, are successful and are in high demand to where you have achieved a status of screenwriter extraordinaire!!! You must live in LA.

Warren Weisman

My personal opinion, which together with four bits will get you a cup of coffee, I don't think it's even possibly anymore to be just a writer and sit back and expect to sell screenplays. You need to be a hyphen something, writer-director, writer-producer, writer-composer, the bottleneck that used to exist on the agent's or the studio reader's desk isn't there anymore with the digitial revolution. There's more and more shorts and micro-budget features getting shot now, making people with demo reels or shorts more competitive, I think. Since producers or decision-makers can see this person understands the process from the solo sport of writing to the team effort of filmmaking and can get stuff off paper and on screen.

Mark Ratering

And Warren wins the jackpot you have to be more than a one trick pony mostly. But forget music or any other talent, it's about money distribution and/or Star power. Nice Warren!!!

Robert Sandage

I have some friends in the industry and one of my friends suggested that I do a short trailer or do a short film off if the script I have and post it on YouTube to see if that does not catch a film company or companies attention. What do you all think about that? Is it a good idea to do?

Mark Ratering

Reply...only if it's perfect perfect perfect and short

Robert Sandage

I completed my script back in June of last year and it is copyrighted under my name. A production company picked me up yet I need to find investors to fully fund my film. That is a hard task there that is not easy at all to do.

Warren Weisman

Yeah, avoid amateur hour at all costs, but having something to set your project apart is priceless. Imagine if you were a agent or manager, what would you rather do, slog through yet another screenplay or see a short visual pitch? I had a professional photographer friend do one for for me on a major tentpole project, a combination of live action and still images. I always do short powerpoints to attach to screenplay submissions and got plenty of good responses on it from producers. .

Mark Ratering

There's a rich 80 year old woman out there somewhere that has your name on her/it

Robert Sandage

All of the information you gentleman gave me is all great! It is greatly appreciated a lot! I am waiting for a disability claim from the Veterans Administration. If the increase of disability ever comes I will be able to come up with a trailer or something to promote my film script. It has been already 7 months since I put my disability claim in.

David Liberman

Okay, so I feel the need to clarify a few points. 1) Someone asked if my intent with this thread was to "purposely, bitterly chasing people away." - Not at all. I was instead trying to give the truth. The fact is that the moment anyone here writes a screenplay, they will learn (over great time) everything I laid out. My intent was to give a realistic POV of this business. There are a lot of folks out there that want, what I call, tales of "pretty rainbows and fluffy bunny feet." They think this business is a bunch of people with endless money just throwing it anyone with a good idea, et al. Then these prozaic folk spread this attitude to other aspiring writers and before you know it, people on forums such as this say things like "All you need is a great idea!" or "If your script is good, they'll buy it." and more of that nonsense. 2) I claim to be no expert with dogmatic rules. I have actually battled in the trenches. I am just a weery soldier who is bloody and broken, but is now beginning to win some battles. I am just trying to inform you all of what I have learned the hard way. If my words are discouraging anyone and gets them to quit screenwriting, well, so be it. There is too much crap clogging up the pipes as it is. If you are so easily dismayed by one person's POV and it causes you to quit... Good. I didn't write this thread to be a "One for the Gipper" pep talk. I wrote it to give you guys a truth, that many don't know. 3) I have noticed throughout this thread (and others like it), that many of those who have the answers, tend to say it from a place of ignorance... and ignorance breeds misinformation. In another thread here, someone asked what is considered amateur mistakes. The response from someone was "Avoid direction in your action. Stuff like WE SEE, ANGLE ON, WE HEAR. DOLLY CAM etc. Spells rookie." My question becomes, according to whom? I get it. Camera directions can become obnoxious when reading a script and yes, it's up to the director to direct, but a writer should never avoid anything. Rather, one should use any available writing technique/style/approach/tool with care and finesse and intent, in order to make the reader understand the story and what is going on... Also, it is amateur to say "never use WE SEE and WE HEAR" This is what beginners say to beginners because they read it in some screenwriting book that only beginning screenwriters read. Often, the only way for me to write the scene is to say something like "We follow the Guards as they walk through the darkened museum." My intent is that the reader imagines seeing them from behind. If that is soooooooo bad, why does every single professional screenwriter say WE SEE and WE ARE and WE HEAR? Read a John August script or an Allan Loeb script or a Craig Mazin script. We see, we are and we hear are all over it. Also, all those screenplay books on how to write a screenplay, I promise you, no producer has read them. They barely have time to read a script, what are the odds they have the time to read a book about screenwriting? Those dogmatic rules on screenwriting are written by failed writers for new writers. If I want to learn something about screenwriting I go to the pros, not the failures. If professionals can break all of these bullshit rules, why should I follow them? If you want to become a professional basketball player, who's instructions are you going to listen to? A high school bench warner or Michael Jordan?

W. Keith Sewell

"Also, it is amateur to say "never use WE SEE and WE HEAR" This is what beginners say to beginners because they read it in some screenwriting book that only beginning screenwriters read." Boy, you hit the head on the nail with that one David, my sentiments exactly...

W. Keith Sewell

There are NO absolutes in screenwriting nor filmmaking pass making sure it's typed in 12pt COURIER font.

Marvin Willson

David, David, David. I was behind you on your initial comment. I applauded the fire-in-ya-belly, tell it like it is, go-get-em-champ attitude. Even though your numbers were way off, as around 60,000/70,000 screenplays are registered with the WGA alone per year and producers I have spoken to say they get around 8,000/10,000 sent annually to their offices. But I'm sure that "Misinformation" didn't come from a position of ignorance in your case. Then you had to "clarify a few points" and the house of cards came crashing down. Yes, people, the comment David made in his third "point" refers to me. A small snippet of advice I gave to a fledgling, doe-eyed screenwriter, who wanted some... Advice. Not withstanding the speeling ...Oops! Spelling mistakes, (Because professional screenwriters don't give a damn about spelling), David stated: "This is what beginners say to beginners becuase they read it in some screenwriting book that only beginning screenwriters read." WHAT! Screenwriters actually read books about screenwriting? (sarcastic). Obviously, You were born a screenwriter and thus transcend the need to read books. Something that, in your opinion, only beginners (and some experienced), screenwriters do. Guess what! I am a professional screenwriter. Yes, that means I have been paid to write. You go further to cite camera direction in the works of Craig Mazin, Alan Loeb and John August. I must point out that during your transcendence into the craft of screenwriting you seem have overlooked two things they have, that you do appear to have. Number 1 - Credits Number 2 - You are not Craig Mazin, Alan Loeb or John August. And they can pretty much write any way they want. And I have a strong feeling the screenplays you have read are most likely shooting scripts which, have camera direction, or refer back to the above point number 2, if they were submitted drafts. Another "Davidizm" (feel free to use that): "Often, the only way for me to write the scene is to say something like "We follow the Guards as they walk through the darkened museum." My intent is that the reader imagines seeing them from behind" Maybe you could try this: "Guards scurry through darkened museum hallways" (note the active verb to replace the word walk... Pro's do that). Then I get to this quote... "If I want to learnsomething about screenwriting I go to the pros not the failures. If professionals can break all of these bullshit rules, why should I follow them?" See above, point number 2. Besides writing, I have produced and directed features, so this thing I do, called advice, comes from a place called experience. It's free and people can people can choose to use or ignore it. In closing, I ask... Do you wanna study the craft, learn the fundamentals and I don't know, maybe read a book in order to become a professional screen... baller? Or do you wanna listen to high school bench... Warners? The choice is yours. P.S. Did you notice how I broke this response up into small, readable sections? Pro's do that.

Rebecca Ferrell

Hi, In most the replies, everyone is saying much the same thing. It isn't easy and you need to work at it.

I-Esha Henderson

I think writers don't hustle enough. They are used to locking themselves away and writing so when it comes to selling themselves, they are clueless. You have to network and get it to the right people. A contest is cool but having a friend in the business is better.

Rebecca Ferrell

You are so right! Here we go, hu?

Robert Sandage

I know exactly what you mean I-Esha about having to network and pitch your script to the right people. I have friends in the industry already, but I do not know them well enough for them to help me out. I would like to make it if I can on my own. If I did get this film financed and able to make it myself I have in mind to play the devil is Kane Hodder. I met him 2 years ago at a Horror Hound Convention and became friends with people who are close to him. He is a cool guy to meet and I was scared to say the wrong thing to Kane or his good friend Steve Nappe. I am friends with Steve Nappe. He was a cool guy to talk to and all. I have pitched my idea to 2 different companies but they were bat game for my concept though for a film.

I-Esha Henderson

My instructor in class told me last week to just ask. He was a producer on Dub and Dumber and he said just ask the most they can say is no or get it to someone who has the time to read it. So I asked and got a yes lol.

Robert Sandage

Very true on what you are saying!

Mark Ratering

People think actors or gaffers that are in the biz can do somerhing it takes a money guy. Money money mon....ey

Lia Friesem

Great post! Just about to finish the Satan ritual and have only one thing to clarify: How do you define commercial?

Todd Folts

Lia, I would suggest leaning more towards the "Hermes Ritual" or "Mercury Ritual" since they both rule the financial realm and commerce (as well as being messengers) plus there is the additional benefits that contracts are nonbinding and nothing has to be signed in blood....

Axzavia James

This is by far the best information I have received from this website. Thank you.

Hugh Marchant

I agree AJ. I've written treatments and scripts and worked within the confines of achievability and still can't find a producer with time or interest enough to read the work. I recently had a couple of courageous young things offer to take my scripts to MIPCOM, their second trip... if I write a first draft of their idea (no hook, just a few characters and incidents) on spec, with a writer's agreement but no money... I would love to have my work levered out of the bottom draw and flown to Cannes, but I have to dedicate at least 3 months of my life to developing the story and laying it all out, knowing that will be their priority. I fear that David speaks the truth, which is always hard to hear, but let me know if you think I should take a chance with these brave young things. Thanks David, I hope it's ok if I pass this along to a few friends.

Robert Sandage

What I have done is hand write my script out and then I will type it up. If I decide to change something I can do that. Then type it all up.

Eric Raphael Harman

100% True. Even longtime established producers are now forced to work out of "Houses", established Studios. Independent is fast becoming extinct. Attention Spans of Audience has shrunk, movies are getting shorter and shorter and shorter. Average age of a cable subscriber is over 50. (People watch on laptops) USA movie theater attendance is trending down (the markets are now India, Brazil, China so and to save on costs movies have more action and less dialogue. Also the dialogue has to be on a 3rd grad level because most the world is still less educated than the USA. All Facts and Statistics. NOT MY OPINIONS.

Mike Donald

We see through your cunning plan..you are a realtor hoping to draw more buyers to L.A to fund your plans for a hilltop idyll with an infinity pool :)

William Martell

Last year there were 114 specs sold. The number of WGA registered materials was as high as 75,000 at one point (have no idea what it is now) and that doesn't count the scripts that are LOC and not WGA registered. So, even more difficult. I usually compare it to being a professional basketball player. Think of all of the kids who shoot hoops and want to play pro. Now take those kids and look at how many make their high school teams. Now takes those HS players, how many make college teams? Now take those college players, how many make it to the pros? It's not every kid who shoots hoops who gets to go pro, it's the most skilled. Now, here's the thing: what you may think of as most skilled may not be the same as what the scouts think is most skilled... and the scouts are the ones who decide who plays pro.

Antonio Villaronga

The problem with citing the statistics of the total number of scripts registered vs. the number of specs sold is that it assumes every script registered had an equal chance of being optioned/sold. All it means is that there is a lot of crap out there, it can neither infer nor predict what any writer's actual chances of having a script optioned are. Is it hard? Yes, but you can't quantify how hard it is using those stats.

JC Young

The first A is sadly correct. A lot of the business is face-to-face, handshaking and schmoozing. Your script may not be perfect but if they like you and think they can work with you, then you might have a chance. The suck for us folks in the flyover is that we don't have that luxury nor can most of us just stop life and relocate. I'm sure I will hear the 'you not that serious then'. Not enough to end up divorced and away from my kids. There are some things still more important. So, yes - nothing produced yet but four options to date means I must be writing stuff people like. And those people are the ones who can see beyond the lunch time schmooze.

W. Keith Sewell

And 99% of the scripts registered and submitted are by inexperienced writers with little knowledge of what it actually takes to make a script marketable. And this is why readers/ producers hate having to wade through the crap to get to whom and what is actually ready to be on a professional level. Then there's cable... and content is in increasing demand. If you let the stats scare you off, then you are not ready to be a screenwriter.

Robert Sandage

My problem is that I do not have the money to move out West. If I would have had my script written while in the Navy I might have taken the chance back in 1993. The money stretched a lot further than what it does today. I can definitely say it is currently not easy just starting out. It is a lot of work and man hours to find a person interested in buying a script. I am trying to get my first film made. Not easy trying to get it fully funded.

Robert Sandage

Yeah Mike Donald I am a realtor who is trying to sell land in LA. I live in Decatur, Illinois. Yes I would like a small house with a pool for me to enjoy one of these days but not now.

Nick Bain

I agree with a lot of this. I wrote an article on this before. Especially in the UK, the spec market is a highway to a lot of waiting and scant progress or improvement. Take a read of the below. http://sothewordis.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/getting-paid-for-screenwriting...

Marvin Willson

Nice article Nicky boy. How the devil are you?

David Taylor

What a warm, cheering article to read over the corn flakes of a morning.

Mark Ratering

Well David I can see you have been around a while. The only point I would make is that the kids from Stage 32 have sent me some wonderful stuff that they have made for 0 dollars. I mean good stuff. The age of digital and 5 grand you can make it so you can do a little something. Grandma dies leaves you a 100 grand well "play ball". Don't give up, always a way. And Santa Monica Blvd. is not that bad, just stay more towards Vine. better tips.

David Taylor

MARK - Grandma died many years ago... she was lovely AND careful. We are still digging holes in the garden to look for the 100K. Real Estate tip is appreciated.

Mark Ratering

Sell I'll make the movie for 10

Justin Kapr

Love it!

Jack Roberts

Cruel but fair!

Padma Narayanaswamy

I also agree with Dan. contacts play an important role .

Mark Ratering

It's not "What you know " it's who your willing to have sex with or give a piece of you life to or whose wife you have to take out" oh Hollywood it smells like Victory

Robert Sandage

You have to make connections and get to know people. A few of my friends tell me to work on small projects and make a name for myself that way. I am trying to get a feature movie made and tried Crowdit, Indiegogo, Gofundme, and Kickstarter. I raised a small amount, but not anywhere near the budget amount to create the movie. Plus, it makes it hard that I do not live in California to talk to investors who may love horror movies.

Michael L. Burris

I say so be it not in regards to the woodland creature or selling your children to satan but part of the difficulty is also diversifying skill base. If it was easy everybody would try. Screenwriting is a skill and a craft based on not only so many variables but perhaps what I like to coin parallel variables. Once a screenwriter see's the parallel variables around them daily I think perhaps they are close to success. If I have to explain what parallel variables are perhaps a screenwriter truly does not have what it takes ergo selling a woodland creature, your soul to satan or sleeping with the unthinkable. That's the way I look at it right or wrong. And yeah LA sounds nice but we have New York, Florida, Arizona and a few other options too. Hey anybody know I director I can work for just to screw up his coffee and use the situation in a screenplay? LOL Point is look around you everywhere. I love putting everyday situations into a screenplay or lyric.

Mark Ratering

Don't kid yourself Robert you have a better chance where you are of getting money for a picture than Hollywood. Hollywood is a chess game... your playing checkers, which is OK. Get money from family friends and make a film that is more of a Gothic Horror than a Monster horror which is expensive. Play smart and go ahead slow. I worked for TV Mikels for years.... the King of Horror.. I know of what I speak.

Mark Ratering

Georgia is hot now and going strong

David Liberman

I can't believe I'm chiming back in. I started this thread eons ago. Yes, Georgia is strong. BUT FOR FILMING ONLY. decisions are not made in Georgia. They're made in LA, NYC, London and Paris, depending in the type if film you're making.

Mark Ratering

Hard to say David lots of people I know are going there for Indie work not directed by the majors.

Marvin Willson

LOL welcome back Mr. Liberman

David Liberman

Mark- Indy and major features are decided upon in LA. Never in Georgia. The agencies and management firms -- who hold almost all the power -- are in LA. They package films big and small

Mark Ratering

Yeah of course but you can take a film to a festival or do what I did go to India.. always a way if you are a slimy producer. Hollywood stole lots from me and still is.

Robert Sandage

Well first I have to have it made before I can take the film to any festivals.

Maria J Gallardo

Wow! That was a nice little 2x4 in the forehead but a necessary read. Very enlightening. Information noted. Thank you!

Robin Chappell

You either are told the Harsh Reality up front, David, or you learn it the Harsh way. Unless your Passion says, "I MUST WRITE!" don't, and get another job. Screenwriting is not for the thin of skin, the faint of heart, or the seeking fame and glory types. (Unless your script really/ truly is a Killer from Page One!)

Cherie Grant

some of us have no choice but to keep writing on and being positive. we can't all pack up and move overseas.

Padma Narayanaswamy

Cherie I also agree with you. I am waiting SAI to bless me with his grace

Mark Ratering

The "Net" has really made it much easier to live away from L.A. What was impossible before is now possible.

Cherie Grant

Basic Maths. Mathsssssss.

Padma Narayanaswamy

Dan thanks for writing such optimistic posts. The odds are very much against me . I am a non English writer and I write crossover but still I hope to be produced. As you say it is a passion.I have written five scripts , My story is producers liked my script and they were ready to buy it . But as there are many a slip between a cup and a lip nothing materalised

Thedia Samara

I was with you until I got to F) Dan ;). I read an article mentioning the same things you did many years ago. It equated selling a screenplay as a beginner or unknown, to winning the lottery. I think it was "Jerry McGuire" that said "it's not called show 'friends,' it's called show' business'" just like you wrote. I found this out as a singer as well. This is largely the reason I decided to take a different approach. And also because I know how they can kill your original concept with re-writes and changes. You've got to make them come to you and if they don't, at least you've got the chance to be an artist on your own terms.

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