Four years ago, my buddy Danny came to me with a story about a former hotel owner in New York. Danny wanted me to consider writing a book about his late friend. This guy was a millionaire that became involved with the mob and disappeared a few years later. I read the man's jailhouse manuscript and thought either this guy was guilty or he was the dumbest bastard I've ever seen. Either way, the manuscript really didn't provide me with much of a story. When Danny persisted, I thought a little more about it and suggested that we approach his friend’s story idea as a cautionary tale of fiction. And, rather than write a book, I would take a crack at creating a screenplay pilot. Though I had done a fair amount of writing, I knew nothing about screenplays but thought "how hard can it be?" I ordered the “Hollywood Standard”, learned about basic formatting and banged out three episodes of our new show, as well as a show bible. I learned how to write a logline and synopsis, then pitched the story idea at Greenlight My Movie to several of their clients. At the time, a video game company expressed interest in our story and my friend Danny suddenly turned into a first rate knucklehead. At the time, I decided to scrap the project and move on to writing other screenplays. I quickly adapted my self-published kindle about The Hatfield-McCoy feud and entered it into the Richmond Film Festival. It was my first contest and I became a finalist. From that day on, I've had the creative juices flowing and have since written 25 scripts. This post is not to go into my writing style or why I care little about treading the same ground everyone else travels. What I care about is finding an original path. I've road tested my work at a number of film festivals and script contests including Austin, Beverly Hills and Sunscreen Film Festivals, Page International and many others. I've been a seven time quarter and semi-finalist at Screencraft, who subsequently interviewed me after I three of my screenplays placed in their 2014 action feature competition. I've also placed at Austin Film Festival and another home town festival for three consecutive years. Additionally, I've had some success connecting with various industry people and have a project with a journeyman horror director that will hopefully be funded in the near future. This morning I saw a post by Stage 32 founder Richard Botto that said "Confidence is half the battle." I agree and I believe I possess both confidence and dare I say audacity. And though this quality maybe half the battle, the other necessary ingredients include talent, determination and stamina. I equate writing scripts to a boxing match that never ends. The objective is to win the fight and take the purse. Along the way, you must be prepared to take many blows to your confidence and your ego. And you may be knocked to the canvass over and over again; but you have to be willing to quickly recover, dust yourself off and begin fighting again. Yesterday, I told another writer that being a long haul screenwriter requires a certain kind of masochist. But there is also a certain kind of indescribable euphoria that comes with completing a script; one that doesn't need drugs or alcohol. It only requires your imagination. I'm always slightly amused when I see someone post "So, I finished my first screenplay. Now what do I do?" What you do is keep writing until you get really good at it. And along the way, you investigate any possible method to get your work out there, meet people that you trust and build long term relationships. You answer a lot of trade ads until you find a decent project or connection. You focus your creative efforts on making a film and nothing else and be prepared to spend many years achieving your goals. Then you pray and hope you get a lucky break. Praying is optional.
Interesting post Phillip. I agree it is all about making contacts that can help launch your career. The problem new screenwriters face is the fact that most people in the business know that it usually takes writing quite a few screenplays before a screenwriter is able to write a screenplay that is truly up to industry standards so the first thing they should do after they finish their first screenplay is start another one. I never tried contests but it seems to me that a screenwriter's first script probably wouldn't stand much of a chance in a recognized contest so they would probably be better off investing in a couple of how to books or a good psychiatric to try and figure out why they decided to take up writing screenplays in the first place.
Dan: The contest circuit's been berry, berry good to me. But it isn't for everyone and I was lucky to place the first time out. But it's a very subjective, percentage game.
Thanks for sharing this article Phillip! I'll definitely be checking this one out.
Well...at least you don't have to have your jaw wired shut for six weeks, or need a shoulder surgery after a screenwriting bout...although I do know a writer whose script was so bad he needed a Scriptobotomy...which is kinda like a frontal lobotomy, but a little more intense and not covered by any health insurance carriers. Then again, I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.....paging Tom Waits....paging Mr. Tom Waits.... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lkt9TIdpvrY
Brittany: You are most welcome. Bill C: What happened me lad? Did Mel Gibson smack you after you told Hacksaw Ridge was a good title for a lumberjack comedy. Anyway, I hope you're feeling better.
Good words amigo :)