As Alan Sugar might say, I’ve arranged a treat for you all.
It’s a fascinating piece from a long time Goldminer, who has some very, VERY interesting advice about getting those first gigs as a writer.
We were emailing and he mentioned how he had been working extensively behind the scenes as a writer for hire in Hollywood.
I asked him to write that up for you all – about his background, about the mind set he adopts, and about how he actually goes about getting the gigs – and he wrote me this article.
I think it’s an acute insight into the way the system really works for many, many pro writers.
(Including me – even this month the barriers to the latest gig I have been pitching for seemed to just fade away when I listened to what the script editor, the boss, really wanted me to write about.)
Anyway, without more fuss, here’s Curt:
(The emphases are mine.)
[For those wondering about the Screenwriting Goldmine package, it's my own method of writing screenplays which lies at the centre of this site. Download your copy here.]
It’s an honor to elaborate on my adventures for the Screenwriting Goldmine readers.
I live in the Inland Empire, an area about an hour east of Los Angeles. This living situation has been both a positive and a negative in my journey to transition to full time screenwriter. It has allowed me the space to develop my own voice, but has hampered meetings and slowed the process of full time screenwriting.
In 2000 I was under the influence of iconic independent successes like Jon Favreau and Kevin Smith. I thought I could do it all produce, act, and write.
After a couple of anxiety ridden, busy, and ultimately fruitless years I realized that I was truly a writer. Therefore if I was going to have any kind of creative career I would need to focus my energy on mastering that craft.
Thus began the great writing experiment that included reading every book I could get my hands on that had been recommended by professionals like William Goldman, Syd Field, and Terry Rossio – and actually writing the three big tales that had been swirling in my imagination for years.
People read my scripts, liked them…and nothing.
You see writing the script is step one. We’re farmers and the script is the seed. The joy is in the harvest and the responses I was getting were: “Nice seeds.”
So it came to pass that I was hungry to submit to the tutelage of a successful writer. I was in search of a mentor. My first inclination was to go big with a tried and true approach, so I went to a screenwriter’s expo presented by UCLA for their screenwriting graduate program.
In between classes I was sitting on the steps with my wife when I recognized the name on the tag of the fellow sitting next to me. I considered him a very accomplished screenwriter having five or six big movies released. We started chatting and I mentioned I had just pitched several concepts to Disney. As it turned out both of us were looking for representation.
What an eye opener. This cat with over twenty years in the business couldn’t get an agent and was now teaching screenwriting at UCLA. “Basically I prepare my students for unemployment,” he said off the cuff.
Discouraged, but with new resolve I called it a day, certain that UCLA at that time may have helped me write a better script but it wasn’t going to teach me how to sell it.
Some time around that night I stumbled across the Screenwriting Goldmine site.
The site was just a straightforward pitch with no bells and whistles. Phil Gladwin (“Frankk” as he was calling himself back then) claimed to be able to deliver the juice in fewer than fifty pages!
By this point I had written ten features, one actually made, written a couple of television pilots, and a commercial. In addition I had amassed a library of screenwriting books, the best of which I had read twice.
Suffice it to say Screenwriting Goldmine transformed my writing. I have the system memorized and can verbally roll it out as if it were my own. This is a testament to its extraordinary brevity and truth.
What’s more, Phil’s sage advice to enter the business sideways may raise an eyebrow, but is the key to success.
Anyone can punch keys and eventual print out a hundred and twenty pages. A few can get their intimates to read them. But who cares? I want to see my stuff on the big screen, not impress my friends. And here’s the secret none of the screenwriting books tell you… Agents Don’t Make Movies.
Let me repeat that because it’s invaluable in terms of money and time… Agents Don’t Make Movies.
Directors and Producers do. Some do it for art, others for commerce, and the best for both. These are the people who make screenwriters’ dreams come true.
I wrote a script for a producer who was in charge of DirecTV’s national ad campaign in the US for a couple of years. He’s a young guy who wants to transition to film producing. He is an industry professional. So I write for him, on spec, and working his ideas. However the last script I wrote for him went straight to Julia Roberts and Sylvester Stallone’s production companies, not through an agent but through his personal contacts.
Directors are even better. Unlike the producers who are after a sale, directors are artists too. Therefore an active director is always looking for great shootable short content, a movie trailer, or a commercial spec that they can either submit to festivals or use on their reels. Why not be their writer?
Check out IMDB. Why is it that Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton, and Martin Scorsese tend to work with the same writers? The answer is relationships. I don’t mean schmoozing people at cocktail parties. I mean you, the writer, must become friends with others who share your passionate vision and are willing to actually create what you’ve written.
Today I’m a writer. I’m not an actor/writer, or a producer/writer. Here’s another secret, my original stuff goes tends to be ignored. Why is that? Not commercial enough, not as well written, too big a budget?
None of those answers tell the whole story. There is some ego involved. Artists love their ideas. Business people really love their own ides. Sure they “like” mine, but when I write one of their’s, suddenly I’m a genius in their eyes.
Listen, you don’t have to take a two-year MFA program to grow as a writer. I don’t need another diploma. You should find a serious, a real, director or producer who has an idea not manifested on paper. Be the person who brings their idea to fruition. Your art, your voice will still be there.
Now the pressures of selling and creating the piece fall on better suited shoulders and you are free to write.
One caveat, when I say real, I mean it. Don’t waste your time with people who “want” to direct. Find someone who does it for a living in film, television, commercials, or online content. That person will invariable have ideas that you can develop (using Screenwriting Goldmine). The brilliant applicability of Phil’s method is that it is developed for the visual medium. It starts and ends with images.
Curt Sell, June 2008