Complications Ensue:
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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Someone who hired me to read their script asked me:
Q. What I've decided I need to know is: Do I have what it takes to make it in the industry as a scriptwriter? If you read my script and think I am totally useless at this -- I want to know that so I can quit writing and just concentrate on being a really damn good engineer.
I don't like to answer this question. Read George Lucas's early drafts of "The Star Wars." They are HORRIBLE. Bad clanky dialog that goes on for pages. Weak plots. Pretentious. Longwinded, overcomplex plots. And yet what George finally refined into the first Star Wars script was pretty good. The dialog was still a bit stilted -- Harrison Ford is supposed to have told Lucas, "You can write this s___, George, but you sure can't say it." But hey.

On the other hand, sure, I've read scripts and thought "forget it" or "hey, not bad."

And I could, theoretically, tell someone which reaction I had.

But I can't tell someone if they have what it takes to make it in the biz. I can tell if someone has a knack for storytelling and a sense of what a plot is. I can see if I think they have an ear for dialog. But talent isn't all there is. Much of success is the willingness to write 10 scripts until your craft gets to the point where you're competent, and then another 10 scripts until you're really a pretty good screenwriter. I've written about 30 feature scripts, plus a whole bunch of TV. Every five scripts or so I look back at my last five and think, "Geez, and to think I thought I knew what I was doing!"

I can't tell someone if they have the perserverence. And it wouldn't matter if I could. If you are a writer, then you will not be able to quit writing. Writing is a calling. You can quit writing screenplays. I can tell someone that I think they ought to go write novels. Novels are more creatively rewarding to write and the form allows personal expression in the way that screenplays do not. And they publish way more novels a year than they make movies. But I would never tell someone to stop writing. Either you're a writer, and you write, or you're not, and you can quit. It's something your heart tells you. Not a script doctor.
Q. I was once told that if you haven't sold a script by the time you turn 25, then you should quit.
Don't hang around with those idiots any more. If you can't make a living in the biz after you've been trying for 10 years, you might consider another line of work. But so long as your work continues to get better -- so long as you're taking your writing seriously and working at your craft, and writing different kinds of things and challenging yourself and trying seriously to figure out what weak points are dooming your projects -- then just keep on keeping on. You may make it, you may not. But you won't regret not having tried.


Hope this doesn't repeat a question from anyone else, but do you do story editing/consultation for documentaries??

By Blogger KelliK, at 2:13 PM  

Sure, I could. You'd have to be the judge whether you need a story consultant or an editing consultant. If your issues are how to put together the story from bits and pieces of footage that you already have, you should talk to an editor. If you have a documentary script, I could comment on how you're developing your theme, how coherently you're telling your story, etc.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 3:16 PM  

If I had listened to that "25" idiot I would never have sold anything. I didn't start writing screenplays until I was 35.

That was when I felt ready to try the form (and I had something to say).

By Blogger Cunningham, at 3:47 PM  

Right on.

And it's not just screenwriting for which this applies. This industry is ALL ABOUT folks finding success at any age. My husband began acting with NO EXPERIENCE, NO TRAINING, NOTHING at the age of 36 and earlier this week (four years later) he celebrated the airing of his first network co-star role (on "CSI: Miami").

I published my first book and cast my first feature film at the age of 32.

Kathy Joosten won an Emmy last year at the age of 65. She had been acting professionally in Chicago and Los Angeles for only 15 years.

This industry doesn't have nearly the age bias that many others have.

Q: "Do you know how old I'll be if it takes me ten more years to sell my first screenplay?"

A: "Yes. The same age you'll be if you never sell a screenplay in ten years. So what?"

Since almost no one gets rich doing this, we have to embrace doing what we love and then enjoy the bliss that is getting paid for doing it, when and if that happens.

Great blog. I'll be back. ;)

By Blogger Bonnie, at 5:14 PM  

"Writing is a calling."

That about sums up my thoughts when I started reading the post.

I could never concieve asking somebody if "I have what it takes". A writer is who I am. I'd almost go so far as to say that if you have to ask ...

Even if you have raw talent in spades, could you really find the motivation and time to refine it if you don't believe that it's what you were made for?

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:42 PM  

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