by Bob Schultz
For many screenwriters, the journey begins with a burning desire to bring a particular passion project to the screen. It comes from our hearts: A story or person who means the world to us. Maybe a tribute to movies we love and a craving to share that love with the world. Maybe writing is therapeutic or helps us find perspective on complicated issues like death, love, alienation.
Heck, it could even be ego: Wanting to see our name on the screen.
But the route to getting the passion project made is not direct. It is not easy. And, crucially, it runs through OTHER projects. Ones you are not as passionate about.
Success in the screenwriting world requires versatility, resilience, and a strategic approach to project selection. But more to the point, it requires a change of perspective. We all love stories. Stories are the product. To become a successful writer, you must also develop a love of PROCESS. Not only what has been written, but the act of writing. Writing ANYTHING. Here are three reasons why this is the most viable screenwriter strategy:
- Cultivate Creativity and Flexibility
To improve your finances, diversify your portfolio. To improve your health, eat a variety of healthy food. To improve your conditioning, don’t skip leg day at the gym.
And to be a successful screenwriter, write in a variety of genres and styles. And WATCH a variety of genres and styles. You’re not only a fan now. You’re trying to join a vast industry. Show it the respect it deserves. You expect your writing to be respected, but you must pay respect to earn respect.
The love of the act of writing in any genre will lead to opportunities (wider and vaster) and start building your network of professionals. Which leads me to…
- Build Reputation and Networks
In the industry, reputation and networks are your tickets to the big ride. Writing is solitary. So many writers are addicted to writing that first draft. It’s unfettered! It’s creative! You are answerable to nobody! Believe me. BELIEVE ME, I get it.
But filmmaking is something else. It’s about turning your singular vision into a shared vision. Not only does everyone (from producers and money people to the PAs on set) want to have a say in the film’s final form, they all ought to be listened to. That shift from individual to collaborative can be a bumpy one. Best to master it now and get that reputation as a team player. Writers tell stories. Directors make movies. And producers – the ones we need to get our projects made – build teams.
Being able to demonstrate through your writing that you can give producers what they want, how they want it, and when they want it, brings value to the team. Producers of all kinds are going to be indispensable for you when you try to move your passion project forward. And you will start that journey with a massive head start if you aren’t cold-calling them and having pitch meetings with strangers. Write this down, and tape it to your computer monitor as a constant reminder:
BE THE WRITER PRODUCERS WILL VOUCH FOR.
- Hit A Moving Target
Since for many of us, pursuing of a dream brought us in, we tend to think of the industry as the yellow brick road, leading to the Emerald City of Screenwriting Success. But it’s called Show BUSINESS for a reason. Most of the people we need to navigate our way through are just like us. They wanted to make movies. They loved movies. When they got into it they realized their skills best suited them to production or negotiation or whatever.
And they want to advance in their career just like anybody else.
So they will take better jobs in different companies (with different creative agendas). They will adjust strategies to adapt to different technologies and societal shifts. They will focus on their families or vacations or health issues, whatever.
If you are one of the hundreds of writers I have crossed paths with in my time who say “I would never pitch this person/company/agent/whatever,” just know you are narrowing your chances to microscopic. If you think “They can’t help me,” you are acting out of ignorance, and thinking about right now, this second instead of what will happen in the future. Too much focus on “now,” when at best, your project won’t hit the screen for 2 years. Read that again. AT BEST. TWO YEARS. Where was the industry and the world 2 years ago? Anything being released now, was being pitched longer ago than that.
How do you prepare for the unpredictable? By widening your scope. Create as many ideas, loglines, and scripts as you can as varied in as many ways possible. Sharpen your skills and become more marketable/employable in the process.
Diversifying your screenwriting projects is more than a career strategy; it’s a pathway to bringing your passion project to life on your terms and having a satisfying career. By becoming a valuable multi-tool player suited to fill the needs of EVERY team, you are much more likely to get drafted onto ANY team, and start your climb to screenwriting success. Producing that passion project that is yours and yours alone may be the ultimate goal, but the singleness of purpose that will get it made must be served by demonstrating versatility and compromise.