These Twin Saboteurs Will Kill Your Screenwriting Career


by Bob Schultz

In every epoch of human history, the introduction of groundbreaking technologies has been met with resistance. The powerful but misguided allegiance to the status quo is as human as the need to tell stories itself. For the ensconced, the appeal is obvious. They’re dancin’ with the ones what brung ’em. Unfortunately, the status quo serves only those select few, and they feel obliged to gatekeep it. After all, who would turn their back on the establishment where they were able to succeed?

For those of us lower on the ladder, the benefits are more theoretical. We have SEEN others’ success. Loved their work. Idolized them. In writing and filmmaking, very often the work of these creative geniuses is what inspired us to get into the business ourselves.

But we must – MUST – recognize when the well-worn path is not serving us, or has stopped serving us. The course to reach the destination of our heroes and idols is rarely the same course they took. And the destination will look different when we get there.

Path Dependency & the Sunk-Cost Fallacy are the biggest saboteurs facing writers today – particularly writers like me. Not young, been at it for a while, committing to the career, loving the wins, taking the punches. We’re the most vulnerable to these twin killers. The good news is: We have access to the tools to defeat them.

Path Dependency refers to a situation where decisions made in the past continue to influence current choices and directions, even when newer, more efficient alternatives are available. It’s based on the principle that once a path is set on a particular course due to economic, historical, or social factors, it becomes increasingly difficult to deviate from it. This concept often applies to technological or business practices, where initial investments, established workflows, conventional wisdom, and familiarities with certain processes create a kind of inertia against change, even when change might offer better outcomes.

The Sunk-Cost Fallacy is a common economic and psychological error where individuals continue a venture or project based on the time, money, or resources they have already invested, rather than on current and future viability. The fallacy lies in valuing past investments that cannot be recovered, over rational assessment of future benefits and costs. This often leads to continuing unprofitable or doomed choices simply because of the investment already put into them, rather than cutting losses and moving on to more promising options.

We are humans, full of self-doubt and contradictions. Even when a course of action has led us somewhere other than success, we continue at it.

Not only that, we wear it as a badge of honor! “Get 100 rejections before you get an acceptance!” “I love my rejection letters!” “I’ve applied to this (fund, contest, scheme) for a decade… but THIS IS THE YEAR!”

We hear it all the time and congratulate the writers for their fortitude. “Yeah. Writing, man. It’s a tough racket. Keep writing great scripts, the industry will find you.” Of course, this leaves out the evidence that great scripts sometimes stay undiscovered forever. Mediocre scripts sometimes get made. Ultimately, there is no relationship between quality and success. But we keep on punching at the giant wall because that is what we have been shown to do.

Subconsciously, we are focusing on recouping lost investments (time, money, energy) rather than making rational decisions based on future potential. It’s a fallacy because the costs already incurred are irreversible and should not impact the decision-making process. Decisions should be made based on potential future returns, not past expenditures. On potential future success, not past processes that have led to disappointment. Continuing to invest in a losing proposition due to sunk costs only leads to further losses and missed opportunities for better investments.

In the context of the entertainment industry’s resistance to AI tools, both Path Dependency and the Sunk-Cost Fallacy are on full display on social media, in traditional media, and in conversations in coffee shops. Those who are successful appear to have credibility and authority on success. After all, they are, by definition, successes. But that expands their expertise beyond its scope.

Those who are successful are experts at what made people successful WHEN THEY WERE BREAKING IN. And, of course, times change. Attitudes change. The industry changes. Tools change. Audiences change. Delivery methods change. And technology changes.

Industry professionals may be reluctant to adopt AI because of Path Dependency; they’re used to traditional methods of content creation and are hesitant to deviate from these established practices. Additionally, the Sunk-Cost Fallacy manifests when professionals continue to reject AI tools because of the heavy investments they’ve made in traditional methods, ignoring the potential benefits and efficiencies AI could bring.

By clinging to outdated practices due to past investments and resistance to change, the industry risks missing out on innovative opportunities and technological advancements that AI presents. And by following along, those of us who have yet to break in are missing out on opportunities to improve our craft, our creativity, and our success. All because of the anti-AI propaganda we are being fed.

And here’s the most insidious part:

Path Dependency isn’t just about preference for the familiar; it’s a tool used by those deeply invested in maintaining the current power dynamics. By resisting change, these gatekeepers limit opportunities for emerging artists and creatives, hindering the evolution of their respective fields. We are obligated as creative people – and as human beings in general – to ask:

“Who benefits from keeping these tools suppressed?”
“Who benefits from keeping YOU from using every opportunity at your disposal?”
“Who benefits from keeping you wrapped up in the belief that tying one leg behind your back is the best way to run this race?”

The 15th-century scribes who opposed Gutenberg’s printing press were not just resisting technological change; they were fighting to maintain their monopolistic control over knowledge dissemination.

The 19th-century Luddites, while often sympathized with, were inadvertently supporting a status quo that restricted industrial progress and economic expansion.

The early 20th-century resistance to automobiles by proponents of horse-drawn carriages wasn’t about tradition; it was an attempt to preserve an industry that benefited a few at the expense of technological advancement. But it was sold to people at large as being about tradition.

Similarly, the entertainment industry has witnessed its share of gatekeeping:

Radio vs. Television: The initial reluctance of radio networks to embrace television was a clear attempt to gatekeep the media landscape, limiting the emergence of new storytelling mediums.

Silent Films to Talkies: The resistance to the transition from silent to sound films was not just about artistic preference; it was about controlling the film industry’s direction and excluding those who embraced the new technology.

Film to Digital Photography: Opposition to digital photography in cinema was partly driven by an attempt to maintain a traditional filmmaking elite and exclude new, innovative filmmakers.

And here we are again. With AI tools like ChatGPT, we’re witnessing a similar pattern. Those opposing AI in the creative process are those who benefit from the current system. Their resistance is less about the sanctity of human creativity and more about maintaining a gatekeeper role, deciding who gets to be heard and who doesn’t.

No shame. Protecting their own piece is cool. Preaching that others shouldn’t stake out their own is not.

If you’re an artist, a writer, a creator facing opposition for using AI tools, understand this: those who tell you “No” are not protecting art; they’re protecting their own interests. They’re trying to shut you out. And selling it to you as “for your own good.”

The future of creativity lies in embracing new technologies, not shunning them. It’s time to challenge these gatekeepers.

Don’t let anyone dictate the legitimacy of your creative process. Your stories, your projects, deserve to be heard and seen. Why give more power to those who don’t want you at the table? It’s time to fight for your right to innovate, to create, and to redefine the boundaries of what’s possible in the entertainment industry. Stand up, embrace EVERY tool, opportunity, and adventure available to you, and be part of shaping a more inclusive and dynamic creative future.

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