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What follows is just a collection of thoughts from my recent trip to LA. It's just my experience and judgment. Feel free to disagree. But if you do, make sure that your opinions are based on actual experiences in the industry; not what you thought, heard or read somewhere.
This isn't really intended for the people who want to be indie film artists. This is for the people wanting to get their script on somebody's production slate.
I was invited to go out there to get some face time with some industry people. This wasn't a "Hey, maybe I'll go to LA with a screenplay under my arm" trip. I have helped develop three feature length projects over the past 18 months. Two of those have gotten some attention, and one was recently released as a comic book. I am currently helping develop a fourth project that is already on the radar of some production companies. I understand that odds are that none of those projects will go anywhere. But, I am telling you that so you understand the circumstances. I think that Hollywood is a lot like the mafia. If you want in, someone usually has to vouch for you, and there is a process of getting to know both you and your work. That's what this trip was about. You don't have to wait for someone's permission, but if you get them to ask you to come out, you have a much better chance of accomplishing something.
The first thing that I saw is that Hollywood works on relationships. You have to be a good writer, but it is also really helpful to be a good person. You want to be the person that other people can get along with; someone that other people feel comfortable recommending to others. There are a ton of great writers trying to break in this very minute. If you aren't someone who is easy to get along with, there are a hundred other writers who are standing behind you. I'm not saying that being nice is more important than being a great writer, but ask yourself, all other things being equal, who you would rather work with? What kind of person would you recommend to your bosses and colleagues? Why would anyone in Hollywood recommend someone who is inflexible or arrogant? Because they are a good writer? Not likely. You aren't that good.
The second thing that I learned is that people in Hollywood are really, REALLY friggin smart and talented. There is this myth that Hollywood is full of hacks who don't understand story and aren't creative. Nothing could be further from the truth. In my week out there I met incredibly creative people who are currently a very succesful part of the machine. They know story. They know character. They understand how to impact an audience. That doesn't always mean that the end result will always show that. But never make the mistake that a bad movie was made by a bunch of dumb people. Personally, I can tell you that I am rarely intimidated in the creative world. But I was overwhelmed at the understanding these people have. My wife would be shocked at the amount of time I spent with my mouth shut, just listening. It was very humbling.
The third thing I learned is that you have to very flexible, both creatively and personally. Meetings get switched around, projects change direction, and people switch positions. You may be in a meeting where an exec asks you for a take on something that they are looking at. Or you may be pitching your own script and an exec asks how you would handle switching it from a prehistoric film noir to a burlesque musical. Okay, that might be a little extreme, but you need to show them that you are able to think on the fly. Sometimes they like your writing, but they aren't working in that genre at the moment, so they ask you what else you have. There are some discussions that might be helpful on this topic here and here I think it would be helpful to read them.
Fourth, what you see as a final script, the most amazing thing ever written, is actually only the beginning. If someone likes it enough to take an interest, then guess what? You actually have to develop it. That means taking the notes of other members of the team and making it something better, tighter and more marketable. That means changing stuff you love, and making those changes with enthusiasm. More on that here.
Fifth, writing a good, or even great script isn't enough. They expect you to be good. They expect great dialogue, effective character arcs and effective use of structure. If you can't do that already, you probably shouldn't be out there yet. The concept has to be marketable. You don't have to like that idea, but it's the way things work. You can write the most moving, beautiful script ever written. The reader, exec or producer may weep when he or she reads it. But that doesn't mean they want it. That might be when they ask "what else do you have?" If your answer is "nothing". odds are they will move one. Reading that script will be a great memory for them, but it won't get you anywhere unless you can come up with something else that they can sell.
Finally, you have to be patient. This is a process, and typically a long one. I had my first "professional" contact over 18 months ago. Four "projects" later there are a few people who might recognize my name if someone reminded them who I was. I have put countless hours into scripts and treatments, hours on phone and conference calls, I have spent money going out to LA, and I have lost a fair amount of sleep. So far I don't have an agent, have nothing officially being developed and have made zero dollars. And you know what? I could not be happier. Things are moving forward. I am saying this so that you understand that just because someone likes something you did does not mean that fame and fortune are just around the corner. It takes time, persistence, flexibility and a willingness to learn. It doesn't come quick, and it may not come at all. But that's okay. I get up every morning looking to tell stories and solve problems. I wouldn't have it any other way.
Thank you for sharing your experience. I hope you can rise to the top in the Hollywood soup and have a project completed. It is one of the hardest fields to break into and working with so many people with thier own oppinions that may not be listening to you, makes it difficult to want to work with some of them.
It is thier world and you are the unknown visitor from Humbleville that they feel knows nothing about the process. (and you may not know enough to make a difference in thier eyes)
I think it's great that you were able to have a few doors open for you and could move forward on getting projects looked at and discussed. My fingers and toes are crossed for you and I pray that this can move you forward in accomplishing your dreams.
Awhile back, I heard a guy talking about his experiences gained from listening to someone discuss an article they had read. It was relevant but I won't share because I'm an instruction follower.
I'd rather ask a (several) question(s): Was there a specific project, activity, turning point, moment, etc. that you can identify as genuinely getting things moving forward? Did you ever submit any material to a contest or some writer's forum that established traction? Re: how were you contacted about the "professional" contact and how did you get on that person(s) radar?
Okay, I'm not an instruction follower. I had a chance to talk with a writer with some significant credits and current buzz about his movie. He wanted to talk about how much they messed up his script when they were moving into the shooting phase. It said that it was a hard but crucial thing for him to learn quickly; once sold, his script was not his anymore. He was later hired to do some rewriting or polishing, but it wasn't his script, he was rewriting the studio's script. It's just echoing the point you've had several times about the collaborative process that is the reality of making films.
I can only speak about what I have experienced, but I am guessing that is not a unique story.
The thing that opened the door was the fact that a script I had written while working with Trevor Pryce was being developed as a comic. That got someone to take some notice. But that person wasn't attached to that particular property, so they asked me what else I had. One of the ideas that I was working on struck them as marketable, so a conversation began. That's how it all started. If you know someone who is in the industry, and you do something that seems relevant and/or marketable, they will most likely pass you and the project along to someone. But I want to be clear that I have not proven myself in a way that has gotten me repped. Somebody is paying attention, but I still have to deliver.
I have never entered a writing contest or submitted my scripts to a website. That process makes me nervous, and I have never heard of anyone getting any traction that way. (although it may have happened). Like Haylar says, there is no lock on the door to Hollywood. You just have to show them that you can create something that gets attention.
And I want to be clear that I am brand new at this and I hope that my post does not come across as though I know what the hell I'm doing. The above is just my impressions of a first experience. If there are 256 steps to being a successful screenwriter, I am at about step 3.
Some GREAT information thank you for sharing that with us.
Though your comments require us to kick ourselves in the butt to be better and more productive, yet face the prospect of not success for a while, they are somehow motivating and inspirational. Thanks.
P.S. It makes a lot of sense that your observations would be true, even from my limited exposure to Hollywood insiders.
well I would not say I'm succeeding just yet, the climb has started to level out, but earlier when you said, "now I have to deliver", well that never stops.
General meetings, Pitch meetings, development, OWA's, specs,... you're always delivering somewhere.
Got home last night at around 10PM, and I have to spend all day composing emails in response to the trip.