Free Support and Outreach for Colorado's Filmmaking Community
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.
Very true, and I think that it is important for people to understand that this a (sometimes painfully) incremental process.
What most of us want is a shot; an opportunity for real industry people to take time out of their day and willingly pay attention to our ideas. That is something you have accomplished and you have been extremely open with the lessons you have learned along the way. The million dollar paychecks haven't come (yet), but you are in the rooms.
I TOLD JIM TO CALL YOU GARY!
but he was too busy playin' mush-mush on the phone with V.
It was one hell of a fun trip though even though I hate that town.