TALENT. You will need a good visual imagination, confidence, perseverance (most important talents), outside encouragement and confirmation of your abilities and character (if you don’t want to go nuts, this MUST be balanced first.)
EDUCATION. School can teach you discipline, encourage talent, and demonstrate format and technique, but it will not prepare you for the realities.
PRODUCT. Remember, no matter how brilliant you think you are, your first three screenplays exist only to vent your own personal obsessions and hang-ups. Don’t throw them out – because you can always re-write them later when you’re successful – but don’t take them too seriously. If you’ve written three, that just means you are BEGINNING to get serious. If you’ve written one or two, you’re still messing around, you know nothing, you are nowhere, you haven’t even stepped up to the plate.
AGENT. In the movie business they are worthless until you are already established. An agent is not going to get a first-time screenwriter a job. YOU have to get the job. THEN the agent will be interested and can negotiate the deal. I guarantee you that if you walk into the office of an agent of your choice and tell them (fill in the name of big studio) wants to buy your script or idea, they WILL sign you. Once you are established, agents are good for Christmas cards and perhaps a re-write job or two, not much more. Fortunately, they earn their money above what you thought you could get for the deal, once you are marketable.
EXPOSURE. Getting read. Using an tenuous connection you can. An encouraging note, response or phone call is a crack in the door. Push politely but not too hard or you may find the encouragement was merely a form letter. Use your intuition about PEOPLE. This is where character comes in. If you have it, you will attract like-people you can trust. If you don’t, you will be used, exploited, and trodden – as easily and as superficially as you have sought to use, exploit or trod the people cracking the doorway for you.
FIRST BITE. Don’t let it go to your head, it could be a fluke. But, more importantly, it is a validation that you CAN sell.
THE UN-PRODUCED SCREENPLAY ZONE. What is your goal? To write and make a good living at it? To get your vision to the screen no matter what? Chances are, you WILL accomplish your goal, but remember, the un-produced zone is comfortable. No one will ever sue you for stealing their ideals or their life in an unproduced movie. An un-movie protects you from critics and the responsibilities of a higher visibility success. Carry these thoughts because, ultimately, for screenwriters, whether it gets produced or not is outside your job description or powers and is almost completely serendipitous.
DISAPPOINTMENTS. ALWAYS have something else in the fire.
PITCH MEETINGS. Once you are a known screenwriter, you will get the chance to pitch your own movie ideas to studio executives before you ever have to write them. You have less than five minutes to convince them your idea is worth spending upwards of $25 million to make a movie on. Here’s the big tip… Turn it around on them. Pick their brains before you say anything. Make THEM want to be acceptable to you and to please you (it’s not that hard considering the neurosis and insecurity inherent in their always-shaky positions). The bottom line is they don’t know what the fuck they’re doing (because who can really predict what the audience wants), and you will most likely be pitching to someone else in their same job next week.
RE-WRITES. Get used to them. You get one shot at your own version before you have to do ten others for the development executive, producer, director, actor, distributor and the producer’s girlfriend.
DO I HAVE A CAREER? Chances are you will never ever be sure of this no matter how many credits you’ve stacked up or how much money you’ve made. This is perhaps the greatest reality of screenwriting, acting, directing or even the free lance creative life.
But… compared to most everything else… It’s a Wonderful Life.
– A. Wayne Carter