By: Carson Reeves
So the other day, I was talking to someone outside the industry and she had strong opinions about screenwriting (doesn’t everybody?). According to her, it was all a matter of subjectivity. It came down to who was reading your script and if their sensibilities matched up with your own, that’s what determined whether the script sold or not. The Hollywood system was one big game of chance. You had to find the best match, not write the best script.
I held my tongue because we were in public and I didn’t want to pull a Christian Bale on Terminator Salvation.
But what frustrates me is how common this belief is, especially for people just getting into screenwriting. That it isn’t about craft, about working on all the little parts of screenwriting that make you a better screenwriter, but about typing up a Harry Potter knock-off and finding someone who likes Harry Potter.
This is why the majority of people who get into screenwriting give up after 2-3 years. They find it difficult to get their scripts in front of the “difference maker” people. And since they’ve trained themselves to think connecting with someone who has the same movie sensibilities as you do is the only criteria for making it, they throw in the typewriter when they don’t get the chance.
By the way, when they say 99% of all screenwriters fail, those 2-3 year guys are factored into that percentage. Which is hilarious when you think about it. Imagine if you tried to be a professional soccer player in 3 years. Or a neurosurgeon. Or a lawyer. Of COURSE those people never make it. They BARELY put in the effort. 3 years in screenwriting is NOTHING. That’s enough to learn structure, formatting, and the beginnings of character development. You’ll be lucky if you can write a cohesive 110 page story after three years, much less something that people fall in love with.
Now I’m not saying that subjectivity doesn’t play a role in your career. For example, if I was sent a biopic and a science-fiction script, I’d be more inclined to like the science-fiction script. But I can give you a hundred examples of weeks where I read both a biopic and a science-fiction script and I liked the biopic better. Why? BECAUSE THEY WERE BETTER WRITTEN. Because the writer knew how to tell a better story, develop better characters, keep my interest better.
If you want to be a successful screenwriter, STUDY THE SHIT out of screenwriting, write a lot of fucking screenplays, and read a lot of fucking screenplays. If you do those three things, you commit to the long haul, you have some hustle in you, and you have even a little bit of talent, you will succeed. Guaranteed. But for the rest of you who think this is all about sensibility? Here are 10 ways that myself and any Hollywood reader worth his salt can spot the NOT READYS and the READYS.
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