This Is The Business You’ve Chosen

Most screenwriters are clueless and totally ill equipped to function as businessmen and businesswomen in Hollywood. They have the talent, but not the know-how to make their career happen.
I’m not talking only about young screenwriters fresh out of film school or kids with a dream from small town America. I’ve encountered people in their 30s, 40s, 50s and upwards who’ve been successful in other fields, but when it comes to making something happen with their finished screenplay, their naiveté is disturbing.
I get it. I was like that too.
Hardnosed cops and high-powered attorneys are intimidated by 25-year-old development executives who’ve never had a creative idea of their own in their lives. Type A stockbrokers fall to pieces as their script is turned into mishmash by a producer who should be working the late shift at a 7-Eleven. Psychiatrists, all kinds of doctors, seen-it-all journalists, firefighters, real estate biggies, housewives, bookies and loan sharks behave like 12-year-olds when their phone calls aren’t returned.
People can learn how to write a screenplay, but there are no books or guidelines on how to be a screenwriter with the savvy, shrewdness and savoir-faire to navigate through the rocky road of selling a script and getting it on the screen without losing one’s dignity.
Being a screenwriter is much more difficult than writing a screenplay. I know from personal experience. I’ve written eight, had three optioned, sold one and did an adaptation of a hit play that got made. If someone is doing it right, being a screenwriter is an all-consuming job in and of itself. Just as a screenwriter learns how to write a screenplay by doing it, the same must be said of learning how to be a screenwriter: by doing it. But if someone doesn’t know how, you’ll be at a disadvantage in Hollywood.
This is the business you've chosen.  You know where you've heard that before:
“Moe Greene was a great man...Someone put a bullet through his eye. No one knows who gave the order. When I heard it, I wasn't angry; I knew Moe. I knew he was headstrong, talking loud, saying stupid things. So when he turned up dead, I let it go. And I said to myself, this is the business we've chosen. I didn't ask who gave the order, because it had nothing to do with business."
                                    Hyman Roth to Michael Corleone
In my next Screenwriters Rehab post I’ll report on an amusing, but disturbing cautionary tale of a young screenwriter.


  1. Yes. It's overwhelming. Where do I start? Who do I contact? Is it too soon to follow up? Am I being a pest? Am I not being forceful enough? Aaack!

  2. You're right. I'm 32 years old. I have a BA in Marketing and an MA in Political Science. I'm the boss of 16 people. They think of me as pretty tough. When I talked to a producer who was probably 3 years younger than I, I crumbled. I stuttered. I felt cowardly.

  3. I'm a firefighter. I've run into burning buildings dozens of times. When I've had meetings with some development people who are filled with attitude, I come off like a wimp. I can fight flames, but I can't defend my work even when I know they're full of it.

  4. Great post. Looking fwd to the next one. Thanks

  5. You actually seem for real. I'll stick around and see what tricks you have up your sleeve.

  6. I too have had an experience like this. I'm not an especially forceful person, but I'm not a wuss. Why is that I freeze up when I talk to a producer or development person, as if they know what's right? I have no problem defending my work with my friends, but when it's somebody who has an office and a poster of a movie they produced on their wall, I lose all of my confidence.

  7. Cool use of The Godfather quote. Yeah. This is the business we've chosen. I had a taste of a deal two years ago. Made some money. I liked that taste. Had to do eleven rewrites and I couldn't sleep, but getting the bucks and having the project move closer to being made was nice. I need to be tougher with these two guys who are producing the project.

  8. Thanks very much for this new blog idea. Comes in at a perfect time for me.
    Been working on my screenplay for a loooong time and your tips really helped me move forward toward completion.
    I'm hooked!
    Tai Aguirre
    Executive Producer
    The Expat Show

  9. This is just what I need. Finally, a place where I can visit to help me break my writer's block!!!

  10. DB, I'm going to be following this blog from now on! It's exactly what I needed to read today. Of course, a quote from "The Godfather Part II" is always a nice bonus! :-)

    I'm so happy you talked about the art of being a writer in ALL areas. The writing is key, but one must also be able to sell their writing in a convincing manner and it sounds like you're going to have great advice on how a writer must market themselves and the work they've created. Thank you!!!

  11. of course, one might credit the screenwriter in a blog about screenwriting....

  12. Based on your recommendation I read The Devil's Guide to Hollywood. I read it in one sitting and I loved it. But what bothered me is that, according to Joe Eszterhas, it seems that unless you're a macho/Ernest Hemingway/hairy chest tough guy you won't get much respect. Most of the screenwriters I know are Type B personalities who'd rather drink cappucino than beer and pontificate about how great Citizen Kane is than get into any kind of real conflict. Including me.

  13. This rocks a little. I need more to commit.

  14. So true D.B.! You really have to be tough an persevere if you're serious about it. Love the blog! Looking forward to hearing more from you.

  15. More than anything I want to understand why it seems that every screenplay that gets made gets rewritten by at least one person. If a screenplay is good enough to be bought why can't producers, directors and studio heads believe in the product? Why can't they believe in the original writer's vision. It's enough to break your heart.

  16. Did we choose it or did it choose us? J.D. Salinger says that sometimes the material finds us.

  17. DB is so right: being a screenwriter is very different from writing a screenplay. Completing that first script seemed like the greatest accomplishment of my life (especially considering it took about a quarter of my life to do it). Now the really hard part of marketing the damn thing feels even more daunting. This just makes me want to dig deeper into a new script as a means of hiding from the marketing thing.

  18. This is a business that chose me. I wrote a play. I wanted to be a playwright. It had a production in LA. It had a nice run considering that LA is not a theater town. A producer saw the production, bought the film rights and hired me to write the screenplay. I was in and hooked. Movie never got made, but I made money, got into WGA. Been up and down ever since. Frustrating, but fun. Mainly frustrating.

  19. I've been writing screenplays for 15 years. Had a few projects in development. No real money. Just option chump change. I don't know why I keep trying. Despite the lack of success I love writing screenplays, even when I'm blocked. I'd like to hear what you have to say about getting through writer's block.

  20. I agree with Mac. Sometimes I think it chose me. I reviewed movies for my high school newspaper (as if I knew what I was talking about at 16), but seeing other people's work hooked me on the screenwriting and film-making bug. That was 10 years ago. 5 screenplays. 3 short films. Raising money to shoot my latest script. Fingers crossed!

  21. It says you're a script consultand and writing coach. Do you also do life coaching? I need your motivational ability.

  22. u da man. BTW, Helen, I can vouch for the script consultant skills of Mr. Gilles. Highly recommend him.

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