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.