When You're A Results Oriented Person In The Delayed Gratification World of Hollywood

            Screenwriting is not a profession for anyone who’s used to being paid after putting in a day’s work. Punch in/punch out. Do your 40 hours. Get a paycheck at the end of the week.
            If you went to college, you put in your 4 years and you got a degree. Put in 2 or 3 more years for grad school and you get a degree. Put in however long it takes to write your dissertation and you have a Ph.D.
            You put in the effort and you get a reward. Makes sense. 
            What doesn’t make sense is when you put in the effort and there’s no reward. Writing a spec screenplay--whether you spend 5 weeks, 8 months or 2 years--doesn’t guarantee a reward.
            For some, that’s very upsetting, especially if you’re a results oriented person. Most of us are results oriented. Who wants to do anything without some remuneration? Even a college student who gets a job as an unpaid intern will have a payback down the road: experience, maybe a promotion to a paying job upon graduation, possibly a good reference. So there is a payback.
            But if you take up screenwriting you must accept the fact that your results oriented work ethic doesn’t mean crap. You have entered a new world of delayed gratification.  Put in the time—months, years, lots of sweat and energy—with the idea that there will be a payoff later on.
            There might be. There might not. No matter how good or commercial your first screenplay is it may never earn you a penny or get you an agent. Its only purpose may be to have helped you get your feet wet as a screenwriter. Same with your second, third, fourth and fifth screenplay.
            Lots of hard work, but no deals, agents or managers. Maybe access to some producers, which is something.
            But with each script, you’re getting better. Most of us, myself included, after we’ve written a few screenplays can look objectively at our first or second and realize that they were at best, workmanlike. Maybe even pretty mediocre.
            Delayed gratification should be your mantra.
            “I will do the work and put in the time because I believe in myself and my talent. I understand that this is a marathon and it’s not fair and that some people sell the first freakin’ thing they write. I can no longer follow my results oriented attitude and must accept the fact that I will hopefully taste the honey at some point. I know that the more I write the better I’ll get and that has to be consolation enough until my payday comes.”
            If you can’t abide by this way of thinking, screenwriting will be a troubling, frustrating experience.

Has Your Wheelhouse Worn Out Its Welcome?

           I’ve heard the word “wheelhouse” a lot lately during some conversations, e-mail and Facebook exchanges with a number of screenwriters and filmmakers.  The first time I heard it, a few months ago, I wondered what it meant for a few seconds, then rather than ask the person who uttered it, I ignored it.  He was kind of pretentious and often used big words.
            But during the last two weeks, when it came up so often, I figured it was time to find out what it meant. Google led me to several definitions.
In baseball this is the part of an individual's swinging range in which as a hitter they can make the best contact with the ball. If a pitch is right in your wheelhouse it is right where you want it, in the spot where you have the best chance of hitting it well. Also, an area  of expertise, a particular skill or anything that can be acted on with confident success.
Comfort Zone seems like another way of describing it. 
As screenwriters, we tend to have our genre comfort zones. Comedy writers write comedies, action writers write action, etc.
            If you haven’t had success getting an agent or interest from producers with the genre in which you’re writing, maybe it’s time to explore something else. David Mamet has done it and I think we can all agree that he’s had an illustrious career as  screenwriter.  From dramas such as Glengarry Glen Ross, Oleanna, Homicide to action/thrillers films Heist, The Untouchables,, Spartan and Hannibal to lighthearted fare such as  About Last Night and State and Main.
            If David Mamet can expand his wheelhouse maybe you should too.
            If you’ve been writing commercial, mainstream Hollywood fare, maybe it’s time to take a crack at that small, personal Independent Filmie thing. Or if you’ve been doing the Independent Filmie thing, swallow your pride and write something commercial. If you get a deal and make some money and the script gets made you’ll have some buzz and you can go back to the Indie stuff.
            Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, David Lindsay-Abaire wrote the screenplay for Inkheart and did a rewrite on Spider-Man 4, as well as writing the script for the film version of his play Rabbit Hole starring Nicole Kidman.
            Oliver Stone and James Cameron wrote cheesy thrillers early on. Before Eric Roth wrote The Insider, Munich and The Good Shepherd he wrote Memories of Me starring Billy Crystal and Henry Winkler.
            Bottom line: if whatever you’re writing isn’t working, consider giving another genre a whirl.
            It just might turn out to be your new wheelhouse!

My Ambivalence Is Becoming A Problem

            I have a screenwriter friend in Los Angeles who has for many years been my eyes and ears in the movie industry.  He’s been out there since he was 23. He’s 46 now.  He’s had numerous deals, several things made with and without his name on the project. He has done rewrites and spent time on a few TV shows.
He’s made money. Not a living, but money—reminiscent of playwright Robert Anderson’s maxim about writing plays: You can make a killing, but not a living.
            My friend has not made a killing.
            But he keeps at it.
            He’s married to a woman who makes decent money so he doesn’t have a big financial monkey on his back and he lives comfortably. But he wants to earn more money.
            He’s also angry. His therapist told him that he’s the angriest person she’s ever encountered. My friend wore that as a badge of honor. For years he’s been referring to himself as The Angry Screenwriter. A.S. for short.
            Besides being angry he’s cynical.
            He’s also very funny. And witty.  I mean Oscar Wilde witty.
            He felt he was too lazy to start his own blog on the movie business. (He’s not lazy. He’s one of the most prolific writers I know) After thinking about it he felt that because of his addictive personality he’s concerned that once he started blogging it would take up all of his time. (It probably would. He is an addictive personality).
            Instead he asked me if he could tell me what’s on his mind and use Screenwriters Rehab as a way to vent.
            I happily accepted.
            Here’s the first thing that came out of his mouth:
My ambivalence is becoming a problem. I care deeply about an idea, then I hate it. I want to leave this town, then when I actually start to think about doing so, I have abandonment issues. I want to kill my agent, then I want to send  her candy because she got me a meeting. I want to make my work edgier, then when I do I feel that I’m becoming a different writer. I want to be more aggressive about networking and hustling new contacts, then I figure why bother? I don’t know how to be charming. I don’t know how to play the game. Then I convince myself that I’m very charming and I’m good at working the room. This is what I mean about my ambivalence. I’m curious if anyone reading your blog has the same problem.”
And there you have it. Him, actually. The Angry Screenwriter.
Welcome to his world!

When You And Your Screenplay Have Irreconcilable Differences

I think the biggest problem every screenwriter faces is that we get lost in our own point of view. In the early stages of the scriptwriting process, getting lost in our scripts is good. It’s what launches us. But that kind of single-mindedness can only take us so far. At some point we have to pull back and be more objective and self-critical.
The further we allow ourselves to go into our own little wormhole the easier it is to become imprisoned there. Once that happens it’s easy to be overwhelmed by some of the problems listed in my last post.
It’s a matter of getting back your focus. It’s kind of like falling back in love with your material. Think of you and your script as having had a huge lovers quarrel. You're not speaking. You've separated, maybe even divorced. You might even have started working on another script which is tantamount to cheating. But you want to come back and your screenplay is ready to welcome you so the two of you can try again. (Gimme a break. I'm reaching for an analogy here. You know what I'm saying).
A good way to accomplish this reconciliation is by doing things you’ve heard before. Maybe you’ve tried them. Maybe not. Maybe it’s time.
·      Re-type your entire screenplay from page one. It’ll help you get back into the feel of where you left off
·      Set a writing time you won’t veer from
·      Give yourself a daily page count - even if it’s only one page
·      Edit any scene that looks too talkie or has too many stage directions
·      If a scene is tormenting you, maybe it shouldn’t be there. Every scene must have a dramatic purpose. If it doesn’t, cut it
·      Try to write something every day. Even if it’s only a long email to someone
·      Give yourself an imaginary deadline to complete your script
·      Watch movies. Sometimes losing yourself in a film, good or bad, will get your juices flowing again
Without sounding too New Age, the object is to get into a mindset that will guide you into that wonderful zone where you’re totally into the material.
You’re in love again!