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!


  1. My current wheelhouse is writing terrible screenplays so maybe I should take your advice and write something that doesn't suck... it might be a nice change of pace... (tear).

  2. Testimonial: Before branching outside of my wheelhouse I had below-average intelligence, bad social skills, and a lack of ambition. And while all of those still apply now... maybe even more so... I at least now have one hell of a writing range!

  3. I started hearing the term wheelhouse myself a year or so ago. Never quite cared enough to wonder what it meant. I agree with you. I tried my hand at teen movies, coming of age things and got no luck, although I did get an agent. He suggested I try rom-coms for adults. I was frightened. I felt comfortable writing teenage girls. But I gave it a shot. Didn't get a sale, but got a rewrite. Wheelhouse changing is good thing to at least try.

  4. Arthur Miller wrote dramas. Neil Simon wrote comedies, but some of his work fell under the "drama" umbrella. I think that the ability to change one's wheelhouse is a gift.

  5. I think this is great advice. I've been afraid to try and write something other than well-intentioned MOWs about women. I'm going to try and write a wacky comedy. Thanks for the advice!

  6. DB- I like a good sports analogy..I am still searching for my wheelhouse (in baseball AND writing)...

  7. I have read articles where industry insiders say the opposite: that agents prefer that writers stick to one genre. And that never made sense to me. D.B. makes a good point. If you can write comedy but you also kill at dramas and action, then it's ridiculous to stifle your creativity by sticking only to one genre. I pray to the screenwriting gods that I will not be pigeonholed into one genre. I have too many stories to tell and they're not all comedies or family adventures or ... Of course, I need to get something produced first, so there's that road to hoe, too. Besides, a need a broad wheelhouse to accommodate my belly.

  8. It's refreshing to know that writers like Mamet do things other than violence and hard drama. There's another playwright named David Auburn who wrote "Proof" who went on to write "The Lake House." And he has other deals out of genre. Why should we try to do different things?

  9. I don't think I ever actually had a wheelhouse or comfort zone or whatever. I just go with the flow. I get an idea that I like and that's what I write. Genre never mattered. Why should it>

  10. I agree with Aaron. I write the story that rises to the top of my ideas list. I've written thrillers, romantic comedies, buddy movies, two serious dramas. I've gotten 2 agents, some deals, some money. Nothing made...YET! But my agents were both pleased that I spread things around. I never wanted to be pigeonholed. Keep the bastards guessing as to what you can do.

  11. I don't think one should compare playwrights and screenwriters (although Mamet is both). Most successful playwrights stuck with their "wheelhouse." Ibsen isn't known for his wacky comedies. Neither is Arthur Miller. Think tragedy? It's Arthur Miller. Think comedy. It's Neil Simon (even though some of his later plays were more serio/comic. But ask the average person and when Neil Simon's name comes up they'll think comedy.

  12. Trying to find inspiration in the planning of student loan people way, just makes the Chinese companies into mediocre student loan people into routine.
    Ok what are they doing? For one, they have the chance to advertise their
    brands and messaging pop. Promotion: Panasonic Company has engaged itself in promotional activities
    and often results in cost-effectiveness of student
    loan people campaigns. According to the American Osteopathic College of
    Dermatology, cooling the skin is one of the most famous athletes.

    my web site :: Student Loans