Hear Ye, Hear Ye

Look, I know you don’t want to hear this, but here’s a big fat truth bomb for you this morning:

You’re wasting your time. 

Some of you will be outraged to hear this; others will say, ‘I KNEW it!!’ Most of you will shrug and quote William Goldman, ‘Nobody knows anything.’ 

But trust me: I’m right. Just  probably not the way you think I mean.

Let me explain.

Build it & they will come?

Imagine a person making something … Let’s say a house. S/he is a master (or mistress!) in their field. They’ve worked on their craft for YEARS, maybe they’ve won awards? Whatever the case, it’s generally thought this person knows how to make a goddamn house. Everyone knows this.

So, our master builder knows there’s loads of people out there, who’d LOVE a great house. And s/he’s the one to build it for them! In fact, why wait? That builder is going to get started RIGHT NOW on the best house EVAH! When finished, people are going to be literally knocking down the door, DESPERATE to give them $$$. What could go wrong … They’re the BEST!

So the master builder gets to work. They work on the plans, until everything is perfect. Then they build the foundations, the walls, the roof … whatever. They pick the best materials; they take their time, making sure everything is perfect. They’re secure in the knowledge that someone, out there, is going to LOVE it.

Then they finish and … CRICKETS. Or maybe people drop by, look around, make all the right noises … but fail to get their wallets out. The master builder is left with a house they can’t sell (even though it might indeed be great).

But okay, maybe it’s freak occurrence. Perhaps that master builder will start anew on another house, sure the next one will sell. Or maybe they’ll renovate the existing house, trying to make it more attractive. Maybe they’ll do both … and yet nothing will chance. WTAF?

You Guessed It

The master builder in the above scenario is a screenwriter, the house is a spec screenplay. The people dropping by to view said houses are the producers and/or filmmakers. It’s time for screenwriters to get real and hear this

A good sample or spec screenplay, showing why you can do as a screenwriter, is obviously a no-brainer. It’s always a good idea to have something you can show people – this is why builders have SHOW HOMES – but as screenwriters, we can learn something from the building trade:

If there’s no money forthcoming, they don’t build the houses! 

So why the hell are we writing endless numbers of spec screenplays for NO REASON that NO ONE WANTS???

We Need To Be Better Business People

Note that I don’t mean you shouldn’t write *only* for money, then you’re a hack. Nobody likes hacks.

I also don’t mean sacrificing creativity for business, as if it’s ‘either/or’.

IT CAN BE BOTH.

In other words, you can be the most brilliant screenwriter in existence, but you ALSO need to put your ear to the ground and actually hear what producers and filmmakers want

Otherwise, you’re throwing spaghetti at the wall again and hoping it will stick.

Filmmakers Can’t Find Scripts!

It’s all very well saying, ‘I do the above already.’ Do you? How can you tell?Because I hear all the time from directors and producers:

‘I can’t find any screenplays to make.’

Yes, you read that right.

There are a MASSIVE number of spec scripts of all genres, budgets, tones, types – TV, feature, short, web series – in circulation at any one time. Script readers like Bang2write get paid to sift through these masses of submissions, to find scripts to make or writers to champion.

Guess what? A lot of the time, we can’t find what we’re looking for. This might be because the scripts:

  • don’t have a discernible genre or audience
  • can’t be produced at a specific budget level
  • don’t have a memorable enough role for a star or stars
  • are outdated or generic, or conversely out of the left field
  • have too many craft problems

Note how only ONE of the above is a specific writing issue. The rest are all to do with the logistics and constraints of the industry … aka THE MAKING of said script. This is show business, baby.

Hear THIS Film Director

But don’t just take my word for it. Here’s film director Kelly Holmes, who popped up talking about this in the Bang2writers Facebook group recently:

‘I end up writing a lot of my own stuff, when I’d much rather be working with another writer to conceive something together. ALL I want to do is find writers I want to work with FROM CONCEPTION. But it’s bloody difficult, because I’m sent a lot of scripts after the fact where I read it and think yes this person can write … but they just aren’t a fit for me.’

Kelly echoes what I have been banging on about on B2W for years, here. Great writing is important, but we need to treat that as a given, the VERY LEAST we can do.

It’s About Collaboration

She doesn’t just want to make a screenwriter’s vision, she wants to COLLABORATE. This is the way forward and how to hook a filmmaker, not present them with a script and say, ‘Isn’t it great? Now make it!’

I am ALWAYS saying to screenwriters – meet producers and directors, find out what they want, create relationships with them and they would LOVE to work with you. But screenwriters would rather work in isolation and try and ‘match up’ existing specs with directors and producers, a tactic that makes ZERO sense … then the writers wonder why they don’t advance. Supersadface.

Kelly continues:

‘Finding the right collaborators in film is the absolute key, because whether you’re trying to find public or private funding, the key triangle of Director/Writer/Producer is always generally expected to be in place, or at least Director/Writer.’

So it’s not about beating your head against brick wall, sending one spec screenplay after another into the void and crossing your fingers. It’s about FINDING PEOPLE, forming a team and using your mad writing skills to build up a project TOGETHER.

How To Find Collaborators?

Banding together as a team and MAKING STUFF by any means necessary is any screenwriter’s quickest way ‘into’ the industry. After all, that’s all the industry really is – bunches of colleagues, making stuff! Some will work out; others will not. Most lead to something else, as Kelly says:

‘Writing short scripts is a good way to start finding collaborators, but you won’t ever make any money from it – but there’s more chance of the script actually getting made and you learning from that. And then there’s TV, a lot of writers I know started off with writing a spec script for something like the Red Planet prize and have gone into writing for shows like Holby City, which is not to be sniffed at when you’re getting paid and learning how to write to a production’s needs.’

Networking, connecting with like-minded people online, making shorts, getting into TV, making web series, building online platforms, entering contests … these are the ‘usual’ ways to find people, but there are plenty more. You’ll need a career strategy, plus you’ll need to assess and evaluate how it’s working out for you, too.

Put simply, no one ever got to where they want to go by blind luck alone. What’s more, you can increase your odds of arriving successfully by about a million per cent minimum if you CHECK OUT A MAP (or rather, create a strategy that actually works!!!).

Concluding:

Stop being that screenwriter working in isolation. Stop writing only what YOU want to write and then trying to match it to people randomly. Sure, it *might* work, but the odds will be much more in your favour if you find out what THEY want and see if what YOU want, too. That’s where the magic happens. Or, rather:

  1. Network & find filmmakers & make a TEAM
  2. Create something together from CONCEPTION
  3. Get funding/get it made TOGETHER

Good Luck!

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7 Responses to The Important Advice Screenwriters NEED To Hear

  1. Suzanne Firth says:

    Thanks again Lucy! Where would we be without your brand of ‘super-say-it-like-it-is’! I especially like the word ‘business’ in italics. I used to teach ‘Business in the Performing Arts’ on a BTEC course and in the first lesson I used to write ‘show business’ on the whiteboard and ask which was the most important word. Naturally they almost all said ‘show’ – but without the business side you don’t have a show at all unless you are considering some self-indulgent ‘worthy’ piece of art on a piazza somewhere. BTW I’m the Administrator of an arts company so yup I do know what I’m talking about and the trials of having to keep it real! Thanks again Lucy.

    • Lucy V Hay says:

      Yup, lots of creatives think it’s ‘all’ about the creative stuff don’t they! But business will always have to lead … We can make that a problem, or an opportunity. Thanks for commenting Suzanne!

  2. John Smith says:

    First time responder but longtime reader here.

    You make a very valid point about highlighting the business side of things, as well as the crucial part of collaboration. And I agree with you that at the end of the day it takes a team to create an end product (getting something produced) and not just one person – it is always good to consider the bigger picture. The challenge for us writers is to attract/find the right people looking for potential collaborations – I know, easier said than done. But if we do want some sort of viable career in this business, we have to suck it up and get on with it.

    Another thing that I will take away from this is working with somebody at the ‘conception’ stage. It makes a lot of sense.

    Another solid post Lucy and keep up the good work.

  3. Dean Lett says:

    Is it all rather a catch 22? Collaborate, yeah, but before someone will collaborate they will want to know can you write a script? How are they going to find out? They are going to want samples. How do you give them samples? You have to go somewhere and in ‘isolation’ crank out a few spec screenplays. And are there really producers who have concepts they want you to collaborate on? No unless you are an established writer and they are offering you a job. The first thing they want to do is to not work with you and to place as many blocks as is possible between you and them. Most of them you can’t contact unless you know someone who knows them. Most of them definitely don’t want unsolicited manuscripts or even ideas, as legal ramifications can be immense. It takes a lot of money to collaborate. You have to relocate to California to even be around the people in the game, and unless you want to be trapped on skid row, you better have some cash on hand or a good job lined up because it takes time to connect, and baby California ain’t cheap, and you may have to work unpaid as you collaborate on something that can take many months to create,, meanwhile what are you going to eat? How are you going to survive?

    My game plan is to continue writing in isolation so when the time comes I have a few specs I can show people, and hopefully develop my voice as a writer, and have money stored away so when I get to the West coast I don’t have to focus on surviving day to day.

  4. CRAF says:

    It is a very valid point by mentioning the business in a diffrent way and giving prefrence to it.
    It is actually a challenge for writers to find out the right audience and the people who will be ready to collaborate with them. Yes, nothing is easy … if you have got dreams then it will only get fulfilled when you are fighting for it… It is an inspiring post, LUCI.
    We at CRAFT FILM SCHOOL want our students to learn the same and know that there is a career in scriptwriting too.. Here is the website: http://www.craftfilmschool.com/

    Another thing that I will take away from this is working with somebody at the ‘conception’ stage. It makes a lot of sense.

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