Famous Screenwriters’ Big Breaks
“I had no formal education whatsoever, completely on my own from the age of eighteen, financially and in every other way, working crappy jobs. And then one day I had an epiphany. I think I was twenty-three. I said to myself, “I don’t want to be living this life with these people and doing this ten years from now.” So in a calculated move, I decided to go to L.A. to become a screenwriter. I didn’t have one dollar, didn’t have health insurance, drove around without car insurance. I couldn’t afford screenwriting classes but I was able to get a library card at the American Film Institute, which was great because I got to read scripts that way. Those were so awful that it puffed up my ego and made me think I could do better than this. I was in L.A. for almost a year before I found an idea that was commercial enough. I wrote it with a friend – he was very funny and I was very funny, and we thought we could make each other funnier. And we sold it. It was a huge deal; people weren’t making million-dollar deals then. But we were off and running.”
– Leslie Dixon. Dixon wrote Pay it Forward, The Thomas Crown Affair, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Limitless.
“In 1986, I was leaving college and I was a single mom, so anything with a dollar sign on it, I applied. I entered three screenwriting contests. The first one was the Nissan Focus Awards, which no longer exists. I failed miserably, apparently, because they sent me a rejection notice with a list of screenwriting books I might wanna read. I submitted to the Samuel Goldwyn Writing Awards and to the brand new contest that year, the Nicholl Fellowship. I won both. The Goldwyn had been around a long time, so there were journalists and agents waiting around to hear who’d won. The Nicholl Fellowship was new, so there wasn’t so much attention around that, but it was quite a juicy prize. At that time it was $20,000. Everybody wanted to read my script.”
– Allison Anders, Anders lists among her credits, Things Behind the Sun, Gas Food Lodging, and Mi Vida Loca.
“I showed up at USC very starry-eyed. On the internship board I saw there was a company at Warner Bros. called Spring Creek Productions. They ended up hiring me to alphabetize their script library. My second semester I upgraded my internship to Silver Pictures. You know, they did Die Hard, Lethal Weapon – all the movies I loved that brought me out to Hollywood. I had written a couple of scripts with a friend of mine at USC just for shits and giggles, and one of them ended up with a manager who read it and liked it. I didn’t know he was sending it out. Well, one day I was at the internship and Damon Lee, who I think was the vice president at the time, just screamed: “Susco, get in my office!” I didn’t know what I’d done. I went scrambling in there, and dropped the toast I’d been making. He held the script up and went, “Is this you? I didn’t know you wanted to be a writer.” It turned out the script had been sent to Silver Pictures, and the guys really liked it. They gave me an hour of their time and talked about the career of screenwriting…”
– Stephen Susco, screenwriter of The Grudge, The Grudge 2, and Red.
“We took a screenwriting class (at college) together and realized that we liked the same type of films. A few years later Michael moved to Hollywood and worked as a film editor. We started writing a script together and when we finished, Michael gave it to his post-production supervisor on a film he was working on. She gave it to a producer’s assistant, who gave it to a producer, who gave it to Brad Pitt’s manager, who gave it to Brad Pitt. He said he wanted to star in it and it sold. So… the secret to making it in Hollywood is to have Brad Pitt say he wants to star in your spec script.”
– Derek Haas & Michael Brandt, collaborated on 2 Fast 2 Furious, Wanted, and 3:10 to Yuma.
If you’re trying to break into screenwriting, but are having a hard time, feel free to talk with me at 310-850-4707
Silverman, D. (2017). Famous Screenwriters’ Big Breaks. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 24, 2017, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/hollywood-therapy/2017/08/famous-screenwriters-big-breaks/