When you come to Hollywood to try to make it as a writer, you get all kinds of advice, and hear all kinds of stories and rumors about how to “break in.” Many of them seem true on the face of them, but they’re actually misinterpretations of stories that circulate about successful writers.
To really succeed at writing, you need to know the difference between what’s really going on and what other people think, or what the rumors say. You need a reality check.
The reason the reality check is so important is that when you start off with a foundation built on faulty assumptions, you are going to make mistakes, huge mistakes. You need to get your thinking straight. So I’d like to clear up the more prevalent common misconceptions, or myths.
The number one myth about screenwriting success: your first screenplay is going to blow away everybody in town, and you will not only get it produced, but you’ll become famous and make millions, and can either 1) retire, or 2) enjoy a life of luxury forever.
Did you actually believe that? Do you fall into that category? You may want to keep this in mind for the future, then; if it seems to good to be true, it probably is. It applies in many areas of life, and especially to screenwriting.
The truth? Ninety-nine point nine, nine, nine, nine percent of the time this will not happen. Should this depress you and cause you to give up? No. Here’s why;
One of the misconceptions involved here is that to make it as a writer, you need to sell the script that you write, and that’s the only way to success. The truth is, your early screenplays are “calling cards.” You’ll get people to read them, and if they’re really good some people will be impressed.
Instead of buying your script, and producing it on the spot, a number of other things can happen. An agent may be impressed with your work and may offer to represent you. More likely, an agent will be impressed, and ask for more writing samples.
Either way, this means you really scored. Your first script was a huge success. It put you on the map. Whereas, you didn’t have an agent before, now you do. Or at least you have a relationship with an agent.
Another possibility; a producer will read your script and be impressed. If this producer really likes your work, he may ask you in for a “get to know you” meeting. You should consider this a big success.
At that meeting, he’ll ask you about other scripts you are working on, do you have other ideas, and he may even offer to read more of your work.
If you get really lucky, he may ask you to pitch some other ideas, based on the quality of your writing. In the next meeting, or series of meetings, you may even sell him an idea. He may even pay you to develop the idea into an outline or treatment, or even a script.
Another possibility; the producer may have a few ideas of his own, that he might think you are well suited to write. He may pitch you a film idea, then ask you to think about how you would flesh it out. You might be asked back for another meeting, where you’ll pitch out your version of his story.
Other possibilities; other writers, or directors or actors, or friends will read your script and (hopefully) like it. They may pass it to a friend, who has some clout. Or they may decide they want to be your writing partner. Or they may become allies. These are all good outcomes.
Some people who read your script may offer to give you constructive criticism. You’ll get good ideas about how to rewrite your “calling card” script. Or you’ll learn from the critiques and write a second script that’s better than the first.
These are all positive outcomes. And to get your thinking straight, you should be consider that these are your best case scenarios. If you think that your first script will make you rich and famous, you’ll be very disappointed, and may give up.
Remember, it takes most writers five to ten years to get to the point where writing will pay all their bills. The truth; along the way you’ll collect allies, people you respect you and your ideas and screenplays.
Any one of your allies may introduce you to their friends in the industry, or to more contacts. Building a network of professionals will be essential. One day, one of your allies will help get you the job that starts your career.
Get your thinking straight, and build a career based on a foundation of real facts. Keep writing, continue networking, and be phenomenal.
Image credit: Creative Commons, Prometheus Forms Man and Animates Him with Fire from Heaven, 2015, by Ashley Van Haeften is licensed under CC By 2.0