I am again very pleased to present an article that comes courtesy of Michele Wallerstein — a highly respected screenplay, novel and career consultant. Her specialty is helping writers get their work into shape so it is marketable for the Hollywood community and/or publishing world.
Her new book, “Mind Your Business: A Hollywood Literary Agent’s Guide To Your Writing Career” is due out in July, 2010, so make sure you put that on your Amazon Wish List for next year.
Are you serious about your writing career?
by Michele Wallerstein
How serious are you about your writing career? This isn’t a facetious question. If you are writing lots of material but you are not paying attention to the next steps then you are playing a game. If those scripts are sitting in your house or are being read by your nearest and dearest friends and family you are still just playing a game. That’s fine if you are having fun and just puttering around. If, on the other hand, you sincerely want a career in the film trade, you aren’t anywhere close to fulfilling your dream. The motion picture industry is a powerful business that involves millions and millions of dollars, the livelihoods of thousands of people and entertainment to millions of people all over the world. Each film is like a whole new business venture of its own. To produce a film a company needs to have and to hire executive staff, lawyers, producers, directors, actors, wardrobe people, scenic designers, stage crews, editors, assistants, camera crews, artists, builders, drivers, travel agents, coordinators, animal wranglers and hundreds of other people for their staff and filming. All of these people make their living by being involved in something you create. Once you realize the importance of filmmaking in the overall context of business and the world economy, you might take it a bit more seriously.
It feels great to have finished a screenplay and you are sure it is the greatest script ever written; but how do you really know that? You think it’s different and unusual and that no one has ever done this type of script before. Maybe you’re right. Maybe it’s worth that $1million payday that you keep hearing about. Maybe it’s just a good script that doesn’t really have a specific audience. Maybe your main character isn’t on every page. You’ll never know the truth about the salability of your work until you get it into the mainstream.
What you do after you’ve written that script is just as important as the writing itself.
I’ve spent years listening to people complain about the difficulties of getting an agent or selling a script to Hollywood. We aren’t talking about apples and oranges. We are talking about diamonds that must be as perfect as possible before the major players will even consider looking at them. The reason for that is that they see too many bad apples and oranges. They hear writers rave to them about their great projects and then those writers send in half finished scripts that have poor grammar, inarticulate sentences, poor character development and an unclear plot or no real plot at all. The professionals that you crave to meet are hard working people who spend 24/7 on their jobs. They eat, drink and sleep the business of films. They read a tremendous amount of material and they are constantly searching for that perfect diamond. When they find it they pounce. These folks are not trying to dodge you for the fun of it. They need referrals because that means that someone they trust has already read the material and liked it. They need to hear a pitch so that they can get the gist of the idea and to see if you are a credible person. They need a great query letter that shows off your writing and thinking skills and that sets you apart from the other 100 query letters they received that day.
OK, so much for my tirade about the vicissitudes of show business. Now you want answers and I will give them to you. I warn you to only read further if you are committed to a screenwriting career. Otherwise you will argue and disbelieve this missive.
Rule #1 is to move to the greater Los Angeles area. Would you expect to be a farmer in the middle of New York City? Would you try to work on auto assembly lines in Florida? Would you try to be a deep sea fisherman in Oklahoma? You have to be where the business is. Even if you only rent a tiny apartment, share it with three other people and spend half of your time in L.A., it will pay-off big time. You will be where the action is. You will be able to join groups, volunteer for committees at the Writers Guild, meet people in the industry on a social basis, attend lots and lots of industry events, panels, seminars, luncheons, etc. Los Angeles is where the person sitting at the next table at Starbuck’s is the agent you need to speak with. It’s where all the waiters are actors and know someone in the film industry. It’s where the movie studios are, the agencies are and the management companies are. Where are you?
Rule #2 is to have a body of work before you even begin to think about trying to get an agent or sell a script. Writing one screenplay is fine, but it is only a drop in the bucket. No one has ever written a perfect screenplay the first time out of the box. Writing takes practice, lots and lots of practice. Each screenplay you write will be better than the last one. The same rules apply to you as they do to any other line of work. Whether you are a writer or a brain surgeon or you work on an assembly line, you will be better at your job after you’ve done it for some time. The agents and executives who are looking for new material and new talented writers don’t expect to find someone who is expecting miracles after one script. They want people who are dedicated to their craft and have at lease three or four excellent pieces to show.
Rule #3 is to learn your craft. Take writing courses, go to seminars, sign up for on-line writing classes, buy all of those wonderful books, and audio and video tapes of great writing experts and listen to them faithfully. Read as many screenplays as you can get your hands on. Read books….old and new. Learn from John Grisham and Jane Austen. Watch all of the movies that are available to you on Netflix, On-Demand, at Blockbuster, at your local video rental store and in the theatres. Check out the information in the Sunday Calendar section every week. Make notes on which production companies are producing certain types of films and see what movies are making the most money. Subscribe to screenwriter magazine and read them carefully. Use the script consultants that are available to you. They will help you know if you are on the right track and if your work is ready to be seen by pros. The point is to be knowledgeable about your chosen field. You can’t write in a vacuum. You must know about the business you are trying to enter. This type of research will be invaluable to you.
Always bear in mind that you are in the business of entertaining and enlightening vast numbers of people all over the world. It is a huge responsibility and takes a great deal of work and commitment. This is also a profoundly rewarding career. Not only is the money great but there is also a wonderful elation attached to getting one or more of your films produced. You will enjoy the excitement of being acquainted with smart and interesting people in Hollywood and of being a part of their community.
If you have what it takes… Hollywood will find you
Michele Wallerstein is a former Literary Agent. She can be reached at: