My Continuing Journey As An Aspiring Screenwriter (Part One – CONS)

Some people say that the journey is more fun than the destination. My wife and I believe in this wholeheartedly, judging by how often we love to take road trips. The same can apply to reaching personal goals.

This July, I will have served on Army active duty for 17 years. This helps, because I’m eligible to retire at 20 and I can use the remaining years as time to work toward this, while also maintaining a career and not allowing my family to suffer while I try and figure all this out.

However, I’m not here to preach about that. I’m here to share a little bit of my experience in working toward this. Even though I have written several scripts already, I’m still relatively in the “beginning” stages of this, I don’t have any real “deep” experiences to share, but I’m just going to talk a little about some of the good aspects and some of the more frustrating that I’ve noticed.

Connie Britton as Rayna James on one of my favorite TV shows (Nashville on ABC) once said something to the effect of, when chasing a goal, you have to “love the good things more than you hate the bad things.” That really has helped me, especially with this, because the “bad” things really test this out. I promise, this won’t be a whine-fest, but I’ll start with the cons, some of what I’ve noticed to be very frustrating aspects of this journey, and then I’ll finish up with the pros; the things about this that I will certainly love more than the cons:

1. The belief that I have to know someone who knows someone who knows someone. This is probably the one I am the most frustrated by and my pride is to blame. There aren’t too many people I come across who don’t believe this and they try to get me to believe it as well. I get the concept, but it’s just difficult for me to accept. I don’t think it’s a bad reason…I just want my talent to stand on its own and speak for itself. I don’t want to rely on “knowing someone” to get me somewhere, because if I’m not as sharp as I need to be, that will be exposed at some point down the road. Now I get that this MUST happen in a lot of cases and I don’t blame people for taking advantage of their connections. I’m slowly learning to accept that with something like this, it’s almost absolutely necessary or I’ll have a very tough time. I want my work to be so impressive that it doesn’t matter who I know or who knows me. A tall order…I know. At one time, I didn’t believe this was necessary, but then when I look at some of the garbage that has been made and I ask myself, “How in the hell did that even make it past the pitch meeting?” the answer is simple. The screenwriter has a child who knows someone who knows someone who knows someone else who has a child that goes to school with the first one’s kid. Either that or someone was owed a favor. Yep…these are obstacles I have to face as a new screenwriter.

2. Agents are too busy to give my script fair time. I truly don’t blame them for this one, but it can be a kick in the face sometimes, especially when an agency’s workload is more of the reason my script isn’t considered than the quality of my script itself. Sometimes, I’ll get an answer and so far, they’ve all been polite rejections. However, most of the time, I haven’t received anything and I understand that this is pretty common. My only problem with that is that I’ll never know if that agency turned me down because of the quality or their lack of time to be able to take an honest look at it, as I said above. What I need more than anything else is feedback, especially considering that there is so much about this I probably still don’t know and that’s the best way to find out. There just isn’t much time for them to do this. My biggest fear is that I could be making that ONE mistake in my script that’s the instant “script killer” and I’ll never know it without someone telling me. Between a person sending me a video of them tearing up my script, spitting on it and doing all sorts of other inappropriate things with it, along with telling me “not to quit my day job” and to not waste his or her time with garbage like that again and not receiving feedback at all, I’d prefer the video. The difference is that once I lick my wounds, I’ll at least know that my script was the problem, not their lack of time.

3. The cover letter. I know that this comes with the territory. I am just not a salesman. I’ve already done the selling thing 12 years ago when I served as an Army recruiter. Many times, agencies may have just enough time to read a cover letter before requesting your script, if they choose to do so at all. This cover letter is basically a quick snapshot of your script and this is where any selling skills come in handy, if you have them. At one point, I’ll have to summarize my entire script in only a few sentences. Practice helps that part, but more aspects of the cover letter require me to try and sell them on the script, which can be difficult. Not difficult enough for me to quit, but you can understand how that could feel extremely unfair. My selling skills (or lack thereof) have no bearing on what kind of script I can write. When you watch an amazing movie or show, do you really care how the pitch meeting went? Probably not. It’s almost like saying that if you don’t know how to sell cars, then you can’t be a dentist. Can a person be a good dentist even if he or she can’t sell cars? Of course.

4. I have to be original. This isn’t a “con” because I don’t want to be original. People want freshness…I get that. But as a new screenwriter, when I’m beaten up about originality, yet every movie preview I see is a remake of some kind, that just seems a bit unfair. It’s not that I don’t have a desire to be original. It’s just that I’ll have aspects within my scripts that aren’t the most original and in the feedback I have received, they take points off for that. It’s not a good practice to get out there and start copying everything and I understand that. I just don’t get why our standards have to be higher than those in the business already. It’s the concept that once you get a foot in the door, anything goes. I suppose that could be a good thing because then that means the agency is concerned about quality, but is the quality of what’s out really that bad (at times), or is it just me?

5. Screenwriting Contests. Each time I enter, they cost money, and they’re not cheap. It’s difficult because I never know how many other people enter and even if I did, it’s hard to know the mindset of the judges. I mostly enter in the ones where I can receive feedback because that’s what I’m most interested in. On top of that, they have several rounds of judging and they space the announcements of who advances to each new round about a month or two apart each time. I understand that they need the time, but waiting several months just to find out that I didn’t make the cut of one round, especially late into a contest (as just happened to me about two weeks ago…I made it to the semifinal round of one contest and the first round was announced in September I believe; at the time I’m writing, the month is March) can be very discouraging.

If you dare, check out Part Two – The PROS.

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