As an aspiring professional screenwriter, I’ve read a LOT of articles in the past few years. One type I’ve read very often deals with the type of scripts we are encouraged to write. On many occasions, I’ve noticed that the sentiment is about the same. The implication is to “write scripts that will attract professional actors/actresses.” Also to “write roles in which professional actors/actresses will want to play.”
Here’s the thing. Those who have written these articles were NOT actors. This only includes the articles I’ve read, so this is not to say articles of this type do not exist; I just haven’t yet seen them. Now I understand that it’s possible those who have written these articles may be well-enough connected to the business to where they may be able to share valid opinions and insight. So this is not to put them down or to say that these articles are not important.
However, it still nags at me that someone is attempting to tell me to write scripts and with characters who will impress actors and actresses, but who is not an actor or actress him or herself.
Why does that matter to me?
It’s more than okay to encourage me to write what will impress an actor. That only makes sense. With all the steps involved, if the actor is not impressed, that DOES make a difference and could prevent the entire project from moving forward.
But respectfully, how exactly would someone who is NOT an actor know what will impress him or her?
I’m not speaking in general terms. Certainly there are always those “do” and “do not” lists that could possibly apply somewhat across the board as far as most actors and actresses go.
But I mean specifically. What is impressive or not from one actor to the next?
Respectfully, I often feel these articles look at actors in general. I prefer to look at them as individuals.
Despite advice to the contrary, here is why I prefer to reach out to certain professional actors and actresses involving my work.
First off, I understand about agents and managers. I know that to reach out to directly to actors and speak about scripts is risky, but I’m well-aware of how it works and that they most often have to go through an agent or a manager. This is in NO way to disrespect that part of the process.
However, I think the risk is worth it to learn about the actor him or herself and not to get a secondhand account of what might impress them. It doesn’t matter how much of an expert one claims to be; if you are not an actor or actress, you can only speak to a certain extent about what will impress them or not. Only they know.
This matters to me because every actor is different. They are at different points in their careers. What impresses one actor may not impress another. One may be looking to try different roles as another may have found success playing roles that are similar. One may have a lot of insight as far as the writing of scripts is concerned while another may not.
To add to that, let’s say I’m fortunate enough to get my work to a professional actor or actress. Obviously, I would like for him or her to be impressed. But unless we’re on speaking terms to that extent or even really an extent at all, what are the odds that upon turning down the script, I’ll be given an explanation as to why? Not by means of harassing the actor, but just to gain insight on how I can improve it.
Concerning how risky this is and considering that professional actors more often than not are against speaking directly to a writer about a script without an agent or manager involved (and this is to protect them and me as the writer, so I do understand this), there just may not be a ton of time for him or her to really talk to me about how I can improve the script or to give me detailed feedback. Add that to the fact that they may be actively working, seeking work, or yeah…living life. They do have those as well. My work will NOT be moved to the top of their lists or be the ONLY thing they have going. So it may not be a huge shock to receive a blunt “Thanks, but no thanks” with not much to follow.
As far as a “yes” goes, don’t get me wrong; I’m not lacking confidence. But I haven’t wrapped my mind around the thought of a professional actor or actress saying that to me just yet. So I’ll save that one for now.
I will admit that I have been fortunate so far in that several actors have responded to me very kindly and were not scared away about me speaking of my scripts. One of my favorite actresses even shocked me recently and gave me permission to send my latest script to her assistant to give to her at her convenience. I’m still sort of floating about that one. But everything I spoke about above is not lost on me because of this. My utmost respect for the process is still there.
You may be thinking, why risk reaching out to a professional actor if I know ahead of time that there’s a pretty good chance they will not speak to me, especially about a script? Yes, many celebrities have policies against speaking directly to fans individually and this is another one I completely understand. The reason is because there are those fans who like to stalk, of course, but then some don’t respect an actor’s time, boundaries, or even the actor him or herself. They do need to be protected as well, so it may be simpler and better for them to just keep a little distance from fans and speak only to us generally as a whole. I get that.
But the task of becoming a professional screenwriter is not easy. Risks will need to be taken in order for me to be successful at this. I feel this is a risk worth taking. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the actor and what he or she does. I would rather take a chance and reach out to an actor, getting no response 9 out of 10 times than to write scripts hoping to reach whatever actor, having no earthly idea what they are looking for.
Besides, if the actor turns down my script for whatever reason, how will I know if the declining is because the script is lousy, or if it’s just something not suited for them? An actor says “no,” so naturally, I’m either going to think my script may be decent and/or workable, but just not for that particular actor…OR, I will think the actor feels the script is hot garbage and I’ll want to douse it with gasoline, set it on fire and never speak of the disaster again in life. It’s anybody’s guess as to how I will feel from one day to the next.
I just feel it’s more fair and important to find out from the actor themselves as to what will or will not impress them about any of my scripts, or just about scripts in general. Some may decline accepting a script from me (as one actress politely did so with me this morning), but will have no problem at all talking to me about writing or encouraging me (as again, this actress did as well.) This may also help them to appreciate my efforts and be willing to work with me a little more, even if my script isn’t to his or her liking. Or they may provide the torch, but either way, I don’t feel it is “extra” effort to do things this way, even if it means more often than not, I won’t have the best of luck with this.
I look at it this way: Let’s say I walk into a room with 20 actors. Since I like to write scripts with female leads, let’s say 15 female to 5 male, just for more specificity, even though it doesn’t necessarily matter. Now if I spoke to them all together and said, “Hello, everyone. My name is Robert I am a screenwriter. I’ve written a script here about…” and then I sit it on a table in the middle of the room, I have a feeling that they’re not exactly going to push and shove their way to get to it. I’m not speaking specifically TO anyone, but everyone in general, so that may not even be enough to grab them. Some may have already have scripts they’re looking to read, some may be actively working, others may be dead set against reading from new writers, and so on. If I walk out of the room and come back, if the script is still sitting there, but the actors are not, I will have no idea why the script was left there. I will sit there and wonder, Was it bad? Did any of them read it? Did someone like it? Did anyone forget it was there? Was someone impressed enough with it, but just didn’t have time to do more? Should I not quit my day job? Yes…confident, I definitely am. But this is what comes with uncertainty.
However, if I go to each actor or actress individually and say the same thing, it’s a LOT riskier. It would feel a lot colder if I were turned down at that point, but at least I’d get a direct answer in most cases. Some may just look the other way. A few may tell me that they don’t read from new writers or without agent/managers and so on. And a host of other reasons.
OR…I may reach that one or maybe two who will appreciate that I came and spoke to them directly to find out specifically what THEY are looking for in a script, despite what they may think of the script itself. This is something I feel I may not get if I just drop the script on the table. Also, this person may be more willing to talk to me a bit about why they did or didn’t like the script, in which case, I will be more than happy to listen, because after all, it’s not something they had to do.
For those who are close to this and know what I’m speaking about, I don’t blame you if you thought I was crazy and if this doesn’t make sense to you at all. But I feel like I have to do things this way. I feel like I owe it to the actors to not generalize when trying to understand what they’re looking for. After all, if they are impressed, this means work for them. I should put a little more effort into things than to just guess and/or generalize.
Most importantly, I owe it to myself to not just spend tons of time writing a script, having absolutely NO idea who I’m trying to get it to. That’s like driving on the interstate having NO idea where to go or which exit to take. Granted, it will be risky to take the exits I THINK are correct, but you know what? At least that will tell me for sure if I’m headed in the right direction.
I know I will not be guessing, even if I do get it wrong several times. Again, that’s the risk I am willing to take to make this dream happen.
Nobody said it would be easy.