Monday, June 20, 2016

Lucky Bastard!

Lance is on vacation, so from 2010...

A week ago a friend mentioned that one of the producers of the BOURNE movies has been reading his blog and said “We should find a project to work on together”. Just out of the blue like that! That lucky bastard!

There are hundreds of screenwriting books and dozens of screenwriting classes and seminars and a bunch of websites offering advice and I almost have 400 Script Tips on my site with information on screenwriting... and nothing on luck. Though most of the books and seminars focus on some sort of over-all formula for screenwriting success, there are discussions about characters and stories and concepts and dialogue and actions and all of that writing stuff... and less discussion about hard work and determination and knowledge and skill and perseverance.... and we always seem to avoid talking about talent (because that can get personal, as in “what your writing lacks is talent” and “the reason why you have yet to succeed is that you have no talent” which often leads to that big question I ask myself daily, “What if I don’t have any talent?”), but we **never** talk about luck. Never.

But luck is just as much a requirement for success in screenwriting as great characters and talent. Maybe even more important than either.

The problem is - luck is even more frightening than talent. Sure, it may be that you are either born with talent or born without talent... but we are in even less control when it comes to luck. You can be on top of the world and then have a change in luck. You can have a run of bad luck. Luck can change. You can lose your luck. Luck can just screw with you. In fact, one of the reasons we don’t talk about luck is because the moment we say we have good luck, our luck changes to bad.

We can have everything else going for us, and luck might pass us by...

Both Mark Twain and Douglas MacArthur said that luck favors the prepared man (or woman) (or typing chicken). In some Script Tip, or maybe here on the blog, I have probably mentioned the time I was walking down a hotel hallways during an event, recognized a producer, ran out to my car and grabbed a script from that box of scripts I keep in the trunk, and ran up... hoping that he was still somewhere in that hallway. He was, he ended up taking my script, it got good coverage and he ended up having a meeting with me that led to the sale of that script. How lucky can you get!

But you may have also been at that event and also passed that producer in the hotel hallway... yet I was the lucky one who sold him a script.

The luck part of that was that he and I were in the same hallway... yet even that is less than luck because it was an event we were both attending. The real luck in this case - when I ran back from my car, he was still in the hallway. He could easily have gone into some room or down the elevator or up the elevator in the time it took me to run to my car and back. In fact, it’s kind of a miracle that he was still there - and that’s the luck part. But if you or someone else in that hallway had run to your car, he would have been there for you, too. So it wasn’t just luck that looked favorably on me, it could have looked favorable on you or anyone else in that hallway as well. The reason why it was only me who got lucky that day? I was prepared. I knew what the producer looked like - everyone else was just walking past him, unaware that he was a producer. Maybe he was just there to teach classes or sell something? I knew what he looked like... which isn’t luck. I ran to my car and popped the trunk, where I keep a box of script copies. And that isn’t luck either. The reason why that box of script copies is in the trunk of my car? Well, the numerous times I didn’t have a script copy when something like this happened. It took me several times to learn that a box of scripts back there with the spare tire was a good idea. There is a *selection* of scripts in that box, and I took a precious second to pick the one I thought this producer might like. The hard part for me was actually talking to the producer - I am scared and shy by nature. But nobody else was bothering him, so just recognizing that he was a producer and saying hello was enough to get a conversation started. Then *he asked me* about the script in my hands! Hey, maybe that’s luck, too - but I don’t think so. After being rejected on a daily basis, it’s easy to forget that a producer’s job is to buy (or develop) screenplays from writers. I had in my hands the thing he needs. He asked if he could read it, I gave it to him. Then, it was up to the screenplay... again, not a luck element.

JUST MY LUCK!


Now, you may think I’m lucky - and that this lucky streak is why I have a career. If you could only have had the lucky breaks that I have had! Okay, that’s a fair thing to think - I’m thinking my buddy with the new BOURNE connection got a lucky break, and in my evil jealous mind I probably think he doesn’t deserve that lucky break as much as I do... except that “lucky break” came from his hard work on his film biz related blog and his hard work in the film biz. The producer didn’t start reading his blog on a whim, he read the blog because it had substance. This lucky bastard friend of mine worked his butt off to advance his career... and even without this bit of luck, his career was moving right along. This bit of luck might help him move a little faster, now - but he wasn’t just standing there waiting for luck to find him - he was DOING SOMETHING.

I believe that I have more than my share of bad luck. Did I even tell you about TREACHEROUS? Okay, I write this script and after pounding on hundreds of doors get someone to read it, and then I have three people reading it, and one makes an offer. A low budget company. But here’s where things get lucky, kind of: the low budget company takes the script to Hemdale (PLATOON) who wants to make it... except my contract pays me the same whether it’s a theatrical or a direct to video movie. Mickey Rourke (when he was a star) signs to play the lead and I do a (free) rewrite to change the lead character to a boxer. Brian Dennehy is going to play the sidekick. Things are moving along, and even though I’m being paid crap - I have a theatrical film from an Oscar winning company. Then Hemdale goes bankrupt! One too many expensive art house films. And my script is dead - Rourke and Dennehy split. But the producer has some connection at Universal home video, and they read the script and like it and want to make it. A new cast is set up at Universal, Rutger Hauer in the lead. Then, the Universal executive dies in a plane crash. The project dies with him - his replacement doesn’t want to make any of the movies he was going to make. (I realize my project being shelved is nothing compared to the loss of his life, and the loss his family must have felt.) Once again the cast leaves and the producer has only the screenplay. He likes the script, and continues to try and get it set up somewhere... and gets it to ITC - a company that used to make TV shows, but now sells the rerun rights to those TV shows. They have been talking to both Cinemax and 20th Century Fox Home Video about projects, and think my script would be a good match for everyone... and set it up as a Cinemax Original Movie with Fox getting home video. And Adam Baldwin and Tia Carrere and C. Thomas Howell are cast... and the film actually gets made! But the director does a page one rewrite and it is nothing like my original screenplay. And it sucks. And the guy from ITC calls me (this is a miracle, by the way) and warns me about the film before the premiere. And the film completely sucks - and they mis-spell my name in the credits (probably a blessing) and that, folks, is my luck in a nut shell! Almost 2 years between initial sale and screening - and that money had been spent long ago by the time I saw the film.

Some of you may have seen a couple of films with my name on them, thought they sucked big time, and think I must be the luckiest guy on earth to still have a career. You and me both! But somewhere along the line I have realized that it is not all luck - and since there is a major string of bad luck for every little bit of good luck that comes my way, I figure there’s some of that perseverance and determination and hard work and maybe even a hint of talent involved in my 20 years making a living putting words in actor’s mouths. I have no agent, no manager, and no real connections. And 15 years ago when I had a couple of back-to-back lucky years where I had *three* scripts go to screen... they were all sold to different companies! So *different* producers all seemed to think those scripts were okay. Though there’s always some luck involved in every deal - the right script the right place the right time, or maybe my query letter arrived on the day they were looking for scripts - once that lucky break opens whatever door, the script still has to be something they want to spend the money to make.

I must be doing something right, it can’t all be lucky breaks.

ALL GOOD LUCK


Just as I believe my luck is mostly the bad kind - I don’t think I’ve ever had a script that was an easy delivery to the screen - I know a guy with amazing luck. He completely lucked into his first script job - he knew some people who needed a script and convinced them to pay him to write it (even though he had never written a script before). He wrote a script, it was not good, they brought in a guy to rewrite it, the rewrite guy did not get credit... and now this guy gets called in sometimes based on that script that he didn’t really write. He got an agent, and has been paid for a few assignments... but it always reaches the point where he delivers a draft, they read it... and think the writing sucks. He’s a friend of a friend, and at one point I suggested he secretly take some screenwriting classes and read a stack of basic screenwriting books and learn how to write a screenplay - but he told me that part didn’t matter as long as people were still hiring him to write scripts and do rewrites. Well, they aren’t anymore, and his agent dumped him, and I’m guessing that the word is out that he is not a good writer. He was depending on luck - depending that he would get hired based on the film and not his writing - and that luck has now dried up. He keeps making his rounds, trying to get hired, and nothing happens at all. He thought because he had a run of good luck that all he ever needed was luck - but the truth is you need to be that prepared man (or woman) (or typing chicken).

What I find interesting about this guy is that he is still not cracking a book or doing anything to improve his craft, nor is he writing spec scripts. Because luck is what got him in, he seems to be focusing on regaining his luck somehow. Though I don’t think you can run out of luck - if you had some lucky break and screwed it up (I’m the king of this) there will eventually be some other lucky break in your future. Just try not to screw that one up, too (I am the king of this). But even if this guy’s luck turns around, he is doing nothing to be prepared this time around. That door might open and he won’t have the script that will keep them from slamming the door on his leg. You can’t depend only on lucky breaks.

Another guy on a message board seemed to have a lucky break, and went from guy with an interesting background to a guy hired by a producer to write a screenplay about his interesting background. The problem is, once he has written that screenplay, what’s next? Right now he is getting a ton of meetings because his project is pretty high profile, but that will not last forever. Even though he is flavor of the month, the month will soon be over... and then where will he be? This is a type of luck - you get that break where suddenly everyone wants to meet with you, but if you are not prepared for that lucky break it will fizzle out. If all you have is one story, or even a couple of stories, those will soon be gone and you will have no stories. A guy who was involved in a big story in Iraq is someone everyone in town wants to meet with, but what happens after he’s had all of those meetings? What happens when he sets up his one or two stories... and what happens when Iraq is old news and no one wants to make any movies about it? The key is to be ready for your luck to change for the worst, and still have the hard work and determination and enough scripts about enough subjects to continue your career.

If you depend on luck, you are depending on something you do not control... and soon that luck will burn itself out and you’ll only have whatever *you* bring to the equation. You need hard work, you need determination, you need all of those other things in addition to luck. When luck leaves you, you need to still be able to pound out a great script that people will want to buy. If you end up writing a stack of scripts while waiting for your luck to change, you will be prepared when it does.

HOW TO BE LUCKY!


She will hate me for mentioning this, but Bamboo Killer Emily quipped on a message board that she makes her own luck. What balls she has! And... haven’t I heard that line in a movie before? But even though I don’t think you can actually make luck, I do believe if you hide from luck it will never find you... and Emily goes out looking for luck. She meets luck halfway. I knew Emily only as a name on some messageboard... until she e-mailed me and asked if I needed any help at Screenwriting Expo. She was volunteering to be my assistant for the Expo. And I needed an assistant and said yes. That is a great example of getting yourself out there where luck can find you (though, as she learned, I can do nothing for anyone’s career - so ask a *producer* if they need an assistant at Expo). Most writers want to hide out in their offices and just write, I know I do. But that is a sure fire way *not* to meet that producer in the event’s hotel hallway and be able to run to the car for a script copy. You have to meet luck halfway, and that is part of the prepared part. If there is someplace where people who can help your career are going to be, you need to be there, too. I’ve got a Script Tip and there’s more on the Guerrilla Marketing CD about things like going to local Film Festivals to meet producers and directors and even people in your hometown who make films - that’s part of finding luck. Getting yourself out there.

Another part of finding luck is that prepared part. Write scripts. Rewrite those scripts until they are great. Have a selection of scripts. Have scripts that are marketable (in that they are in a popular genre and interesting and the kind of movies producers seem to be making these days). Have scripts with great star roles that actors will want to play. Know who people are. Have a plan for your career - so that when someone asks you what you want or what’s next for you, there’s an answer (not just a glassy eyed dull stare). Always be prepared.

Most people who seem lucky are really just *ready* for when luck finds them. It’s not so much that the door of luck opens for them, it’s that they are ready to step through that door when it does open. We can’t depend on the luck part or create the luck part - we *can* meet it halfway and we *can* be ready for luck to find us. Hiding doesn't help, so get yourself out there in the world! And have a script or two in the trunk of your car! All of that brings us back to the hard work and determination and all of that other stuff that we can control. The stuff we usually talk about.

So, do you feel lucky, punk? Well, do you?

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Character In Conflict - Rocky doesn't start as the champ, does he?
Dinner: Pizza.
Pages: Nothing - called for jury duty and had to wait to be not chosen.
Bicycle: Yes - cycled to Burbank courthouse and back.

5 comments:

Todd said...

I feel lucky just reading that. Great stuff

mrswing said...

I know what you're thinking, did he write five scripts or six? :-)

What's the link to your buddy's blog? I'd like to take a look at it myself.

rich said...

Good stuff. And you've convinced me on something I've been on the fence about. (No, not that...I still haven't decided on the sex change operation.)

By the way, I've always liked William Goldman's anecdote about how he lucked into the movie business (Cliff Robertson thought his novel was a treatment), but Goldman didn't just sit on his luck. He wrote and wrote...

Rich (HH)

Ed L said...

Thanks for another great article. Luck evens out in the long term, leaving minor things like talent & application & persistence to make the difference. It's the same in poker, investing, most things :)

christopher chance said...

Hi Bill,
I enjoyed this because it kind of underlines a few things for me. I had a script optioned and another earmarked as the sequel. The producer tells me it should go into production in Sept.
When it was first optioned the producer told me to be ready with new spec scripts because when it is screened people will want to know what else I have. So now I am preparing for luck to happen. Hopefully, it will be good rather than bad. My agent told me to forget about pitching what I already have and build a portfolio of specs in readiness for the possible lucky breaks.
Best,
Chris Chance.

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