Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Film Courage Plus: You Need To Keep Writing!

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015. There were something like 12 segments from 2014, and probably around 24 segments for 2015... and that's around 36 segments total. That's almost a year's worth of material! So why not add a new craft article and make it a weekly blog entry? All I have to do is write that new article, right?

You have to keep writing after making a sale!



Welcome To Your New Day Job!

The good news is that you just sold a screenplay or landed an assignment or had a screenplay go out wide - you’re in the business, baby! You can quit that awful day job you have struggled with and finally have time to write full time!

Except for one small problem...

You have a new day job. All of the business bullcrap of being a professional screenwriter. If you think you are now a full time writer, think again! One of the things that happens when you have a script go out wide or sell is that everyone in town wants to meet with you. When I had scripts go to 50 studio based producers, I usually ended up with around 48 meetings and at 2-3 meetings a day that is a full month of your time driving from one studio to another... and you will never have all of your meetings on the same lot! My meetings were always on 3 different sides of town with insane traffic between them. One meeting I was late for because I blew a tire on the freeway and ended up dirty and frazzled when I finally got there. Great first impression!

And no writing got done when I was doing all of those endless meetings. I *wanted* to write, but at the end of the day I was just too tired.

But after that month, you are free to write, right?

Nope. One of the side effects of meetings is the “busy work” of “pitching your take” on projects. Out of those 48 meetings, none of them bought me screenplay but many of them had writing jobs they thought I might be a good fit for - so they gave me books and magazine articles and all kinds of other stuff to read and then return with my take on. Of course, I wasn’t the only one doing this - every writer they had met with over the past few weeks was reading the same book and pitching their take. But you end up spending a lot of time doing this... when you should be writing.

Meetings becomes your full time job, and you have to squeeze in writing in whatever spare time you have left over. It’s like you are back to having a day job!

But here’s the problem: Once you get done with all of the meetings and the meetings generated by the meetings? You need a new script in order to get new meetings. The hope is that one of these scripts sells or one of your takes gets you an assignment. But you need a constant supply of new screenplays.

One of the things I learned the hard way was that it’s a good idea to have a stockpile of scripts ready to go. Though I had a bunch of scripts written, most of them needed some rewrite work to match them with the current market... and that slowed things down a little. The more prepared you are for that big break, the better you can handle it. And you will need to adjust from writing in your spare time with your old day job to writing in your spare time with your new day job... and getting pages done!

Your career is going to be like a treadmill where you need to keep running!

ONE FOR ME

But what if your script sells or lands you and assignment? Will you still need to do all of those meetings?

Yes. That’s part of the problem: you will need to strike while the iron is hot. It’s common for a screenwriter to do all of those meetings for the next gig while you are supposed to be writing the assignment you were just paid for. It’s common to “stack” assignments - use the heat from one job as bait to get other jobs and end up with two or three assignments with similar deadlines.... and now all you have to do is write them all! I once ended up with walking pneumonia because I was working non-stop on a couple of different screenplays that were going into production. A man’s gotta know his limitations - and I learned where mine are!

Your so called career will always be about the next script and the next gig. But even if you land an assignment, you will need to figure out how to squeeze in a new spec script so that you can do the next round of meetings and land your next assignment - because once you finish that assignment you are unemployed! One of the things I did on assignments was treat everything as “one for them, one for me” - I would make sure that I had enough time and made enough money to write a spec script that I could send out as bait for new assignments (or maybe even sell). Even in the years where I had three scripts go to screen (the mid 90s were very very good to me), and all of the rewriting on those three projects; I made sure to write 2-3 scripts a year for myself. So I wrote 5-6 scripts a year, 3 of them got made and went through all of the hell of rewrites. But I had new scripts to recharge my career if need be... and it often did. You are always breaking in!

One of the problems with those extremely low budget gigs that you see on places like Ink Tip is that you can’t earn enough money to pay for the time to write that one for me script, and it’s like the treadmill moving faster and faster. So part of every script deal you make needs to include some plan on your part for writing a new spec script. If you take one of thise low pay gigs, you need to make sure you are paid enough to write a one for you. That probably means asking for more money, but if that ends up a deal breaker: “Reading Periods” can be the answer.

One of the wacky things with assignment contracts is that they spell out how much time you have to write each draft, and how much time the production company has to read the screenplay and give you notes before the next draft. Now, *you* must turn in your draft on time... but they often screw up when it comes to the reading period. It might be 2 weeks in the contract... and end up a month! Hurry up and wait! But that 2 weeks which may end up a month? That’s the one for you. When I was having three scripts filmed a year, if they weren’t all happening at the same time, I would use the reading period to work on my own project. A great “palate cleanser”, and I would end up with some work done on the “one for me” script.

The important thing is not to get so tied up with *their* project that you neglect *your* project. I don’t expect you to have three projects going a year for a few years like I did... but that *could happen*!

CELEBRATE GOOD TIMES!

There is a tendency when you sell a script or land an assignment to relax. I think in another of the Film Courage interviews I talk about selling COURTING DEATH to the company with the deal at Paramount and then holing up in my apartment and just leisurely writing - living the dream! But the problem became that after my 2 years of money was gone, I had some new scripts but had done nothing to network or get those scripts to market... and had to scramble to find a deal. I know some people who didn’t even write new scripts... and were in real trouble! You have to keep generating material, even after you are “successful”. Every month there is a new “flavor of the month”.

Here’s the problem with waiting until you *need* a gig to write a bunch of new screenplays - you will be writing from desperation. Instead of having fun writing your spec scripts, you will be trying so hard to make this the one that will start the deals and meetings happening again that the script will suck. I have a friend on FaceBook who has been single for a long time and is at the point of begging women to date him. Do I have to tell you that doesn’t work? Well, it doesn’t work with screenplays either - they can read in your writing that you are trying desperately to make a deal. You want your scripts to be so cool they think they don’t have a chance to date them, not so desperate and needy that they are the nightmare date. So don’t wait until the last minute! Make sure writing new screenplays is part of your “business plan” and included in writing those assignments!

You can have a sale or assignment and think that you have “made it” and can take it easy for a while... but you can’t! You have to keep writing, keep generating new material, and keep getting that material out there in the world so that when this deal has run its course you have a new one waiting. Yes, take a vacation... but that’s a week or two, right? Taking a vacation for a month or six months is probably a mistake. When you are not on vacation, you need to be working! This is a career - a marathon rather than a sprint. You need to always be writing new screenplays... even when you think you have “made it”. The problem with being a freelance writer is that once you have sold a screenplay or completed and assignment... you are unemployed! You will always be looking for work. Which means you will always be working.

Make sure you have a plan to keep writing scripts after you have landed a gig!

Good luck and keep writing!

- Bill

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