Los Angeles Chapter — California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists
Los Angeles Chapter — CAMFT
Zen And the Stages of Screenwriting Growth: Professional Level, Stage 4
Anyone who takes a serious interest in writing for film ultimately wants to make it as a professional screenwriter. It’s the goal of hundreds of thousands of writers all over the world every year who feel their writing is good enough—or funny, or dramatic, or entertaining enough that they’ll be able to beat the incredible odds.
Let’s see if I can characterize what it means to be a professional writer in Hollywood.
At this stage, screenwriters are selling scripts—or at least options—and on a regular basis. This could mean selling a script a year, or every three—or five years, it depends.
During a typical week, professional writers are spending many, many hours writing, coming up with movie ideas, juggling projects—and possibly even shooting their own films. They're taking lots of meetings with producers, and studio execs. They’re constantly pitching movie ideas and hustling to sell scripts they’ve written on speculation.
Working writers count on the paychecks they get from writing to pay the bills. Writing is a business to them.
When hired, they go over their contracts, and –more importantly their agents or lawyers do as well. Someone is negotiating on their behalf to get them the best deal possible.
These screenwriters always handle themselves professionally when interacting with agents, producers, directors, and actors.
They treat other professionals in town with respect. They seriously consider the feedback they get on their scripts. Writers at this stage realize that if they don’t address notes, they can easily be replaced by another writer who will.
While they have their favorite genres, and preferences about what they'd like to write, or what they’d “never write”—they know they can't afford to be that selective. They learn to stretch and write different genres. On the other hand, if they know they can't write something well, they will be honest about it. Nobody wants to turn in a bad script and ruin their reputation.
When they get notes—notes they may not even agree with—they are often very gifted at presenting a logical argument as to why they won’t work. However, most of the time they try to figure out a way to address the notes—not just pay lip service to them—but to address them in strong dramatic terms.
Writers at this stage are thinking that they want to stay with the project as long as possible.
They understand there will be many rewrites—and that it’s to their advantage from a financial point of view—and to maintain a writing credit—to keep their producers happy.
Writers who learn this lesson go on to longer and more successful careers. They become friends with the studio execs (if that’s even possible). They get reputations for being civil. Writers who fight with their bosses get a reputation for being “trouble,” and will get fewer and fewer opportunities.
Early in a screenwriter’s career they are able to hole up in their offices and enjoy the process of creating “passion projects.” They have the luxury of time to spend countless hours perfecting their visions. However, they’re insulated from the realities of having to market their work.
Working screenwriters don’t have to give that up completely. They can still enjoy crafting screenplays on speculation from the “high castle’ where they do their best work. In general, however, their mindsets are closer to creating commercial screenplays that will sell.
With experience, working writers get used to producers who say they need the draft “next week.” They get used to rewriting whole sections of their screenplays. They learn to deal with the truly difficult studio notes which blow up their story, and require page one rewrites.
When success comes at this level—it’s the best.
You get the big paychecks, the office on the lot; you can go on set and schmooze with big stars and directors. Everyone you know who sees your film is excited for you. Your phone is always ringing. You get invited to the cool parties.
The smarter successful writers will continue to grow as artists—that part of the process never ends. They’ll always gain new insights, and continue learning from their colleagues. At this point they also pay close attention to what’s commercially viable. They pay attention to changing tastes and trends in Hollywood, and adapt accordingly.
The writing itself improves—they rely on fewer “familiar” plot twists, characters and character arcs—and favor more original approaches. Writers tend to write better when working with the best actors and directors. With luck and hard work, they’ll get a well-deserved reputation for being a “go-to” writer in town.
Some successful writers make lots of money and write some excellent scripts, but then stop growing, feeling they’ve “arrived.”
Be careful about adopting that attitude—stay hungry, and never stop learning. All it takes is one bump in the road career-wise, and you can get lost in the screenwriting treadmill. Some writers will become the "flavor of the month," only to be replaced by younger writers with more "heat."
And some professional’s screenplays will get produced, but fizzle at the box office.
The professional writer is resilient—they understand there will be times in their career they’ll need to reinvent themselves, or fall by the wayside. Some will be able to write themselves out of their holes, and some won't. Often, the deciding factor is luck.
David Silverman, LMFT, treats anxiety and depression, especially in highly sensitive individuals in his LA practice. Having experienced the rejection, stress, creative blocks, paralyzing perfectionism, and career reversals over a 25 year career as a Film/TV writer, he’s uniquely suited to work with gifted, creative, and sensitive clients experiencing anxiety, depression, and addiction. David received training at Stanford and Antioch, is fully EMDR certified, and works with programs treating Victims of Crime and Problem Gamblers. Visit www.DavidSilvermanLMFT.com.
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