Los Angeles Chapter  California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists

Los Angeles Chapter — CAMFT

LA-CAMFT Member Article

02/28/2022 12:00 PM | Mike Johnsen (Administrator)

David Silverman,

Zen And the Stages of Screenwriting Growth: Journeyman Writer, Stage 3

While some writers at the “intermediate” level do get their first breaks, others will take a bit longer. There are some screenwriting skills that are not easily taught, and some lucky writers pick up on them as if by osmosis—while others continue writing without even knowing what they are.

“Story sense” gets better with time, but we don’t know exactly how. It takes certain objectivity. We all fall in love with our story ideas. How many of us can sift through our best ideas and focus on the ones that will generate the most interest, and that have the most commercial potential? How can we really be sure about any of it? We can't.

In today’s filmmaking climate—high budget films—period pieces, science fiction, westerns and historical dramas are expensive films to make. Studios are willing to spend big money on high budget films based on comic books, graphic novels, plays and best-sellers, but not so much on original screenplays.

Write lower budget films. Stick with current-day romantic comedies, horror, suspense with fewer locations and characters. You’ll improve your odds of selling.

Your odds are also clearly better in TV. It doesn’t cost sixty million to make a TV episode.

Screenwriters at this stage tend to be more aware of commercial trends. The ability to choose a story that grabs people from the pitch, or the tag line is also kind of an unteachable skill. Unique high concepts stories are not that easy to come up with.

Look at the 2016 Oscar nominated science fiction film, “Arrival.” In this film we learn that when aliens arrive, they can bring out our paranormal abilities. How cool is that? What a great idea for a film. It’s got a big original idea, and it’s unexpected. And to top it off --the execution was phenomenal.

It takes a huge constellation of skills to write a successful screenplay. You need to master dialogue, scene construction, pacing, outlining, plotting, creating unforgettable characters, allowing them to grow, focusing on theme, demonstrating premise, and more than anything else—you need to write entertaining material.

All these skills must improve as writers move into the next stage – I call it “the journeyman stage.” The term journeyman brings to mind a worker with solid skills that is on his or her way to becoming outstanding—but is still considered "good enough."

With more confidence, writers at this stage are able to take more chances with they’re screenwriting. They begin to trust their instincts, and to create more original work. They loosen up, and write stories that feel more organic, and less forced into structure. They start to get what pacing and flow are about.

They focus on their weaknesses, learn and practice, and bring their craft up to the next level. They adopt a mindset of “I will always keep learning.” They learn how to write characters that all feel three-dimensional.

Screenwriters at this level learn how to bring characters to life more quickly, and more fully, and allow them to grow naturally through conflict. They also learn how to give even some smaller roles character arcs, so they’re all learning and changing. They get really good at setting up turning points, act breaks, and plot twists without being obvious about it.

These writers will often get a screenwriting job without an agent, through networking, or by posting their work on a website like Inktip.Com or The Blacklist. They will place highly in screenwriting contests, they’ll blog about their projects, or their careers, and stir up their own buzz.

They make smart career moves like working as a writer's assistant. They get assignments writing animation, music videos, or industrial films. They get involved in writing and producing a web series. They may get a job writing for, or rewriting a low budget independent film. They may raise their own money and finance their own film.

They develop a "portfolio" of screenplays that get good responses from other writer friends or producers. If they're smart they've discovered a genre they excel at. If they're interested in writing for TV, they've written a few TV pilots, and some solid spec scripts for the best (Emmy nominated) shows on TV.

Some journeyman writers are so good they'll start getting agents, or managers or both. They will get meetings with producers where they’ll get formal feedback on their ideas and scripts. You might as well know, the feedback never stops in this business. The higher up you get, they call it “notes.” “We just have a few notes,"—you’ll hear that a lot. You might as well get used to it.

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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