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Screenwriting Help E-Mail (Previous)

Updated every Monday, one selected e-mail will be posted and answered here each week. With many years of experience in the film and television business, I look forward to providing answers to your questions about screenwriting or the entertainment industry in general.  Please send your e-mailed questions to: Script Advisor.  You may also wish to visit our Screenwriting Help E-Mails - The Archives.

This week's question: 

DcH, I'm getting very perturbed because all these screenwriters are selling their scripts or getting them optioned and they are "assembly line writers," superficial mechanics with no heart or soul, while my work, which is deep and true, keeps going unnoticed.  How should I deal with this?

Linda C.

This week's Answer: 

Living Within Your Own Screenwriter's Skin

Dear, dear, dear Linda, I do empathize with you.  Obviously, you've chosen to be an artiste with integrity and depth.  Good for you.  I applaud you.  Envision yourself in a grand arena, if you will (spoken like Rod Serling), you in the center of it, thousands upon thousands of admirers in the stands cheering wildly for you.  A fanfare plays.  It's your favorite song rendered with trumpets.  You know the words by heart:  "The best things in life are free, but you can keep them for the birds and bees.  I want money.  That's what I want..." The emperor in his royal seat is well pleased.  You  are well pleased.  Everything is right with the world.  You bow graciously to the crowd.  A door in the arena slides open, releasing a large lion, which, before you can even utter, "What the--?!" pounces on you and devours you whole in one swallow.  As you head down the lion's gullet, you can still hear the muffled cheers of the crowd.  Your last seconds are filled with you pondering on how all may be not so right with the world.  The lion sprints back through the tunnel it emerged from.  The door closes on it.  We read the designation on the door:  "Hollywood."

Now that I've indulged myself with my Salvador Dali-esque version of a Roman Empire film, let me just say that it seems you have chosen not be a Hollywood Hack, not that there's anything wrong with being a Hollywood Hack.  Hollywood Hacks make a fine living.  Many of them gave up being artists a long time ago.  They live in their Hollywood Hack Hills Homes, drive their expensive Hollywood Hack cars to Hollywood Hack parties and Hollywood Hack restaurants.  Their conversations are peppered with words like "options," "development deal," and "six figures."  These are the Chosen Ones (they've chosen this life, themselves).  I'm not saying that these Chosen Ones Hollywood Hacks have sold out.  I'd never say that.  Only they would be able to answer that question.  That idea may not even enter their minds.  They may have left their consciences at the base of the Hollywood Hill before they started their climb towards the "Hollywood" sign.  Many of them are not conflicted and are not experiencing an internal, waging war between art and commerce deep in their souls, the only battle they undergo being that of making the difficult decision about whether they should get a red or silver BMW.  Let's not slight them for this; that's not an easy decision.

These sorts are just trying to make it in their own way; there's no reason to slight them.  The Hollywood Machine needs these cogs because without them, its mechanism wouldn't be able run smoothly and churn out the Product.  But let's talk about you, Linda (and anybody else who relates to your situation).  If you have chosen to not be an HH and truly want your screenwriting to stand for something (other than a huge paycheck), then more power to you.  So, I say to you, as it is voiced so clearly in that classic "Amityville Horror," regarding the business of screenwriting in Hollywood... 


Not really.  But, according to your opening statement, you're going to have to make an adjustment to be able to continue your screenwriting career with some poise, if not complete serenity (and don't worry; complete serenity is overrated.  How would you be able to honk at slow or discourteous drivers and shoot scathing looks at cell-phone users who care only about themselves and COULDN'T CARE LESS ABOUT OTHER DRIVERS AND OTHER CELL-PHONE USERS OR NON CELL-PHONE USEERS WHO ARE JUST TRYING TO MAKE A LIVING AND GET BY IN THIS WORLD IN WHICH WE... ?  Sorry.  Now, where was I?  Oh, yes.  Something about making an adjustment.  Well, it seems that what you've fallen into, Linda and others who are in her ballpark, is the dreaded and never comfortable area of comparing yourself to others.  You know that axiom, "Don't compare your insides with somebody else's outsides"?  That's a simple way to remember this important concept.  And, after all, it's not a good idea to do that, anyway.  I mean... think of it:  Your insides:  lungs, heart, kidneys, all those organs and others, being compared to somebody's outside:  his or her flowing hair, tanned, tight abs, and gleaming teeth (sounds like a Hollywood Hack to me) That's definitely apples and oranges.  Or lungs, heart, kidneys, and flowing hair, tanned, tight... Well, you get the picture.  

That kind of thinking is not going to help.  So what if some screenwriter has sold twelve screenplays, eleven options, ten treatments (and a partridge in a pear tree)?  If you think about it, that screenwriter's success has nothing to do with your lack of success.  I mean... that screenwriter's success has nothing to do with your success.  That's what I mean.  So what if you haven't sold anything yet?  If you're writing from the heart then you have to be prepared to sell from the heart (whatever that means.  Although, it does have a kind of ring to it.)  You have to be able to carry through what you started.  It may take time for a producer with heart to find your script with heart that you're selling from the heart.  (Whew!)  So take heart.  (Sorry; just had to say it.)  You're not an assembly line writer.  Be proud of it.  Cherish that you are an artiste (always put an "e" after "artist" when you refer to yourself and you're feeling low and you can't pay your rent.  Just tell your landlord that you are an artiste.  He or she will regard you with much more esteem when he or she writes and you receive the eviction notice that begins with  "Dear Artiste,


So, essentially, if you're going to be able to live in your own screenwriters' skin, you're going to have to find a way to stay on your path without being sidetracked by others' apparent successes.  Yuck!  Screenwriters' skin.  It sounds like a bad, "B" horror flick!  Hey, maybe you could punch it out  in three days and sell it to a cheesy producer who could give you four hundred thou for it so you could finally buy that BMW you've had your eye on.   

But don't start thinking that life is suddenly going to become a cake walk just because you've made your first sale.  You still have tough decisions to make that lie ahead.

Is it going to be red or silver?



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