Last week, I went to a panel called “The Writer’s Hustle” at the Nashville Film Festival. I thought I would share the wisdom that was bestowed upon us.
- Shakespeare stole all of his stories. It’s how he told the stories that made him a legend. Our culture is built around “sharing” or “stealing” so don’t be afraid to take something and make it your own.
- Be very careful if someone says “it doesn’t jump off the page”. Many scripts that have gone on to make incredible movies did not “jump off the page”. One panelist had a sci-fi script that received this sort of feedback. He read the script for “A Clockwork Orange” since it was similar. The script for “A Clockwork Orange” did not jump off the page as a script, but the movie was incredible.
- Pitch people your story before you write to see if they genuinely like it. People in the industry, people outside the industry, everyone. Watch them closely, make sure they are genuinely excited about it. If they ask you a lot of questions about it, that usually means they are very interested.
- Will Akers (screenwriting instructor) said he often tells his students “less detail”. Many writers will get too caught up in description, telling you about every single part of the scenery. It is unnecessary, don’t get too bogged down in detail.
- Don’t ever try to guess what will sell. Chances are, your script won’t get made so have fun with it. What always sells is a great story and great characters.
- A lot of people don’t know what type of film they want. Don’t try to chase what they want, it’s impossible. No one knows what they want until they see it.
- If you can make people laugh or cry from reading your script, you’ve got something.
- Always listen to people who give you notes, even if you don’t agree. Write them down, don’t argue with them at all. If you do, they will stop giving you notes.
- You need an agent, sad to say, in order to really progress things. One of the panelists had 11 agents over the course of his career. He only ever got agents through friends. You telling someone how great your script is doesn’t carry the same weight as it does if a friend tells a friend.
- Agents react to heat. You have to provide the heat yourself, though. Once the script is written, you need to build a tribe around it.
- Winning a writing contest will make it easier to get an agent or to get the screenplay read, but that’s about it. We are selling ideas and ideas need to be marketed. Winning awards make it easier for people to sell you. You can name drop it in a query letter, which could help a bit.
- Scripts can act like a calling card to get noticed, even if it doesn’t get made.
- You can’t get stuck on one single script, you have to continue to work.
- Don’t agree to do something as a writer and back out. One of the panelists had a co-writer who backed out of one of their projects and it was a nightmare. If you back out of what you say you will do, that will burn bridges very easily.
- Make sure that people who finance your film have financed a film before. A panelist had a film that was backed by people who were not in the film industry and they ran out of money half-way, not to mention disagreed over a lot of very rudimentary things.
- The downside of being a writer/director/producer is there is no one there to tell you it sucks. You need to have people who will be honest with you but don’t have an agenda.
- Failure is an extremely important thing to go through. That’s where you truly learn lessons in this trade.
- If you can finance your script and shoot it yourself, do it. Try and make several shorts before jumping into a feature.
- It helps if you are prepared to sleep on floors, to not have money for a while. This will make it easier for you to succeed.
- You’re going to come up against a lot of politics in this business. Producers will want to change things. Investors will want to change things. Actors especially will come up to you on set wanting to change things. Be prepared for this.
- One of the screenwriter’s shared a story where a producer wanted to turn his screenplay into a film. The screenwriter wouldn’t make the film unless he could also direct it, however. The film never got made, and now, that script is sitting on his shelf. If someone wants to make your script, let them. Don’t hold onto it because you want it to be perfect.
- When you’re at the start of your screenwriting career, play ball. Play the game. You will get ahead a lot faster.
- The more money involved, the more voices in your ear.
- Yes, your ideas can be stolen but what are you going to do about it? If you’re paranoid, everyone is going to run away from you. Remember, when you file a lawsuit against one of these companies, they have a whole floor of lawyers.
- The industry is based on fear and speculation. It’s hard for producers and executives to say “yes” to a project because if it fails, they can lose their job. It’s much easier to just say “no” and stay hired.
- Be nice to everybody, all the time.
- There are only 2 ways to know if someone in the industry likes your script: if you get a check in the mail, or if they put their reputation on the line by giving it to a friend.
- 10 years ago, there were only 10 buyers of original TV. Now, there are 50. TV can be a great way in for screenwriters right now.
- If you want to write TV, you have to be in LA. One of their writing partners takes a ton of meetings in LA that wouldn’t have happened elsewhere. It’s a great, easy place to meet people.
Last but not least, here is a video that one of the panelists recommended everyone watch. It is 1 1/2 hours of Orson Welles talking about the craft of filmmaking and is highly informative.
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