For all the ego in the film industry, it’s interesting how screenwriters tend to find themselves in a fairly egoless realm. They’ll commit to years of writing with no intention of drawing more than an extremely small group of readers, and even then, only industry readers, but not a commercial audience.
If so, what’s the point? Why not write novels and plug directly into the reader’s brain with no middlemen – their words, their glory? The answer for most screenwriters is an overwhelming love for movies. Not just for writing but for movies.
First-and-foremost, I am a writer. Yet, I too have this passion for film and chose to feed both hungers by pursuing a career as a screenwriter. I began this journey a year and a half ago after a decade of writing fiction. I’d majored in Creative Writing, then worked in book publishing, but could never shake my deep-down desire to be a part of the film world.
To begin this transition from fiction to screenwriting, I toiled in my home office, writing scenes and reading books on craft. I took classes and watched a ton of movies. Work was getting done but I didn’t feel I was a part of anything bigger, certainly not the film community, and wondered why I was giving up the chance for direct access to an audience through fiction for this hazy world of writing scripts. So I asked around.
That’s just the life of a screenwriter, I was told, go back to your office and write spec scripts. When they’re complete, work really hard to contact people who’ll reject those spec scripts. Rinse and repeat.
Seriously? What kind of crap job is that?
No closer to an answer, I attended Roberta Munroe’s workshop, “How Not To Make a Short Film,” [http://www.robertamunroe.com/] because a screenwriter friend was speaking at it, not because I honestly wanted to make a short film. It was geared to directors but I figured, sure, I can pretend I’m an aspiring director for one day.
The workshop began with a discussion of screenwriting, but unlike the road I’d been taking, it didn’t stop there. It moved into the role of the Producer and why you damn well needed to hire one for your short film. Next, to raising money. Then, to hiring cast and crew (ooh, what writer doesn’t fantasize about casting?). Onto production and post-production (including the storytelling power of film editing, who knew?). Finally, marketing, distribution and film festivals. By the end, I had one helluva headache and an entirely new outlook.
For eight hours, Roberta laid out the basics of making a film and I will never be the same again. I was no longer an aspiring screenwriter. I changed my self-image and decided I was a newcomer to the film industry who specialized in writing screenplays. And the difference between the two is the difference between sitting at home waiting to be discovered and getting out to discover my own damn self.
I immediately started writing a short film script. I obsessively followed job listings on Mandy.com, applying to various positions all over the industry, and landed a reader job for a film producer. When the producer launched her own production company, I was asked to come on board to work in Acquisitions and Development.
From my vantage inside the production company, I realized I have no idea what happens after Development. If opportunity knocked with a chance to follow a project further down the rabbit hole, I wanted to be sure I had my pack ready to go. To this end, I just completed a Producer’s Foundation certificate through Raindance NYC [http://www.raindance.co.uk/site/NYC] that taught me about financing and the legal aspects of filmmaking, as well as marketing, distribution and social media.
All this time, I’ve kept writing. It takes years to develop true proficiency in the art and craft of screenwriting and while I’m honing these skills, I’ve been widening my reach and forming alliances with directors, producers and actors, basically, the people who always need writers and have the power to collaboratively launch a film. I’m meeting incredible people, having an embarrassing amount of fun doing it and I’m truly a part of the film community now in a way I never would have been keeping my head down in my writer’s den.
I’m not a fan of endlessly knocking on locked doors and there’s more to the film industry than Hollywood studios and multi-million dollar production companies. A screenwriter should certainly write feature-length spec scripts but should also look around at what other opportunities exist to be a part of this collaborative community.
Learn about the players who are getting films made. Develop a relationship with an actor who wants a webseries written around them. Find a producer who’s trying to break in and needs a short film script. Partner with a director who needs a collaborator on a feature script. The more a writer understands what each role in this industry entails, the better chance they’ll have of meeting the right people and being ready to convince them they’re the best choice for the job.
The goal of the screenwriter, like any other player in the film industry, is to make films. By creating more opportunities to be a part of a filmmaking team, screenwriters can increase their chances of getting their ideas onto the screen and connecting with an audience. And in the end, they’ll have more to show for their efforts than their words, they’ll have taken a hand in creating their own bit of movie magic, that same magic that drove them to become screenwriters in the first place.
Kim Garland [http://www.kgarland.com] is a screenwriter from Hell’s Kitchen, NYC, a co-founder of Scriptchat [http://scriptchat.blogspot.com] and works in Development at Braven Films. In 2011, she plans to take an improv acting class, make a short film, complete her feature comedy spec and do a whole bunch of film-related things that haven’t even crossed her mind yet. What she doesn’t plan to do is sit still and wait.