15 Screenwriting Lessons People Learn TOO LATE

Work on new projects

Dr. Ken Atchity, Author/Producer: It was disconcerting to be validated for something that I believed 22 years ago and that I got a lot of other people to believe 22 years ago. Including Doubleday to the tune of 2 million dollars and Disney to the tune of a million and New Line to the tune of a million plus and so on.

And then it didn’t happen and then suddenly all these years later it happened and people go “You must feel good to be corroborated?” And I said “Yes I do.” But the truth is it taught me the most important lesson of all which is what I wrote into an essay called The Waiting Room [from Ken’s blog]. If I had been waiting for THE MEG to happen or for any movie that I started 20 years ago to happen, I’d probably be miserable (if not suicidal).

But what you do in the waiting room is you do something else, that’s how you manager your time. When you’re waiting for something, that can be annoying and a burden and what you have to do is other things. So what I did was 50 other things and as a result 30 movies have happened and hundreds of books and a new publishing company and lots of other things.

Yes it’s satisfying to see that the world endorses what Steve Alten [Author of Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror] and I believed in 22 years ago that this was a hugely popular subject for a story. And all the way along brave people especially Belle Avery who brought it home and Lorenzo di Bonaventura and other producers, they made it happen too.

But I guess what it shows among other things is don’t waste time hoping for something to happen. Do your work and then put it out in the world and let the world take care of it, that’s one thing. And then part of it is to trust the work that happened. When you create this baby (THE MEG in this case),  if it’s a good baby it will survive and it will show its muscles when the time comes. Maybe it’s been in hiding for all these years but suddenly it comes out and everybody knows it. That’s great but what it tells the artist I think is to focus on what’s at hand, what’s in your workshop right now and do it well and then don’t worry about things you can’t control. Focus on what you can control. And I guess that’s my main feeling about it is that we did a lot of work on THE MEG at the beginning, we created its shape and it finally came out and it did great and am I surprised? No, I’m pleased but not surprised because I always believed it but I’m so glad I didn’t hang my own personal psychology on it because if I’d done that I’d have been locked up by now.

Like myself, Steve went on to write eight more books on different subjects too. And built another career around his talent and he’ll continue doing that. He’s learned that lesson too that. Was it disappointing that it didn’t come out back then? Well it felt like it at the time but in retrospect, things are meant to be. And I always say to writers that I manage that every project has its own clock and the only problem is you can’t see the clock. So what you do is you put in the work the best you can and then you screw the screws on the cover and send it out into the world and wish it well and turn to your next project which hopefully you’ve done before you finish this one project and that’s what the creator does. He keeps working on new projects.

So this world didn’t turn out perfectly. God creates another world, maybe it is better?

What No One Else Can Create?

Marc and Elaine Zicree, Screenwriters: And so what he was doing was creating something that no one else could create.  And he told me that he wrote every day for 10 years before he wrote a single line, a single word that was uniquely his.  And then one day he sat down and he wrote the words THE LAKE and he wrote a short story based on the time when he was a little boy.  When he was eight years old he and a little girl friend who was seven went swimming in Lake Michigan and he came out and she never did (she drowned).  And it was a story of her coming back as a ghost and they told me that when he finished the story, tears were streaming down his face and he knew that he’d written something that no one else could have written and it came specifically from his experience and his soul.  And it took another two years of writing everyday before he could write something again that was uniquely his.  And then he got to where he could do it again and again and again and he became Ray Bradbury because he was determined to do that.

I thought that was a great lesson to say ‘Okay, what are you creating?  What can you create that isn’t something of what others are doing, but that is unique to you, that no one else could have created, that you create something fresh in the world that’s truthful and meaningful and then you know you’ve done something worth doing.  So that’s been a great inspiration to me.

Six Scripts

Corey Mandell, Screenwriter/Instructor: I love my agent. I think he’s the best agent in the world. I’m repped at WME. There is another agent at WME who I think is the second best agent in the world. Her name is Adriana Alberghetti. And she said something once they I think is so important for writers to hear. She said that some writers get it and some writers don’t get it. And the writers who get it are all working and the writers who don’t get it (most of them) aren’t working. And so as an agent she just wants to work with writers who get it and this is what it is.

A lot of writers think that to write a script that changed your life, to write a script that gets you your first job or to get Ridley Scott to hire you or to get a show (whatever it is you’re aspiring to), you have a career you are trying to take to the next level, they think it’s about having the right script at the right time at the right place. That’s not it and that’s a mistake. That surrenders all control and power to the Universe. The reality is your job is to think in six script cycles and you have to be writing the right kinds of scripts, pitch perfect authentic (we talked about that earlier) and assuming you trained yourself to be able to do that. You need to write six of those every two years and the reason is you write six of these pitch perfect authentic scripts. One of them is going to go out to the marketplace and just fizzle and you will never know why. And then two or three of them will go out and they will start to get some traction but then something will happen and derail it. And then there will be one or two that is absolutely going to happen, you have the director attached, you have the stars, there’s a bidding war, there is no way it’s not going to happen and something at the very last second is going to derail it and one of the six will actually go the distance and sell or it will be that script that gets you the next…(Watch the video interview on Youtube here).


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