Updated: Nov 21, 2020
"You're wasting my f***ing time!!!"
Cue 80's record scratch as a distraught bald and bearded screenwriter, iPhone in hand and seated in a Taco Bell looks up to the camera and says - I bet you're wondering how we got here...
That lovely opening line was shouted at me by a screenwriter during a recent conversation. I'll come back to this, but first, let's backtrack a moment. I love screenwriting. It is my passion. It has filled my life with purpose. Once I famously stumbled upon it, I found a hole in my soul become filled. Having that happen, I felt the drive to spread the gospel.
Suffice it to say, I strive hard to be a paragon of screenwriting. Why? Because this is a brutal craft. It can be isolating, frustrating, and soul-crushing. A perfect recipe to throw a motivated screenwriter spiraling downward. And I've been there. At the bottom. Lost. Alone. Utterly defeated. I spent over a decade querying and getting my work read by huge studios and names only to have them pass at the last minute. Then slowly, almost imperceptibly things began to change in the right direction. But before that it was tough. It's supposed to be. The hottest fires temper the strongest blades. You can get there.
During my path, I've been told by professionals I was not meant to be a screenwriter. That I was terrible at it. I would pay a ton of money for professional feedback and instead receive not so thinly veiled insults about my work and myself (talk about a lack of subtext.) When confronting these professionals about their choice of words I was told it's best that "you know it now so that you don't waste your time." They thought they were doing me a favor by using what they claimed was 'honest feedback.'
Here's the problem. That's not honesty. To tear someone's work down without providing a credible technique, tool, or even simple trick to improve their craft can only be described as one thing... Cruelty. This attitude, dare I say technique, is unfortunately prevalent in the Indie industry. There are even services that boast about it as if that's something to be proud of.
This negative "neg" culture has led to frustration and bitterness among some indie screenwriters. It's hard enough to query, pitch, and compete in contests. That can wear you down. But to reach out to a so-called professional for help and instead be insulted let alone pay for that kind of treatment is unacceptable. That can be the final nail in a screenwriter's coffin. For instance, imagine if Obi-Wan called Luke a talent-less hack after discovering his Uncle and Aunt were burned alive by Stormtroopers. It's just ridiculous.
Imagine if Obi-Wan called Luke a talentless hack
This attitude has influenced and seeped into the Indie screenwriting culture. I have seen more and more writers hang their heads low in defeat.
Now fast forward to the opening quote. I received a phone call from a desperate writer who was looking for a mentor. Yes, I was in a Taco Bell eating 3 Crunchy Taco Supremes and a Sweet Tea should you be curious. Mild Sauce of course. I'm not that adventurous.
Usually, I schedule these types of meetings but I was happy to chat. The writer dove into a deep 24-minute rant about how the industry has failed them. I listened. Realizing they needed an ear even though I only do a 15-minute call due to scheduling. But they needed to be heard.
Their dreams were to be a Hollywood Writer. They wanted studios to seek them out and have any of their projects greenlit, formatting issues be damned. They wanted to be the 0.01%. A lofty goal which I respect. They wanted to hire us to set them up on a plan to achieve their goals. Once I was able to get a word in... I told them that I can't do that for you. You can't buy your way to success. It has to be earned, fought for with an unwavering tenacity and the ability to add value to your community. I suggested this writer should start locally. Start small. Find your tribe. Well, that went over poorly.
The writer then expressed to me that they know what they're doing as they've been at this for 17 years. They've tried working with locals, but the project falls through. I explained to them that projects fall through all the time, even in Hollywood. Networking can create a great opportunity. The writer deemed all the locals to be idiots. In which case, I responded: "if that's your attitude then I can see why you're struggling." Thus they told me that I was wasting their F***ing time.
I fought the urge to be petty and tell them my hourly rate on a call like that. I stayed calm. I want to help this person. I have been this person. I told them "what you want, what you desire, needs a community to get there." They hung up the phone. I tried. I really did. I hope that my words will resonate with them and one day they will wake up and realize that a caustic attitude will only poison themselves.
Don't let the system make you bitter. An acerbic attitude will alienate those around you and it will show up in your work as well. This craft, this passion we share has a community. A group ready and willing to help you strive and survive. All you have to do is let yourself be part of it. Oh, and check your formatting.
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