A number of readers have contacted me asking for my prognostication for the entertainment business in 2010. One added, "please try not to be so negative." First of all, I'm not a negative person. There's no way in hell someone could remain in this business for fifteen years, doing what he had to do to make ends meet, and not be an overwhelmingly positive person--addicted to hope. Second, unlike 99.99% of the people who set out to succeed in this business and fail--I have sold spec material to studios and secured assignment work. I'm living proof that someone with essentially zero creative writing experience (I wrote a one act play in college that was produced, but graduated with an Economics degree--and, I was a terrible writer, getting mostly Cs on papers in school) can achieve a victory or two in Hollywood. Third, my bleak attitude stems from what I see as the current state of the business, not it's potential. Last, I worry about those of you who cannot be realistic about what you're facing. You absolutely must see things for what they are to develop a winning plan of attack. You've got to be more than just lucky and good these days.
You've got to be perfect.
To succeed in this environment, you have to hit a grand slam out of the park. No one cares about base hits anymore. Trust me. I've been Wade Boggs too often, and not Albert Pujols. A base hit will barely even get you a meeting these days. If it does get you a meeting, it won't be meaningful (meaning having the chance to lead to a job) like it used to. You'll be lucky if the exec isn't checking their e-mail while they're talking to you.
So, expect a lot more of the same in 2010, only worse. Why? Because, for now, the flawed approach of the studios is working. Making less, but more expensive films has never been so successful. There have been record box office numbers two years in a row. Hollywood is on a roll--in a recession. What about this situation would make a business that is traditionally so difficult to steer--move in another direction? As for TV, it has become even more geared toward the upper echelons. Studios and networks rarely work with someone below Co-Executive Producer level, and it's the same now for showrunners. Even writers are eschewing lower level talent. No one is interested in developing writing talent.
So, why even bother trying to be a writer, some of you might be asking? Great question. And, the answer is because you can still make it. You're going to have to work harder than ever before, and not miss--but, you can still do it. New writers emerge every week in film and television. It's just less and less in number. It used to be new writers would emerge daily with spec sales. Now it's weekly. Some day, it might be monthly. But, there will always be an opportunity to succeed if you can hit the mark.
I'll give you my plan of attack for 2010. Take it for what it's worth, because I didn't sell jack in 2009, and got completely lucky on a fluke assignment. As a writer, I've started thinking like a producer. I need to bring something more to the table than just a script. I took a shit job in 2009 specifically so I could learn to shoot, edit, and do graphics. Now I have the expertise to make a hilarious or kick ass film short that doesn't look like it was shot by 12 year-olds on VHS--when I get the right idea. Find a unique story for which you can personally secure the life rights. Find something that is in the public domain that you can research. Write a story about something or someone amazing in some way. Reach out to a producer, director, or actor you know (or want to know), and offer to develop or produce something with them. I don't care if it's a guy who works at Groundlings or Pizza Hut. You never know who might be the next Vince Vaughn, or Will Ferrell. Do anything you can to increase your odds of success. That's what I'm going to do. I realized this past year that I simply wasn't being enterprising enough. I took classes at Second City years ago. Why didn't I stick with it? Because it was so hard to make time for it? yes, but it was also because the business was so much easier back then. I didn't need to do it. Things have changed. Drastically. I have to get back to that mentality again. I'm getting hungry again. Even with a wife, a child, and a full time job. I have to make time, or else I'm going to become marginalized.
Remember--it's never too late to write something great.
Every day, I tried to come up with one idea for a film script. Last year, I threw away at least 365 of them. None of them were good enough. This year I'm going to try to come up with three a day. More if I can. The one idea I had some success with late in the year was something that a friend brought to me. We were having lunch, and he'd pitched me a bunch of ideas he had for movies, and none of them were remarkable. Just when I was about to give up on him, I asked him to keep going. All of a sudden, he started telling me this true story about someone he knew. Even though it happened in a small town, he thought the guy's story was pretty amazing. He was about thirty seconds into it, and I stopped him. This is a movie, I said. I want this. That's what a producer would do. Because they cannot, or don't write, other than reading specs from people like you and I--ideas are all they have. I called and left a producer I know (who has gotten films produced) a voicemail right then and there. Now, my lunch friend has nothing to do with the film industry. He writes cook books. But, I cut him in on the deal, went to the person in question, got his life rights, and set it up with the producer I have worked with--literally within 48 hours. Now we're taking the pitch to Disney in January--with me attached as writer. What if I'd never asked my buddy if he had any ideas for movies, and patiently listened? What if I'd never approached producers and offered to develop with them? Think about that for a minute. I would have had zero power in that situation. Sure, I might have been able to write the script on spec, find an agent, and sell it. But, a long, arduous process was accomplished in two days. Two days. Now we all have a great chance to make this happen. I used to hate it when people would pitch me ideas for movies.
Now I ask them if they have any.
That's what we're up against, folks. That's the business today. You have to work ten times harder for that idea--but, if you can write a great script, you're going to be in excellent shape. I find, these days, I'm writing a lot less, if at all, but working ten times harder than I used to at unearthing ideas.
Your agent or manager will tell you to write, write, write. Don't listen to them. They make phone calls all day, throwing shit against the wall, and telling the same shit to 100 people just like you (and I know this and still love my agent and manager). Come up with that idea. The one that's going to get you noticed. The idea will give you the power to get your script sold. Then write it. And, f-ing nail it.
It used to be you'd write to show you had talent and potential, and then find a great idea. Now, you need to work backwards. Never write a bad or mediocre idea just to do it. Write with meaning, or don't do it at all.
If you want to succeed in this painful environment it's going to mean that you will have to fight the urge to write, and force yourself to find additional ways to get noticed. A great story, something visual like a film short, or start a unique website (one better than this one, obviously). Great writing just isn't enough anymore. You need to be an entrepreneur and build your brand.
You'd better be known as a great writer with great ideas.
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