Friday, March 1, 2013

Avoid My Mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes and I’ve made my share when it comes to the screenwriting business. One of the useful things about a blog is I can share them with you so, if you listen to me, you can avoid making the same ones. At least that’s useful to you. Unfortunately I can’t change my past!

I’ve made so many mistakes it’ll probably take a few posts to cover them all, but let me get started with a couple biggies.

Mistake #1: I didn’t stick to one genre.

The problem with this is that when you are successful at something, people will want you to do it again. In Hollywood this is partly tied to genre. If you write a successful romantic comedy (as I did) they will want you to write more romantic comedies. If you want to write horror films instead, you can… but you will be seen as a beginner again. You won’t be able to capitalize on your previous success. It’s hard to get established in Hollywood, if you get a break you don’t want to throw it away!

I have a good excuse for my failure. I didn’t set out to write romantic comedies, I set out to write adventure and sci-fi movies. And in fact it was a big action-adventure script that got me my first agent. And it was that same script that got me into Original Films. But Original Films wasn’t able to set up that script, so they asked what else I had. All I had was a sci-fi script and Sweet Home Alabama – the script I’d written for my Master’s thesis.

They liked Sweet Home Alabama and started developing it. Meanwhile I continued to write adventure and sci-fi. Then Sweet Home Alabama got made and was a big hit. And all I had to show people were adventure and sci-fi scripts. I was unable to piggyback off of the success of the movie as much as I should have.

Not that I’m complaining – that movie really launched my career. It was, however, a bit of random chance that it was that script that got produced first. I don’t know that I would have done things differently if I could do them again – other than writing at least ONE other romantic comedy!

But the lesson is, try to figure out what genre you most want to do and focus on doing that. You can work in multiple genres in Hollywood, but wait until you’re well established in one before branching out.

Mistake #2: I didn’t keep in touch with people I met.

When my agent first sent my script around (the aforementioned action-adventure script), a lot of people didn’t buy it but liked it enough they wanted to meet with me. This was true of the next two or three as well. I met with a lot of good, high-level producers and executives. And many of them I only met with one time.

It’s not that the meetings went badly, it’s that I didn’t follow up. You need to nurture relationships in this business. You want to build a base of fans who will be excited to see new material or to hear a pitch. (You’ll rarely sell a pitch to someone the first time you meet them.) You want to stay on their radar for when they have open assignments. You also may want them to refer you to an agent one day.

Email makes it pretty easy to stay in touch with people. You don’t want to harass them, but I like to touch base with my contacts every three or four months. Don’t just drop them a “hi, what’s happening?” note. They’re busy and don’t have time for that. But perhaps offer up a few loglines you’re kicking around and ask if they’d be interested in hearing a pitch on any of them. Even if they aren’t, you’ve kept yourself on their radar.

You can also send them bits of news, but try to keep it relevant. Think about the junk email you get cluttering up your inbox. If you made a short film, go ahead and send them a link. If you wrote a play that’s premiering locally, invite them. But don’t send them newsletters about your life.

And of course if you write a new spec, send it to them. All of this assumes that you are constantly creating new material. You should be. That’s one mistake I didn’t make – I wrote three spec scripts per year the first few years after I graduated college.

There were so many more mistakes I made, though. Mistakes I’ll discuss in future posts.

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