I live in Los Angeles and have become a frequenter of your website.  Tonight I had an early dinner at the CPK within the Beverly Center and I thought I recognized you there.  I wanted to come over, say hello and let you know how much I appreciated your work both on screen and on this website.  However, I also wanted to respect your privacy.

I am a newly-working screenwriter.  Mostly indie stuff, a couple of writer-for-hire and low-budg re-write jobs; and I’m proud to say I just sold my first script to an indie company.  I just wanted to a) thank you for your site; and b) ask if you could give any advice for writers in my situation.  Guys who pay the bills with writing, but are not yet repped, or working on any huuuge deals.  What a realistic next step could be….

–Joe Wehinger
Los Angeles

Right now, you’re exactly where a lot of readers wish they could be: working in Hollywood. Based on what I could glean from IMDb, you’ve made a short that won awards, and you’re working on one or two low-budget movies. It’s a very good beginning.

There’s no one perfect next step, but over the next year I’d recommend you do the following:

  1. Decide who you want to be. An indie filmmaker like Sofia Coppola? A top-shelf screenwriter like Scott Frank? Or a multi-media industry like Kevin Smith? No, you’re not allowed to say “all of the above,” because none of these people would have gotten where they are if they had tried to be someone else. It’s fine to pick anyone as an aspirational figure, as long as it helps you focus on how you should be spending your time.

  2. Make sure you’re doing your absolute best work. This sounds obvious, but when you’re on your fifth rewrite for producers you don’t respect, it’s hard to put forth 100%. Do it anyway. Trust that the universe will in some way reward you for that brilliant scene, even if the movie never gets made, and the check bounces.

  3. Work on getting an agent and/or manager. No, it’s not crucial, especially if you’re trying the indie route. But regardless of your path, they can take your short and your scripts and hopefully set up meetings with more studios, producers and production companies. I don’t often recommend query letters, but in your case they might be a good idea. Basically, the letter would say that (a) you won these awards; (b) you’re working for these producers; and (c) you’re looking for an agent to represent you because you have just written such-and-such project.

  4. Continue to write, obviously. Seek a golden balance between art and commerce: write the most commercial story that you care very passionately about.

And yes, that probably was me at CPK. Thank you for trusting your instincts and letting me gorge myself in peace.

I obviously enjoy talking with other writers — that’s why I set up the site, and why I speak at lots of different events and conferences. But it’s always weird when a stranger comes up to me in a non-film environment. After witnessing first-hand all the crap that actual celebrities have to deal with, I’ve come to cherish my anonymity. I’ll do publicity when it’s appropriate, but I hope to always be able to fade into the background. So, thanks for letting me.