Recently, I struck up a correspondence with a successful screenwriter and asked him for advice on how to move my career forward. He told me that I should focus on making films instead of writing them, because that now was the best if not only way to break in.
Do you think that is true? I was inspired to take up screenwriting by people like William Goldman and Richard Price, who worked in the business solely as screenwriters. That’s what you’ve been able to do thus far in your career. Is it still a possibility?
While films, short and otherwise, are increasingly being used as the foot-in-the-door for young writer-directors, if your goal is to become strictly a screenwriter, I’m not sure it’s the best use of your time and money. Yes, it’s still viable to be “just” a screenwriter. Not only will Richard Price and WIlliam Goldman continue to work, but new screenwriters emerge every year, propelled by nothing more than the quality of their writing.
What may have changed over the last decade is the degree to which a screenwriter is required to have social interaction. The classic nebbishy writer who gets spooked by his own shadow would have a hard time in modern Hollywood.
Take me. I’ve produced and directed, but 90% of my work consists of pushing words around on the page. The other 10% is crucial, however. It consists of making phone calls, taking meetings, discussing notes, and feigning interest in terrible projects just to be polite. My writing is what makes me hirable, but it’s sociableness that gets me hired.
One reason this sucessful screenwriter may have given you this advice is because you’re in Seattle, and while it’s easy to shoot a film there, it’s harder to come in contact with the people (agents, managers, producers) who can help you get your career going as a screenwriter. Since you can’t do the social part of a screenwriter’s job in Seattle, making a film isn’t a terrible idea. But neither is moving to Los Angeles, which might be the better use of your money.