The cavalcade of follow ups continues today with this guy, who got conflicting advice and chose to ignore all of it. And somehow still ended up okay. If anything, it’s encouraging to see that my guidance isn’t necessarily that crucial. Most people who are going to make it would make it without me.
Here’s the original Q and A:
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 successful 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.
Here’s what Vince is up to now:
In September 2004, I asked you for advice about advice I’d received. A successful screenwriter/director suggested that the best way of moving my career forward was to concentrate on making films instead of writing scripts. You said that while that wasn’t a terrible idea, it might be a better use of my resources to move to Los Angeles if I wanted to be a screenwriter.
What to do when two gracious professionals offer contradictory advice? If you’re me, you ignore them both and keep doing your own thing.
After I wrote to you, one of my scripts was named a quarterfinalist in AMPAS’ Nicholl Fellowship competition. That led to some interest from agents and managers. I decided to seize the initiative and contact managers with the news myself. The firm highest on my list asked to read the script. After a suitable interval, I started placing regular follow-up calls.
The manager eventually got on the phone with me, saying he did so for two reasons. I was persistent, and he liked the script. Not enough to sign me — it was too small in scale and lacked an easily marketable hook — but enough to see if I had any others. I had in fact finished one the week before. I stumbled through a description of the story, and the manager asked if I could email him a copy. That day, if possible.
That was a Thursday. On Saturday morning, he called me from a coffee shop to tell me he liked the script. By Monday, I was a client.
Soon enough I was in California for a week’s worth of meetings. One of them was on a movie set in downtown Los Angeles with two producers. They ended up optioning my script. I finished rewriting it for them earlier this month, and it’s out to actors. Another script I’ve written since then is currently in development. I’ve also completed the first draft of a novel, because that’s how I see myself: as a writer.
For now, I still live outside Los Angeles. That may and probably will change. What matters is that I no longer feel like I’m in the wilderness. That is partly due to writers like yourself who are willing to shed some light on how the game is played. For that, I thank you.
— Vince Keenan