On a panel discussion with Shauna Cross and Lawrence Kasdan (!) today, I made a point about first screenplays:
Your first script is like the first time you have sex. Yes, it’s exciting. You did it! High five!
But that’s not the best sex you’re ever going to have. In fact, it would be sad if it were.
In all likelihood, your first time was rushed and awkward, with some great moments but a lot of room for improvement. And the odds that your first experience will blossom into something life-defining are slim. So take it for what it is: a beginning. You will get better at it.
A mistake way too many screenwriters make is assuming that the first thing they write is The One. The One that will get them noticed. The One that will sell. The One that will transform their lives.
The fact is, there is no One. I can’t tell you what mine would be. The one that got me an agent? The one that got made? The one that Spielberg liked? Those are all different scripts, written years apart. I went from sleeping on the floor of my apartment to owning a house, but none of them changed my life in the way people would expect. Mostly, I just got a lot busier. It was less about the script, and more about the work.
Screenwriting is a career of continuous effort marked by occasional highlights, not unlike trial law or professional football: a single case or game might be notable, but it’s what you do on a daily basis that determines your overall success.1 And, like trial law and professional football, you may discover that you’re just not cut out for it. But you need to approach screenwriting with the same perspective as a lawyer or linebacker. Expect it to be very hard work, with long hours and continuous setbacks.
And in that aspect, the screenwriting/sex comparison fails, because if your lovemaking is hard work with continuous setbacks, you’re probably doing it wrong.
- Even looking through credits on IMDb is misleading, because the movies that get made are a small percentage of what a screenwriter actually produces. I’ve written 27 screenplays, eight of which are movies with my name on them. And only three of them predate my first produced film, Go. ↩