In response to the podcast discusson Craig and I recently had about the perceptions of nepotism and wealth in the film industry, a listener wrote in to share his experience.
I am a trust fund screenwriter. Or was. I moved out here with a lot of family backing (though no real connections). For my first two years in LA, I sat in my apartment all day, trying to make myself write, as I could afford it and thought it the best use of my time.
But the key word there is ‘trying.’
Having a trust fund is nice, but it didn’t help me become a writer. It’s very hard to sit down and force yourself to write for eight hours a day when there’s nothing else in your life.
Even when I did write, it didn’t make me a screenwriter; there’s still the whole business side of the business I needed to learn.
And when I didn’t write (because of writer’s block or whatever) the thought of “I’m wasting my time” crept into my head, and made it even harder. That’s not the only issue, though.
The issue is one of access. Yes, I have some family money (enough to live on for a while, but not enough for reality TV), but I don’t have family connections in LA. And so, while spending two years in my apartment trying to write all day, I met no one — no executives, no agents, no managers — assuming that once I’d completed my perfect script, they’d come flocking to me.
And that was wrong on two counts.
One, they wouldn’t have come flocking. From my couch, I didn’t meet anyone willing to read my script and help my career.
Second, I couldn’t write a perfect script, or even a very good one. While I was wasting time in my apartment, I wasn’t learning. I wasn’t living. I didn’t grow as a person, and the stagnancy I felt in my life was reflected in my scripts. They were interesting ideas, but, like me, had no life.
I’d never leap in from the outside. I’d never write anything great by staying on my couch. I wouldn’t meet the right people, learn the way things work. I still needed talent. I needed to know the industry outside and in before I could expect to fully be a part of it.
Staying at home, living off my trust fund and writing didn’t work.
My father, who unlike me worked himself up from nothing to the point where he could give his children trust funds, always said the thing that drove him was the knowledge that he didn’t have any other options. And for me, the trust fund is always another option. I’ve always had a safety net. Which isn’t to blame the trust fund or to imply in any way that having a trust fund isn’t a good problem to have. I’m not that blind.
But my money couldn’t buy connections, and reveling in my financial comfort didn’t breed creativity.
Getting off the golden couch
I started going out more. Because I have enough to live on, I could afford to work internships, which I did for a year. That’s an advantage I have. But I don’t think most of the other interns at my level had that advantage.
Now, finally, after almost a year of working for nearly nothing, things are happening. I’ve met lots of people who are able and willing to help me, whether by reading my scripts or making introductions for me. I’m working now—for actual, cash money—as a script reader, as an administrator for a screenplay contest, and as a freelance video producer.
And I’m still writing. Better than ever before.
I’ve grown as a writer exponentially more while working than I grew in the two years I spent just writing. There’s nothing like reading 400 scripts as a contest judge to teach you what not to do in a screenplay.
I’m not a professional writer yet. And it’s possible that if I’d had to work to support myself, I’d have found myself so stressed and overworked that I’d have given up long ago. But I don’t think so. I’m working now, and I’m writing just as much as before.
Maybe the money held me back. It’s possible that if I’d been working in the industry, supporting myself and meeting people while writing in my free time, I’d be much farther along than I am now. I’d have experienced failure and hardship in my career sooner, and maybe I’d have learned sooner how to translate that into a truly great screenplay.
And maybe I’d have written that screenplay in my spare time instead of the crap I wrote from my couch. And maybe one of my friends and connections and mentors — which I never had from my apartment — would have read that script and passed it on, and I’d be a professional writer right now.
Maybe they’d pay me millions of dollars to write the next big movie. I’d spend all day by the pool in my Beverly Hills mansion, trying to write for eight hours because it’d be my full-time job.
I still probably couldn’t do it.
Not for eight hours a day. Not from home. Not by myself.
My trust fund is a blessing, and I recognize that. Many things are easier for me than other people. Being a screenwriter is not one of them.