As the year draws to a close, there’s a few things I’d like to get off my chest. I’ve had more than a few discussions about what it is to be a writer in a professional capacity this year. So people got what I said, others not so much and more than a few didn’t have a clue at all. So here’s a bit of a bullet list, that will hopefully clear some stuff up.
1.) Success doesn’t happen over night.
Plus it’s subjective. One man’s success is another man’s failure. A film might be a critical success but a financial disaster. Either way, it didn’t happen over a period of hours, it took months or even years to bring the project in question to fruition. It also took a crap load of hard work on everybody’s part to make the final product happen.
2.) Stop asking about how much money a working screenwriter makes.
It’s offensive. I don’t ask how much you make working at Starbucks nor do I try to weasel out of you how much you make in undeclared tips at your restaurant job. How much anybody makes is subjective anyway. We work on contract by contract, each one is different, depending on the film. how about I say, I just about enough and we leave it at that.
3.) Registering a work at the WGAw is NOT a copyright. Registering something at the copyright office is.
The WGAw registration has to do with arbitration, not copyright. They’re more concerned with who wrote what when than who ultimately wrote it. After all, if a writer changes more than 60% of a script, he has the right to request sole authorship. The guild has not always ruled in favor of the original writer.
4.) Should you register for copyright?
This is a personal choice. I only register certain works for copyright, ones where I didn’t originate the idea but I am writing the script from scratch. Otherwise, I just register with the WGAw and then allow the production company to register the copyright in my name, and then I sign the work over at the end of the writing contract. But like I said, it’s a personal choice, just remember to bill the production company the cost of your filing fee at the end of the process.
5.) It’s still an industry of contacts.
Yes, you can blind email query letters and pitches but if you want to make a sale you’ve got to make it personal and that means leaving your office or basement (or both in some cases) and getting your ass out to events and film festivals to meet other misogynists just like you. Watch the films, stay for the Q&As and hit the film makers at the bar afterwards for more drinks and info mining. Play it cool and they might ask to see your stuff.
6.) Outline, outline, outline.
Please, for the love of Pete, write an outline. I don’t care how you do it but figure out your story in short form first. Take as much time as you’d like to do it as well. Some take a week others take a year but take as much time as you need to do it and do it right. An outline is the difference between a professional writer and somebody who wonders why nobody ever reads their stuff.
7.) Format, format, format.
Scripts look the way they do for a reason. Format is king. I get a script not in the proper format and into the round file it goes. If you haven’t learned how to properly format a script I doubt you’ve bothered to learn how to properly write one. I have yet to see an improperly formatted script that didn’t suck four flavors of crap from page one.
8.) Anybody who says they have, “The greatest script ever.” Doesn’t.
Now some may read these points and disagree. Hey, that’s your prerogative but these aren’t conjecture on my part. This is all from stuff learned along the journey but if you know better, who am I to say no. Have fun going down the path less travelled.
Maybe we’ll see you again. Maybe we won’t.