Script Coverage Chronicles – June 2014: Two Types of Screenwriting Talent

First off, let’s address the issue of talent or no talent.  Do you have talent at all? 

Here’s the good news:  Most scripts I read show some talent.  So yes.  You probably have some talent!  The bad news is: Even really talented writers have to struggle to write a script that works. 

And now for more good news:  Identifying the type of talent you have can help you focus on the right projects and give you a better chance of succeeding.

Two Different Types of Talent

There are two types of talent in screenwriting: Horizontal and Vertical. 
Horizontal Talent

Movie execs need to worry about popularity. Popular stories generate big revenues. 

Writers need to worry about it too.  It’s hard to win major contests unless multiple judges respond positively to your script.  And it’s certainly not easy to get anything sold (at least to the major studios) unless multiple industry players agree on the quality of your efforts. 

But does popularity equal talent?

It’s a kind of talent, but it’s not the only kind.  The ability to get most people to think your writing is “pretty good” (the ability to be popular) is what I call “horizontal talent”. 

Popularity has its advantages, but there’s another kind of talent:

Vertical Talent

“Vertical talent” is the ability to get a reasonable chunk of people, say 25%, to think your script is “amazing” or “truly special”. 

Charlie Kaufman is a classic example of a vertical talent.  His movies are not overwhelmingly popular, but those who like them absolutely love them.

Which Are You?

Both types of talent can lead to success, but it’s important to ask yourself which type you lean toward. 

The more vertical your talent is, the more you’ll need to keep your budget low and focus on “indie” markets. 

The more horizontal your talent is, the more you’ll want to focus on business aspects such as genre popularity and buying trends.

Wait, There’s A Third Kind of Talent

This blog is taking an unexpected twist.  There’s a surprise third talent. 

What is this mysterious third type of screenwriting ability?  I’ll give you a hint:

It’s your job to push each script as far as it can go, both in terms of its popular appeal and its artistic excellence.  It doesn’t matter if it takes you ten drafts.  If you can get to a script that works, you’ll be proclaimed a great talent. 

The third – and most important – kind of talent is something called “grit”.  Grit is simple; it’s trying hard, consistently, for a long time. 

In the end, it’s about effort: writing multiple drafts of multiple scripts, getting feedback and responding to that feedback.

Without grit, neither vertical nor horizontal talent is likely to sustain you. 

But if you know yourself as a writer and then lock on to your career with a bite that won’t let go, your chances of success will be great!