Script Coverage Chronicles – October 2018: The Five Scariest Things About Screenwriting

It’s Halloween season, time to turn to spooky stuff.  Going eerie won’t be hard for me at all because the screenplay biz can be downright bloodcurdling.  Here’s my top five countdown of screenwriting frights:

5. Screenwriters are constantly vanishing into thin air!

It’s a “what have you done lately” kind of culture in Hollywood. Nobody cares if you wrote a great spec 5 years ago.  You have to keep producing new work or a mist will soon surround you, and you’ll never be heard from again. [Insert evil laugh here.]

4. People Want You To Work For NO MONEY!!

It happens all the time.  Producers ask you to develop an idea for nada, or option your script for zilch.  I remember I was offered a one-dollar option, and I was new to the business, and this guy was from L.A. and convinced me to take the deal.  I told him okay, but I wanted the dollar, the actual dollar – the first dollar I would earn as a screenwriter.  He said of course.  He never sent it.

3. Writing Is Torture!!!

Writing crappy scripts is pain free, but getting to a pro-level final draft, it just plain hurts, on a soul-eviscerating level.  Learn to love it.

2. There Is SO MUCH Competition!!!!!!!

Yes, we’ve all heard that thousands of hacks hurl mediocre screenplays at Hollywood every year. But that’s not the scary part.  The scary part is what I’ve seen as a writer, as a screenplay festival judge and as a consultant at Four Star Feedback.  The really scary part is how many talented screenwriters are out there on the margins of the biz.  I’ve seen it first hand.  These are the ones you need to worry about.

You can be very talented, but you can’t just settle for making your screenplays pretty good.  Your specs have to work on all levels.  They have to be great.  That’s one of the reasons getting feedback is so important – if you hope to survive . . .

1. People May HATE Your Work!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This is what writers really fear, isn’t it?  

This is the ineffable horror that lurks around the corner of every spec submission, the boom falling on one’s fading hopes of ever having talent.

But this is just a phobia, an urban myth, a nonexistent hobgoblin that shouldn’t be scary at all. Here’s why:

All writers get criticized.  It happens all the time.  It’s all just a matter of opinion.  And it absolutely doesn’t mean you have no talent.

I’ll end this entry with my own personal horror story:

A number of years ago, I sent out one of my very first spec scripts to an industry reader. I was excited about this one.  I had worked hard on it.

And the feedback came in.  

It was petrifying.  

The reader said things like: “this screenplay needs a lot more, comedically and dramatically” . . . “it has tone problems throughout” . . . and “it never gets off the ground”.

I sunk into an emotional early grave when I read this.  

It stung like a thousand mutant bees.  

It was “scary”.

After several dark nights of the soul, I went back to work on the script.  

I got other much-more-helpful feedback on it, and I dug in on a revision.  

A few drafts later, it won the Nicholl.

Happy Halloween!