There’s this post on Facebook today. It doesn’t have anything to do with anything that matters, like the March for Life, or gun control, or the Mueller investigation. It has to do with reaching for your dreams even when your dreams seem hellbent on defeating you.
This picture was posted on a screenwriting page as a way of encouraging screenwriters not to give up on their dreams. One young man said, in response, “what if it isn’t going at all? Can’t find an agent. No one will read anything. Can’t even get a return email rejecting me. It’s unprofessional garbage. New writers are locked out.”
That’s because, MOST writers are locked out. Actually, most people in the film business, no matter where they land on the food chain, are part of a system unlike any other business on the planet that is designed to lock you out. Because now matter how successful you are, no matter how much money your film has made, or how many Academy Awards it has been nominated for, it never gets any easier.
Last year I met the producers of not one, but THREE Academy Award nominated films, one of which won an Academy Award for Best Picture. She said the film took seven years from concept to execution and even though the film won an Oscar, she is back at square one developing material and taking meetings like she is new to the business and has never won $2 on a scratch-off ticket must less the most coveted trophy in all of Hollywood. I went to an event last summer where female filmmakers listed their (rather considerable) accomplishments before admitting that they either had a feature film that went nowhere, or that they’d won several screenwriting competitions or workshops/fellowships that ALSO went nowhere, and were wondering what they were doing wrong when everything about their experience said that under normal circumstances, the career path ahead should be smooth sailing. After all, if you land a major account at a law firm, the chances of becoming partner grow exponentially even if it takes awhile. I’ve heard it said that even if The Black Panther makes a billion dollars at the box office, white Hollywood will still think its an anomaly and not rush to make any movie with a black lead because they aren’t sure there is an audience for movies about black people. That’s like Coca Cola saying, “that last beverage thing we did made ten times what Coke does, but we aren’t going to try it again because there probably isn’t a market for it.”
For the past thirty years, all I have heard – all any screenwriter has heard – is that the path to success is a good writing. Write a good screenplay, and the road to a successful future will be lined with gold.
Last summer I won a coveted spot with a writers workshop where nine amazing writers gathered to have their work torn to shreds by mentors who would blow your mind. The torn to shreds part is good. Because these people were directors, actors, producers, executives, film festival programmers, with the sort of experience and connections and box office triumphs that would blow your mind, and their insights were designed to make our work so amazing no one could ever turn us down again. I went into this experience the oldest writer by far, with the idea that if I could just win – or even be a finalist – in one of the top five writing contests on my bucket list, I was IN. As a writer, in my mind at least, I would never had anything to worry about again.
And this workshop was an astounding place to start.
But several writers on our group HAD won the screenwriting competitions I thought would pave the way and they are only inches ahead of me. One was an Writers List winner. One was a semi-finalist for the Nicholl Awards. And ALL of us went back to our day jobs after discovering that winning an Oscar, or turning a $25 million dollar investment in a film that made $252 million domestically (HIDDEN FIGURES) is no guarantee of a career in film.
Just because George Clooney’s aunt was Rosemary Clooney, or Jason Momoa married Lisa Bonet, doesn’t mean that Denise Meyers, who lives in Mars Hill, North Carolina, who started in the film business with Bryan Lourd, and Mike DeLuca and Mark Ordesky and Josh Donen, who had a film directed by Robin Wright, or who exchanges emails with Sam Rockwell and Jay Ellis, will ever be anything more than the woman who co-owns an RV repair business and fixes toilets to help pay the bills even after being named one of the Top 25 screenwriters to watch in 2018 by the International Screenwriters Association.
This is Hollywood.
And there are worse things that happen in the world than a screenwriter who wonders, if great writing isn’t enough, then, what is?