“If you write a great script… Hollywood will find you.” Scott Myers began a post this way in 2016, on his great “Go Into the Story” blog.
It resonated with me, and I think it would with most professionals in jobs related to screenwriting — producers, executives, managers, etc. A top CAA literary agent once said something similar when asked what writers should do to try to get an agent. Her response was that there’s nothing for them to do, because the agents would find them.
Sounds frustrating, right? Does this mean there’s nothing a writer can do to market themselves, get themselves out there, and force their career forward through making the right contacts? How are we supposed to just passively wait around and assume someone’s going to knock on our doors?
Before I answer that, a third quote on this topic. It comes from Jerry Seinfeld, in Judd Apatow’s book Sick in the Head. He was talking about comedy, but might as well have been talking about screenwriting, when he said: “If you’ve got talent, it’s unmistakable. No one misses it and you don’t have to wait around for a break. It’s very easy to get a break. It’s very hard to be good enough.”
Now I’ve said before that I think “Talent” is overrated, so I wouldn’t use those exact words. I don’t quite believe in innate talent that one either has or doesn’t have, which can’t change. But what I do believe is that a script that seems to show great talent — a script that checks the boxes that industry professionals need checked (whether they are conscious of what those boxes are or not) — will tend to find its way forward.
I am not a believer that there are hundreds or thousands of such scripts out there, where the only problem is that they didn’t get into the right hands. Rather, I believe such scripts which can create a breakthrough for a writer are rare. And that writers do well to recognize that, and to focus all their energies on doing that rare thing, somehow — while trusting that if they succeed, the rest will take care of itself.
I’m not saying writers should never send their work out, as part of the process of doing what they do. I’m certainly not against screenwriting contests, coverage services, and even querying managers directly. (Securing a literary manager being the first hurdle writers generally need to get past these days, to get their work to people who could move it forward.) All of these can help a writer figure out where they’re at with a certain project. And if they happen to have something really special, these avenues could be how they find that out, move it forward, and get people’s attention.
I’m also not against networking with industry professionals, and especially having a day job in the business, which is how I started out, and which made a huge difference for me, both in terms of learning about professional level writing from the inside, and in terms of meeting people who would ultimately help me.
My point, though, is that it really is about the writing, and the one and only thing a writer can really control is that. As Scott Myers points out, managers, agents and producers are hungry for the next great thing. It’s just that 99.99% of what they get sent isn’t that, and they just don’t have time explain to writers why they aren’t responding to something they sent them. This is also why they generally rely on others to weed through and send them only the most promising material. Thus, a writer first has to impress a manager to get to an agent, and needs an agent to get to a legit producer, etc. (Unless perhaps you are operating outside “mainstream Hollywood” using sites like Inktip, which I’m not discouraging — if you’re writing the kind of genres that tend to do well there.)
I often get queries from writers or producers who want to know if I could get their work to Tom Hanks or other industry connections. And that’s totally understandable, because it seems like it’s hard to get to such people, and if only one could, they’d have a shot. But I would argue that it’s not really hard to get to the people who can ultimately advance a writer’s career, starting with managers. What’s hard is (1) understanding what it takes to create a piece of writing that could do that, (2) understanding how far their project might be from that elusive ideal, and (3) actually creating something that would meet it.
So if “Hollywood will find you,” how exactly is that going to transpire? I think what typically happens is this: by the time a writer’s work is at the place where they’re about to break in, they have usually been moving steadily toward that achievement for some time, to where it no longer seems like a big shock when it finally happens. Their work is already doing well with contests, coverage services, etc. Objective professionals are responding well to them, even if they aren’t signing them yet or buying their material. The quality of the writer’s work becomes more and more known, and their circle of contacts starts to grow.
It’s true that for some people, it happens more quickly than for others. For some, key contacts pave the way seemingly easily. But the work has to be there, for any of that to really take hold and last. So my advice is to keep going, keep learning, keep getting feedback, and make it your mission to understand what might be missing in any script you have, that is causing it to fall short (as most do) in the goal of getting signed or sold, and trust that as you keep going and keep growing, you have the ability to overcome that with your next project.
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