Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race. Michael D. Pollock
Contests, Fellowships, and Pitchfests are year round. They cost money and time and more often than not nothing will come of your entry. So why continue to submit? You know why. You are a writer. This is what you do. The script is done. You’ve had it covered and analyzed and re-written more than once. It is tweaked to perfection and ready for some love. But none comes. You didn’t pay for feedback so you don’t know why. Oh well. Chalk it as a strike and take another swing. If you are doubting this entry, try another screenplay – you have more, don’t you? If you got notes from your entry take a look, maybe another pass is called for. Maybe not. You know what to do. What you don’t do is give up.
— 1. Nicholl Fellowship Competition – Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences
The biggest, most well-respected and highest paying contest out there is the Nicholl Competition, which is put on every year by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Per their website, “Each year, the Academy Nicholl screenwriting competition awards up to five $35,000 fellowships to amateur screenwriters. To enter, submit a feature length screenplay and entry fee via the online application when the competition is open for submissions. Fellowship winners are invited to participate in awards week ceremonies and seminars and expected to complete at least one original feature film screenplay during the Fellowship year.
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I’ve just returned from a networking event. You all know what networking events are, right? It does not have to be fancy, although most happen in hotel meeting rooms or private dining areas of very nice restaurants. The purpose is to interact with other people to exchange information and develop contacts, especially to further one’s career. And have a nosh… with cocktails. Networking is a skill that must be developed like any other. As an emerging screenwriter you may not be all that social, that’s probably why you are a writer in the first place. Even so, it is not possible to emerge without a network of people pushing for its (and your) development. You go. You meet people. You get a contact number. Maybe someone knows someone who may know someone who will want to push your work forward. That’s the deal. So no one would ever go to a networking event and not network, right? That’s just dumb, isn’t it? Maybe it’s me, but that was my take away from the event I just attended. There were a lot of dummies.
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Ah, spring. The time the snows melt and the flowers bloom. For Catholics, the end of Lent is near as Easter looms. For college students, the change of season signals the halfway point of the semester. And like in most of the scripts written by emerging screenwriters, the mid-point is a good time to take a break. During this week restless and academically embattled students tend to amp up the drama and the break to reset becomes a reason to getaway to the beaches or ski slopes, unload some steam and get their party on.
There are tons of movies about spring break: Spring Break, Malibu Spring Break, Black Spring Break, Spring Break Lawyer, Spring Break: Mardi Gras… endless and diverse, but come on let’s be adults. As witnessed in the James Franco tour de force Spring Breakers (2012), collegiate sun-drenched debauchery still thrives in the heart of Hollywood. I find the movie insipid so I cannot endorse wasting a moment of precious down time watching it. Wait, relax – I don’t mind James Franco as an actor and I get spring break. I have even unloaded steam on a few destination breaks myself. It’s just that I like to believe we have matured as a film culture. We are beyond the vapid and nubile flesh-eating of Jeepers Creepers (2001) or the vapid and nubile vagina eating of The Real Cancun (2003).
Nowadays, the students I know choose to stay home and relax during their break. They catch up with friends and family. Or they work and make some money. That’s the new reality in a struggling economy. However, the idea of spring break is still a grand fantasy of sand, surf and meeting someone you really connect with and not just for a week of random hooking up. I think you are smart enough to know that jiggling coeds and drunken jocks can make some money. If done well they can make a lot of money. So you may as well catch a few spring break movies done well. [Sorry, From Justin to Kelly (2003).] It may inspire some fantasies of your own to write about.
Where The Boys Are (1960) – Hearken back to a time when Florida was the mecca of blossoming snowbirds, girls who wore white were always virtuous (Hell, er–, heck – the star of the movie Dolores Hart actually became a nun IRL) and George Hamilton was a heart throb. Throw in the iconic Connie Francis and her title song and you can’t miss.
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My little friend Dave– is a producer on a network television series. Dave is smart and confident and has earned every break he ever got on his own – with some assistance from the nimble telephone skills of a well-connected agent, but he’s an outstanding writer who is fantastic in the room. Now he’s in escrow on his first house – in the Hollywood Hills, and just bought a new BMW. All well deserved. Not to mention his most recent girlfriend was a television actress on a long-running cable series that ended a few seasons ago. Dave— is living the life and I couldn’t be happier for him. No, truly. No shade, not hate, just happiness that someone who put in the work, got something back. That is the ideal TV writing relationship. You give a little, you get a lot. You and your beloved walking hand in hand down the garden path. All is love. When it’s good, it’s Jess and Nick in a cooler on New Girl. Oh, but when it’s bad… Carrie cheats on Aidan then doesn’t marry him when he takes her back. WTF Sex & the City?
A bad relationship involves more than the simple act of lying. It’s Game of Thrones-style abuse, treachery and betrayal to the core of your marrow. And a good cry doesn’t wash the pain away.
Television writing is my bad relationship. For my little friend Dave– he watched some episodes, read some scripts and liked what he saw. He took it out a few times and discovered it liked him back. So began their romance. One meeting led to another. Then meeting the show runner for a staff position which is sort of like meeting the parents. Can this person sit down to dinner with us every week? If the answer is yes, sweet– you’re in. If not, then it’s time to break up. After a few tries, you find the right show, or make the right connection. And someone pops the question: Will you write for us? The ring of the telephone call from your agent with the offer is better than a diamond.
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Day jobs suck. They are a necessary evil to pay the bills, keep a roof over our heads and financially support our goals. It’s not always possible to have a day job that is in sync with your professional goals, believe me I know, so that’s when the rubber meets the road and you have to get your side hustle on.
Side hustles are mostly ways to make extra money as these days the day job barely makes ends meet. So in order to afford the trip to the writers conference or the entrance fee to those screenwriting contests, even if you just need a new outfit for general meetings, you need cash.
Working as an assistant anything in the industry, receptionist, P.A., go-fer is a great foot in the door for those on the road toward the goal. But writers come from everywhere. There is no set way to break in and NY/LA assistant jobs can be just as difficult to get as a TV staff job. In the meantime, you need to feed yourself and your family. No shade here. Day jobs do not give access to opportunities for career growth as writers for film and television. End of. We must find our own access.
Yes, I know you are tired after a hard day at work. You still have to have family time. And friend time. And sleep. But what are you doing for your writing goal? Are you only writing? If you never want to show your stuff to anyone who can sell it and get you out of your lousy day job then fine. Have a good sleep. But… if you dream of seeing your name on a TV screen attached to an episode or feature you wrote, then you need to find a gatekeeper who can give you access to the people who can get your stuff made. It will require a little luck, but with the right side hustle you can meet the right person to help push your writing forward.
Here are 10 side hustles for emerging screenwriters that can lead to access and opportunities:
Event employee – Film festivals and writers conferences are an amazing way to meet all kinds of great people, but they cost. What if you got a job working for the organization putting on the event? Many are volunteer opportunities with the payment being access to the even itself. Worth it when you think about what you gain. Some of the jobs are legitimate paying gigs that are only temporary or part-time if the event is planned a year out. Something to check into if you have a film festival in your area.
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My friend Agnes has no sense of direction. If you want her to be somewhere you have to give her street names and landmarks because the woman once tried to drive from San Diego to Phoenix and wound up in Tijuana. I don’t just mean which way is east, either. If we’re having lunch and Agnes goes to the restroom, she drops bread crumbs to find her way back to the table. Agnes is a smart woman who has worked at the same company in the same department for fifteen years because she needs to stay in her own lane. Drive forward. Make no turns, steady as she goes and do not deviate until she reaches her destination. The rest of us having some trouble on the path to success may need to consider a route change.
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“Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.” -Maya Angelou
Jury Duty. That federal act of conscription that makes answering the summons mandatory. The first rule of jury duty is you cannot talk about jury duty. The second rule is you cannot talk your way out of jury duty. Oh sure, you may get away once or twice, but if you are registered to vote, they will find you eventually. Best to not resist.
The court room is where most of the action takes place in legal dramas. Let’s face it, actors want the sexy lead roles of the attorneys. Check out Matthew McConaughey in “The Lincoln Lawyer” (2011) and “A Time to Kill” (1996). Very different movies but the same McConaughey swagger. When the lead actor is the focus, a distinguished character actor gets to play the judge and one of the most pivotal roles is usually left out altogether – the jury. When the jurors are given the spotlight they are depicted as stealth operators – even lazy or stupid to varying degrees. TV shows with creative titles such as “The Jury” (2004) “The Jury” (2011) and “We The Jury” (2016) seem to have come and gone with little notice. Films have more luck with drama than in comedy but are generally dismissed as popcorn flicks. The notable exception is Sidney Lumet’s insightful “Twelve Angry Men” (1957).
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Last month, I had the great good fortune to have been included in the Roadmap Writers Screenwriters Intensive Program. For those of you who don’t know Roadmap Writers they are an organization dedicated to providing film and television writers the tools to chart their own success. This is from their website:
Our goal is to equip screenwriters with the tools and training needed to take their projects to the next level.
My introduction to them was by chance. I was randomly searching for screenwriters networking groups one day and came across the Coletta Preacely-Garcia Diversity Initiative. Hel-lo, what’s this? Despite the talk of inclusion especially during the 2017 award season there is still a dearth of minority representation behind the camera and on the page so many organizations reach out to under-represented artists and I, for one, am grateful. Roadmap Writers Initiative award is one month’s free participation in their Screenwriting Intensive Program (a value of $300 which is well worth the price if you have the funds and can commit).
I should mention many (most?) of the writers live outside the LA area. This is a nationwide hook-up; using Zoom and Skype you can participate from anywhere.
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I am a positive person. On the outside, I may have a crusty hard shell, but if you tap me with a fork, I crumble like a delicious crème brûlée. So while I eschew the hearts and flowers sentimentality of the season – the Hallmark movies about a lovely but lonely single woman and the slightly reckless single dad who looks like he just stepped from an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog who hook up after fighting for ninety minutes over whose responsibility it is to save the town’s only church lost to a Grinch-like town councilman/rich old man, ugh! (And if I have to see one more commercial telling some man how special his woman is so he needs to buy her a diamond at Jared, I will put both my eyes out with a screwdriver) – BUT, I still have hope and optimism for the success of holiday movie screenwriting. That is why it is so disappointing when bad Christmas (apologies to my non-Christmas-celebrating friends/readers) movies happen to good writers. Screenwriting is hard enough, holiday features are even worse because of the emotional points that must be hit. We love classics like A Christmas Story and A Christmas Carol or the original Miracle of 34th Street. But most holiday movies don’t reach classic or even cult status – Black Christmas. The writers are lucky enough to get it made and move on.
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