In my 7 Heavenly Virtues post I listed ways in which emerging writers can maintain their dignity while pushing their work forward. Now for the Deadly Sins. These are the OGs of bad behavior the Catholic Church warned you about. After toiling away the hours at a day job from hell it is tempting to embrace every one of these sins just to feel you have some control over your destiny. But then the good angel on your shoulder chimes in and calms you down, taking you back to that safe place where life happens and you live to dream another day about your brilliant spec screenplay sale.
As you sit down to write your next magnum opus consider carefully the temptation of the deadly sins. Once aware of them, you can make the conscious choice to either flee to the light or embrace the darkness once and for all.
Let me holla at you, baby. If you have a dream cast for your screenplay, keep it to yourself. It is never a good idea to write a script because you want the leads to be Idris Elba and Margot Robbie or whomever is your free pass. For my friend Consuelo Mackintosh it’s Denzel with Tom Hardy tapping in. Me? I respectfully decline to answer. It’s one thing to write a character and have someone in mind as an inspiration, it is quite another, and highly dangerous to be so vagmatized or dickmatized as to eliminate many, many qualified actors because you’ve tailored your characters to a few who are unavailable, unaffordable or uninterested. If you can write a great story and three-dimensional characters with a way for an actor to show their range, you will attract the right people for the right roles. The universe has a way of working things out when you let it happen organically.
Have you ever seen the Nathan’s Famous hot dog eating contest? Or any competitive food eating event? Gross. Watching a 95 pound woman consume 140 hot dogs in 3 minutes is not even remotely appealing. And packing your script with action and mystery and comedy and kooky sidekicks and clichéd tropes does not appeal to greenlighters. Don’t overstuff your script. Keep the story simple. I know you want to put your best foot forward and show what you can do, but even the keenest of readers will put a spec down with lightning speed if they have to get from point A to point B by trudging through the non-linear narrative of points K, Q, and T first. Like any good meal, it will wash down easier if you keep it light.
Almost thirty years later and that mantra is relevant. At least in financial circles. But you do not dream of being a Wall Street trader or hedge fund manager. You are a screenwriter. The greatest sin, the deadliest of the deadlies is the sin of material comfort. Life happens. And most of us are not successful out of the gate. We need day jobs. Unfortunately this business of being a screenwriter takes time and life things become the focus. You want money. You want to live a comfortable life. So you take a job as an assistant or animator or development executive or agent trainee, anything film adjacent thinking it’s only a few years until you sell your script and can live your dream. Only a few years go by. Then a few more. And you find yourself working as a booking agent for juvenile talent at Nickelodeon. What happened to your great spec that you slaved for years over and were going to sell? You got greedy and traded the hard work it takes to make it as a working writer for the easy money of climbing a ladder you never wanted to climb. Listen, I get it. But I would rather live in my hovel and write, spending every cent I have toward selling my work, than buy a mini-manse in the hills if it means earning the money in a job that keeps me from pursuing my dream. Don’t allow life to stop you. And don’t let your screenplay become something you work on as a hobby.
Vomit drafts are important. No arguments there. But after that, you need to go back in and do the heavy lifting of rewriting. Excise anything that is unnecessary or doesn’t make sense. Expand your character development. It is not acceptable to leave characters twisting in their motivation or drop story lines half way through the pilot. To introduce a theme and leave it hanging is not only bad writing, it’s lazy writing. Finish the thought. Complete the work to the best of its ability, not your own. That means have others read your work. Spend the money of professional guidance. Re-read and re-write. Get in the habit of constantly nitpicking because I assure you when you do sell your script, at least one page one re-write will be part of the deal.
My sworn enemy, Effthat’B Jackson (no relation) fired a very nice woman in her fifties last year because she did not like her. This very nice woman in her fifties has yet to find a new job. She should not have been fired in the first place. That makes me angry. But if I say or do anything that could hurt my long term opportunities. Something for all emerging screenwriters to think about. Do not fuck up your future connections by alienating anyone who could know someone to help you down the line. Case in point, my erstwhile manager. I was with a manger for over a dozen years and she has proven problematic for many people. That is all I will say because I do not want to become someone who bad mouths people in the industry. If you know the manager I’m talking about, you know what I’m talking about. Let’s leave it there. Do not succumb to your emotions. You need contacts, friends, too, but contacts and allies. Speaking poorly about someone limits those connections. You never know who knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who could make that call for you. On the other hand, if I had all the information about my manager-from-hell sooner, maybe I’d be in a better situation now. Who knows? Still., err on the side of professional.
Grrl, please. Yes, there are some people’s career path and luck I wish I had. But that’s them, I am me. I respectfully suggest that all of the trollers online and in writers cliques stop trash talking those who are successful. Throwing enough shade to blot the sun does not get you where you need to be. More important it does nothing for your screenplay or pilot. Haters gonna hate, but keep that shit to yourself. People do talk and your reputation is what will find and keep your work circulating. No one wants to read a jealous, pain in the ass buzzkill. Stick to your own program and carve out a path for others to follow or want to follow. Strive to be the writers others emulate instead of talking down about someone you don’t even know. It’s just not cool.
Asking for help shows strength and wisdom. To need help getting your name out there with your work is not a weakness. Do not let your pride and being unconnected or unwilling to take notes on your work get in the way of your own success. I suspect the sin of Pride is what kills more careers than Greed and Sloth combined. The fact is, you can’t do it alone. Reach out — help is there, you have to keep looking until you find it. Don’t give up. That’s your pride talking. Don’t listen. Instead, listen to your work. If it is good enough, you’ll know. And you owe it to yourself and that work to do whatever it takes to get it out there. Take the notes. “Thank you, sir, may I have another read?” When it’s sold you won’t care that you had to call that ex who now works in Development.
The Seven Deadly Sins may be tempting. At some point in your journey to emerging you will pray for a way to sell your soul. But, please, before signing that pact with Satan consider the immortal words of Iron Maiden’s Moonchild. Cue music.
“Seven deadly sins,
seven ways to win,
seven holy paths to hell,
and your trip begins
Seven downward slopes
seven bloodied hopes
seven are your burning fires,
seven your desires…”
― Iron Maiden