Jeanne Veillette Bowerman is the Editor of Script Magazine and on Stephanie Palmer's list of “Top 10 Most Influential Screenwriting Bloggers.” Her narrative adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book,Slavery by Another Name, was selected for the Tracking Board's Top 25 Launch Pad Competition and a PAGE Awards Finalist.
Being Miss Positive Attitude, I often write posts trying to help people not only navigate the industry with career advice, but also with encouragement and inspiration. Last week I wrote Balls of Steel: What Makes a Writer Fail? and received one controversial, anonymous comment that sent my regular readers to my defense:
"Some Guy: Sorry, folks. Unless you are from a well-connected Ivy League type background, you have basically zero chance of earning a living in Hollywood as a writer, despite whatever talents you’ve been blessed with.
The publishers of these screenwriting magazines, however good-hearted and well-meaning, are pushing a myth to make a buck. The film and TV industry could care less about what would be considered “good writing.” It’s all about perception and bright shiny objects– 'Some of my good friends say you’re a good writer, therefore you are.'
Your query letters and scripts are being read by 23-year-old interns, who by the way, also got that job because… you guessed it… they know the right people… And everyone wants to hook up with (professionally speaking) those who are above them on the industry ladder.
And if you don’t believe me, ask yourself this. If Hollywood cares so much about good writing, why doesn’t the industry go where the writers are – writers groups, screenwriting contests, colleges (not just the ones in L.A. and NYC). You would never catch any agent, manager or producer with real credits roaming the halls of Suchandsuch Screenwriting Contest in hopes of finding great writers.
At first my stomach turned, and my Sicilian anger flared. He was not only pissing on my flame, as I am one of those screenwriters knocking on the forbidden gates, but he was also dissing my peeps and their passion. No one slaps down my readers’ dreams.
A few of you even emailed me, incensed at “Some Guy”. I pondered why his comment made people react as they did… even me.
So, I clicked the link and read his words again, removing myself from any emotion, and truly listening to his point of view. I found there is some truth to which he speaks.
Let’s take his points one by one:
1. "Unless you are from a well-connected Ivy League type background, you have basically zero chance of earning a living in Hollywood as a writer, despite whatever talents you’ve been blessed with."
Bull. Yes, I went to an Ivy-League school, but I had zero connections in the industry when I started and have never even contacted Cornell to see what graduates work in show business. My connections all happened organically, by working extremely hard on my craft, meeting people at pitchfests, creating an online presence, and writing a personal blog to get my voice out there, hoping someone would notice. And they did. Any help I’ve received is because my writing voice and ability to take feedback proved I had talent and was willing to work hard to achieve my goals. No amount of connections can help you succeed if you don’t have writing chops and a strong work ethic.
I'll give you an example: By working hard and providing quality writing samples, I found supporters and people who wanted to help. Through the quality of my work, I got meetings, including an in-house meeting with one with the biggest TV networks. Alongside me were two insanely talented writers who I met on Twitter. The three of us pitched our hearts out and provided four creative show ideas that have kept those network doors open for us. It is our talent that prevailed, not who we knew.
2. "The publishers of these screenwriting magazines, however good-hearted and well-meaning, are pushing a myth to make a buck. The film and TV industry could care less about what would be considered 'good writing.' It’s all about perception and bright shiny objects– 'Some of my good friends say you’re a good writer, therefore you are.'”
I don’t write for this website or work for this company to make a buck off of writers. I do it because I am one of you and wish when I started off, I had the resources all of you have now. I want to help writers move faster toward their goals by sharing my experiences and my lessons… both the good and the bad.
The industry does indeed want and crave “good writing.” Why else would there be a The Black List? Sure, some films get made that are embarrassing, but the truth is, they get made because there is an audience who wants to see a mindless 2-hr film. Escaping reality by being entertained is the name of the game and puts butts in the movie theater seats.
We need to stop thinking of Hollywood filmmaking as an art form. It is a business. First and foremost. A business. Studios buy scripts that will make them money. Why else would Human Centipede have been made into sequels? If you want consistent good writing, go see independent films where art lives on.
3. "Your query letters and scripts are being read by 23-year-old interns, who by the way, also got that job because…. you guessed it… they know the right people… And everyone wants to hook up with (professionally speaking) those who are above them on the industry ladder."
I can’t disagree with you on this one. I have pitched many 20-something interns in my day who are too scared to say “yes” because saying “no” keeps them employed. There’s no risk in rejecting a script. It is indeed frustrating.
But... because you knew I'd have a rebuttal... once you do build your network, you can override the 20-something assistant and get straight to the top. It takes time though to meet the right people, so be patient. At some point that 20-something you're pitching will move up the ladder and be running the company. Not to sound like I'm self-promoting, but in my Breaking in Outside of Hollywood webinar, I lay out how I've navigated the industry and gotten past the gatekeepers. Put it on your Christmas list.
4. "And if you don’t believe me, ask yourself this. If Hollywood cares so much about good writing, why doesn’t the industry go where the writers are – writers groups, screenwriting contests, colleges (not just the ones in L.A. and NYC). You would never catch any agent, manager or producer with real credits roaming the halls of Suchandsuch Screenwriting Contest in hopes of finding great writers."
True, agents and managers aren’t sitting in on writers’ groups or roaming the halls of universities across the country. But they are paying attention to contests and people who are persistent and have a grasp of their craft and a positive attitude. Last month I moderated a panel of agents and managers at Screenwriters World Conference. Every single one of them have clients all over the world, not just in NYC and L.A. In fact, several of them found clients by reading scripts for contests. They signed them long before the contest results even came in. They read contest scripts to find their needle in a haystack.
Another bit of proof that contests works can be found in previous posts on ScriptMag.com:
- Industry Insider Contest Winner Tyler Marceca Sells Script with Mark Wahlberg Attached
- Final Draft Big Break Finalist Sells Script to Universal: Meet Larry Brenner
- Final Draft, Inc. Big Break Success Earns Representation
5. "Good luck…"
Thank you. If only luck was all it took. There is no doubt luck does play a role in some people’s success, but for most of us, hard work and tenacity is more likely what will move us forward. Also hope and faith, which I’ve written about before.
Now that I’ve addressed Some Guy’s points, I want to discuss our immediate negative reaction to his words. Why would we let one person’s view hit us on a personal level when his intent clearly wasn’t to hurt anyone, but just a tone of tough love and sharing what he believes to be the truth?
Then it hit me: Some Guy was putting our biggest fears on the page for all to see, ripping open our wounds and forcing us to face what he feels is reality. It was a bit like rubbing your dog’s nose in his poo.
I can’t guarantee anyone they will succeed in this industry, just like I can’t guarantee anyone they will fall in love and live happily ever after. You will get out of this life what you put into it. Period. If you sit in your home and focus on the difficult odds of success as a writer, you will talk yourself out of trying.
Everything in life is a risk. Love is a risk. Career is a risk. Parenthood is a risk. Writing is a risk.
High risk, high reward.
It’s all about having a positive attitude. You can accomplish anything in your life if you really want it. Look at those people who did make it in this industry. Are they any more special than you? Any more talented than you? Do you think they always believed in themselves? Hell no! I bet some of them still pinch themselves in disbelief that they actually made it.
For me the trick is baby steps. One little step at a time will ultimately get you where you want to be. I learned this from a ski instructor when I was in my 20s. I was trying to master moguls, and was totally overwhelmed as I stood at the top of the mountain, paralyzed by the endless series of gigantic bumps between me and the bottom.
My instructor advised, “Don’t look all the way down the run. Just focus on the 20 feet in front of you. Ski 20 feet at a time. One mogul at a time. Before you know it, you’ll be safe, at the bottom.”
He leaned in and said, “You got this… meet me at the bar.”
With that, he took off, leaving me alone to face my destiny. Sink or swim.
Sure, I fell on my ass many times down that 20-foot-at-a-time run. I even had a bruise on my hip the size of a cantaloupe. But I made it down that mountain and to that bar for a hot cocoa and Baileys.
I learned more than mastering moguls that day; I learned I didn’t want to be on the Olympic ski team. That’s part of our journey too. Lots of writers will try and fail, but in doing so, they will hopefully learn something about what they truly want to do in this world, if not write. It’s not meant for everyone. This business requires a certain kind of tenacity and yes, insanity, to pursue.
I’m cool with that.
For all of those who want to continue on this insane ride with me, either hop on the train or get run over by it... because I’m not stopping.
How do you stay on track and keep at the pursuit of your dreams despite the obstacles? Share your advice in the comments to help each other stay focused on the brass ring. After all, we're a community here. There's no right or wrong answer, especially in my columns. No one understands you more than other writers. Vent, rant, give each other virtual hugs. No matter what, we'll all try to help you stay in the game long enough to get to the next level.
Watch ScriptMag Editor Share Her Advice on Facing Your Writing Fears
Jeanne Veillette Bowerman shares her personal story of facing her fears in order to propel her writing and her career. Click on the image below to watch Jeanne's advice. In just eight minutes, you might have a whole new perspective.
- Balls of Steel: How Far Will You Go?
- Balls of Steel: Checklist for Pitchfests and Conferences
- Karl Iglesias' Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters
Tools to Help: