Balls of Steel™: Your Character, Your Career

Don't shoot yourself in the foot before you've even walked into one pitch meeting. Jeanne Veillette Bowerman explains why you can't litigate your way into production.
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While doing yet another rewrite, I took a Twitter break and saw a tweet scroll by, showcasing an "entertaining interview with an idiot" that included a link.

Hello, perfect writing-break read.

The link led me to Jim Vines’The Working Screenwriter site.

The alleged “idiot” turned out to be Justin Samuels, the screenwriter who recently sued CAA and WME for eight million dollars. Samuels claims the agencies practice in a discriminatory manner, both sexually and racially, and he has been unable to work professionally as a screenwriter because of it.

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By the time I finished reading the interview, my blood was boiling. When a Sicilian, black belt, hard-working screenwriter gets mad, watch out.

I urge you to read the interview for yourself before reading on …

Did you enjoy it? My guess is you either laughed your pants off or you have whiplash from shaking your head in disbelief. Time to learn from what, in my opinion, are Mr. Samuels’ mistakes.

First a disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this post are mine and mine alone, not that of Script or Final Draft. Gotta cover my tracks when the aroma of lawsuits floats by.

After nine years and eight completed scripts, Samuels has still not broken in, and in his opinion, it has nothing to do with his writing ability.

“I'm saying I have no access, in part because of my race and because I'm not in on the right social circles that would allow me to talk to a producer or agent one-on-one … You'd need wealthy parents — disproportionately white — or some sort of backing where you basically didn't have to work in order to schmooze with film people all the time … the mainstream agencies have policies that disproportionately lock non-white — or those who don’t come from wealthy families — out of the industry.”

Sadly, even in 2011, discrimination exists, but whether you are black, white, purple, polka-dotted, male, female, transgender, or a eunuch, it is extremely difficult to break into Hollywood. Even if you actually are the greatest writer in the universe, it's still hard.

As for the need to be rich, my answer is Twitter. Doesn’t cost me a damn thing to tweet and connect with industry people all over the world (see my Tweet to Success piece).

Here’s some homework for Mr. Samuels and anyone else who feels frustrated they haven’t made it yet:

I could go on and on with advice on how to get read and break in, but I won’t because any writer with half a brain cell can research and figure that out.

What I want to talk about today is character. Not your story’s characters, but your character as a writer, a human being and a professional.

What Samuels has done, in my opinion, is demean any real cases of discrimination that are indeed happening. To fill the court’s time with false claims from a scorned writer should be criminal.

Shame on you, Mr. Samuels. Shame on your lawyers.

We writers already get very little respect in the industry. Lawsuits like this only make us look like a bunch of whining sloths who don’t understand the business and can’t handle the challenges of climbing the seemingly endless mountain to success.

Our careers depend on not only educating ourselves on our craft, but also on the countless paths you can take to production.

What Samuels wants is to only deal with the top agencies and production companies, even though he has never had anything sold, optioned or produced. That’s like me saying because I run nine miles a week, I should be allowed to run the Boston Marathon without having to qualify, or to be a part of the Olympic team simply because that’s what I think I deserve. And then when they reject me, I should sue them because I have a vagina and that must be why they aren’t letting me in. It couldn’t possibly be because I run an eight-minute mile.

I am not on an Olympic team because I have not earned that place, and I am not a produced screenwriter because I haven’t polished my scripts enough and haven’t gotten them into the hands of the right producers … yet.

I have not “arrived” because I still have work to do on my craft. Period.

I know this business is frustrating. There are many days I question why the hell I do this. Days I crave hiding in a hole and writing my novel in solitary bliss. But until the day I have exhausted every single option out there, I will not quit, nor will I blame anyone else for my failures.

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Above all, I will always follow my father’s wise advice: Never let your character ruin your chances at a career.

Don’t lash out in anger, finger point, or stab others in the back. Don’t act out of desperation, jump onto the "casting couch," or hire lawyers to be your bullies.

Put the project first. Put your future first. Put your long-standing career first. Put your character first.

Be fair and noble, even when you want to scream because you can’t stand one more rejection coming in.

“Thank you sir, may I have another.”

I swear that is exactly what I say when I read each “pass.” I can get 1,000 rejections, but all I need is one "yes."

If I’m a class-A moron in how I conduct myself, a slut in a producer’s office, or a money-hungry lawsuit pariah, no one will take me seriously or ever want to work with me.

Every time I walk into a meeting, I need to approach the room with a polished script and a great collaborative attitude, ready to hear feedback, do the hard work, go back to my desk and rewrite that script until someone finally says, “yes” to both my script and my career.

Making excuses and blaming people for my not being produced isn’t going to get me hired. Acting honorably, thinking outside-the-box, and working hard is how that happens.

Mr. Samuels clearly hasn’t been reading Balls of Steel.

This rant was brought to you by a proud yet unproduced writer in the trenches.

More articles by Jeanne Veillette Bowerman

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