Have you ever climbed a mountain?
When I was growing up – I spent a lot of my high school years in the mountains. Every vacation – a group of us would head up as high as we could go and try to cover as many of the 10k plus peaks as we could.
Here’s the thing about getting to the top:
It’s incredibly deceiving.
The typical way you get up a really tall mountain – if there are trails involved – is by making the climb via a series of switchbacks – that is, trails that go back and forth in like a long series of intestines. You never go straight to the top – you keep climbing incrementally closer to the top by taking switchbacks.
This makes it incredibly hard to know when you will reach your destination.
You can see the top. Everyone knows you’re almost there… but it’s always way longer than you thought.
You see where I’m going with this?
LET ME BREAK IT DOWN FOR YOU:
When you have a script that is getting some traction, don’t quit your day job.
I’ve told my story here before – but here is the quick version of how I got here:
Wrote a script. Raised 1million dollars. Went to LA to try to get more. Got two big stars attached. Got picked up by 3 different companies. Got greenlit for a 10Million dollar film. Had a start date. Both stars leave for 150million dollar film. Deal is over. 2 years of work = no pay.
Oh yeah. Probably something no one ever told you:
If you’re out there with your first script – you are most likely going to get optioned. And if you get optioned – it will be for a low amount against another amount – unless you start a bidding war – which is more and more uncommon. So typically – you’ll get offered a couple thousand dollars (under 10) against WGA minimums (about 85K.) Then they will tie up your script for at least a year. They will also put development costs against it – so that at the end of that year – if they couldn’t get it together to make your film – you get it back – but also its saddled with lets say 200K of development costs. So if anyone else wants it – they pay you – and the studio or company – their money back.
So even if you get optioned – there is still a long long road.
I’ve signed 4 or 5 options on my script. Now I’m in a shopping agreement. That agreement is about to run out – and I’ll still be going.
I feel like I’ve seen that mountain peak so many times – and I feel each time like I’m closer – and then it just keeps getting higher. I can taste the pot of gold… but it never is in my hands.
If you read any books on writing by professionals – they will all tell you to keep going. Keep writing. Don’t think about the deals. Don’t think about the buzz going on around the script – just keep writing and you won’t be distracted.
But the deals are a pretty big freaking distraction. Especially when you’re broke. You’re like a greyhound at the race trying to get that metal rabbit. And everyone is telling you to keep running – but you’re starving.
Here’s the truth as far as I can tell:
It takes time. Even when people like you and your work. You are building a brand – you – and 100 years ago, no one knew what McDonald’s was. After one hamburger – they still didn’t know. After 100 – someone had an idea and told others. Now -everybody knows.
It always comes back to putting your head down and doing the work. If one script is good enough to get you attention – the next script is going to be read by more people. Two scripts out there is better than one. And everyone know the real writing work in this town is rewriting and doing takes on concepts that studios are already looking to make. So you just need to get in the door. You need to move from the kids table to the adult table – and the only way to do that is to keep writing.
Give them a reason to invite you.
I’ve read stories of people who have been paid screenwriters for over 15 years and have only ever had 2 movies made. But they’ve made a living for 15 years!
It is hard. It is a grind. It hurts… you’re ego, you’re mind and your bank account.
But no one said it would be easy. I’m here to tell you its gonna be hard.
Did you ever see Grizzly man? This was the Timothy Treadwell story. The guy who moved up to Alaska and lived with the bears. Treadwell believed humans and bears could live together in harmony.
Till they ate him.
I’ll always remember the Indian guy who worked at the park station who said that Treadwell is the worst thing to happen to bears. He is basically training the bears that it is OK to be around humans. That human have food and are nice and that they are approachable. And that anyone can come up and touch them.
Till it all goes wrong.
Every time you read in the trades that there is a spec sale for 1 million dollars for a writer no one has ever heard of – we think we can live with bears. It’s like watching lottery winners. We get excited. That can be me.
But the truth is – its hard work. Writing. Doing it everyday. Getting better. That’s how it works.
My script is still out there. With a star attached. And two big companies with studio distribution excited about getting their hands on it. We been rejected by many directors, and many other stars – but my agency feels we are about to sign another deal to finance the film and move forward.
So the mountain keeps moving. The pot of gold remains elusive.
But my job is to keep climbing. (Sometimes, I hate my job.)
How, for a few shiny months, I was the reigning king of anal rape in Hollywood.