Why It's the Best Time in History to Write a Screenplay (and Why No One Knows it)
Writing a screenplay has always been for the delusional. You are more likely to get struck by lightning than you are to sell a screenplay to Hollywood. The statistics are not good, and even those who are successful experience a weird sort of success.
Here is a good description of a common success story in Hollywood.
You write a screenplay that causes a bidding war. Warner Brothers buys the script for a million dollars and attaches a major star. You get an ICM agent and a pocket full of money and are paid to do rewrites on Matt Damon’s next movie. Great huh?
Sure. But that’s just act one. Next, the star you were so excited about has issues with the script. You rewrite it so much it no longer resembles the story you fell in love with. You protest to save your story, but no one cares. Why?
You ever hear the joke about the blonde who tried to sleep her way to the top in Hollywood? She screwed the writer.
The punchline is there because everyone knows the writer means shit in Hollywood.
The movie comes out and you hate it. You try to get a personal project made and with your name, it shouldn’t be hard, but it is. You make a living writing dozens of screenplays that get bought, but never get made. Your last project is a remake of TV show from the 80s that you didn’t watch when you were five because it didn’t have enough nuance. The stories you dreamed about will never get made. You have become part of the problem.
That is the average success story in Hollywood.
So why is now such a good time for a screenwriter?
The old model meant the only path to success was to sell a screenplay to Hollywood, but a renaissance in digital media has given birth to a second, more pure and real dream — the only dream that ever really mattered — the dream of watching your words spoken by characters on a movie screen in front of an audience.
This dream is very real and even simple to achieve. In fact, I guarantee if you want it to happen and are willing to do the work, it will.
How can I guarantee this? Because of the advances in digital media, film is being made everywhere and every film needs a writer. And the skills that make a person good with a camera or an edit are not necessarily the same skills that make someone good with the elements of a screenplay. Find filmmakers and convince them they need your writing. And if that doesn’t work, become the filmmaker. There are thousands of film festivals, community organizations and screenings that always are looking for new content.
Even better than self-publishing, playing your film in a movie theater has the promise of a captive audience. Imagine if you could stand over the shoulder of everyone who bought your self-published book and give them a dirty look if they put it down.
Just try walking out of a movie at a film festival. I guarantee the guilt of possibly walking past the writer/director on your way out will keep you as glued to the seat as the popcorn butter has your feet glued to the floor.
And trying for a goal you know you can accomplish does not mean you have to give up on the road to riches and disappointment Hollywood has to offer. Take the makers of The Puffy Chair. This no budget, no star, no frills feature film was made for a small audience on digital equipment, won awards and resulted in the makers getting their own TV show (“The League”). Filmmaker Gareth Edwards directed his no-budget feature Monsters with a crew and cast of four. His next film is a $200 million remake of Godzilla. Following the very real dream of watching your movie with an audience can lead you to Hollywood.
Why does no one know this?
Because it is happening NOW. If you wrote a screenwriting book on Wednesday and printed on Thursday it would be outdated, because we are in the middle of a revolution and no one knows how it is going to play out. No one knows how to make money using the old ways. Everyone steals movies from the internet at the click of a button and yet the box office still hits all-time records and filmmakers are distributing movies themselves over download. Netflix and Amazon are making television shows, YouTube is paying people, dogs, and cats living together — mass hysteria.
We need better stories and newer and more varied voices. As the box office becomes more and more cluttered with noisy, pointless action films and remakes and adaptations of TV shows, the audience grows hungry for something new.
In other words, we need your stories. So find a filmmaker who recognizes he is not a writer and team up, or become that filmmaker and tell your own stories. There is an audience out there waiting in the dark to watch your dreams play out on the screen.
Mark Fogarty is a story consultant and co-producer on the film, Respite Road, filming Spring 2018. Mark runs the filmmaking program at Bishop Hendricken High School, a Catholic school for boys. The program allows students to study film every day of their High School career and combines theory with production. Before becoming a teacher Mark worked as a video editor and cameraman for Numark, and Pet Fashion Week. He has made every kind of video imaginable, including short films, fashion videos, DJ tutorials and more.