Writing a Screenplay

Here’s a really ugly fact in the industry that those of us who have been around it long enough know and often refrain from saying, in the well-meaning, but ultimately naïve attempt to not crush people’s dreams – you ready? It is, unless you are already connected (and in this case, I mean that you already know someone who has one), it is practically impossible to get an agent or manager to represent you as a writer, no matter how talented you are. And here’s the thing – none of that is your fault. The system is inherently stacked against you, and here’s the why.

Officially, the best way to get a manager or agent if you’re not already in the industry is to send out a query letter to them (after you’re done writing a screenplay, that is) explaining in a nutshell who you are and offering a very basic version of your pitch for your script – that makes sense, right? On the surface, it absolutely does. But here’s the snag – if you get to know an agent well enough, they will be pretty open about the fact that they don’t read about 99.5% of the unsolicited query letters that they get. And it’s in no way a personal slight against you – it has to do with the way the business is structured.

You see, Hollywood has always been, both historically and presently, terrified to embrace change – remember, these are the people who were afraid of both sound and color, for Christ’s sakes. As a result, they don’t want to hire new writers because they don’t already have a proven track record that they can point to. Of course, this sets up an insanely vicious feedback cycle – how you can begin your track record in the first place if you’re never given a chance to begin one?

As a result, agents and managers have a hard time representing new writers because they’re afraid of all the time and work they’re going to have to put into them before they start seeing any money and because they know all of that going in, they have no reason to represent new writers. Why do all that work when they can try to steal an established one from another agency for a lot less effort?

But please, oh please, do not less this discourage you, because I’m about to tell you the secret to how you get around this totally rigged deck – are you ready? Good, then make your own movie. No, really, I’m 100% serious – write a screenplay and then make the movie yourself. And if you’re not a director (and believe me, a lot of writers aren’t), then you need to find a director who’s not a writer (and again, a lot of them are not) and get them to shoot the movie for you. After that is done, you can start entering the completed film into film festivals, which is great in and of itself. But more importantly, you’ll have something much more valuable – control over your career and not being at the mercy of other people.

Breaking into Screenwriting

This is a challenging business to break into, and I would be lying if I said there weren’t a lot of systems designed to keep people from getting in because there are. And to say they’re unfair is the understatement of the millennia. However, I don’t want that to discourage you in the least – you wrote a screenplay, and your screenplay deserves to have great characters because that will make it a great movie, and that great movie deserves to be made because people should know how talented you and the other cast and crew members who worked on the project are.

Ultimately, I hope you took something away from all of this – whether it was just to learn how to write great characters or even more, will remain to be seen (and ultimately be up to you). But if there’s one thing I want you to take away from all of this, it’s not just how to write great characters – it’s to be reminded that they have a very vital place in the cinema in the first place.