The Creative Road.
We’ve probably all heard the famous Robert Frost quote, “Two roads diverged in a wood, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” The road less traveled, by its very nature can at times be a lonely road yet it is an adventure. Yet you and I have chosen this road for our own individual (read: warped) reasons. We skip happily along some days, and we sit and swat at the flies on other days.
I can say that I came late to this path in life, writing my first screenplay at the age of forty-nine, but I think that the creativity has always been there in one form or another. The lesson there: Never give up on your dreams. I caught my first wisp of the entertainment bug while in business school thirty years ago. Although I traveled the wide path for a while, the desire for this scenic byway was always there, ready to bloom when opportunity presented itself. In my relatively short time along this wandering way, I have picked up a few gems of knowledge.
Lesson one: Always be ready. Always be prepared and preparing at the same time. Learn all you can from those around you, keeping your dream alive as you move through the maze. You are never done learning and you are never “there.” Keep improving no matter how good you think you are. And don’t be afraid to teach to others what you have learned. They say that you know what you know when you teach what you know, or something like that. Being willing to give back will not only ingrain the information in your head, it will also gain you respect in the community, which is a commodity more valuable than gold in any market.
When I was first starting out, I read anything I could find… Screenplays, blogs, websites, books. I had to learn the lingo. I think the first time I was asked if my story was “High Concept” was when I discovered that deer-in-the-headlights is not a good answer. What’s a tag line or a log line and what is the difference? I have to admit, I still have no idea what a Best Boy does. I’ll have to look that one up some day. I’m guessing that it is not the guy who goes to get the sandwiches.
Lesson two: Talk the talk and walk the walk. I learned quickly that you had to have the lingo down to pitch a movie. The catch phrases that producers are looking for: high concept, grounded, four quadrant. Know what they want and how to communicate that you have what they want. And walk the walk. When you pitch or audition, you want to own the room. This takes practice, but it is an essential sales tool. Practice, don’t wing it, or you’ll never hold their attention long enough to make the deal. Ask anyone in sales, and they will agree. If you do it right, you will convince them that you have exactly what they want and that it was their idea all along.
Speaking of those mysterious god-like creatures that we call “Producers,” they are actually surprisingly human. So are agents and managers and everyone else in the industry. I have been truly blessed by the generosity of those in the industry willing to share their knowledge with me. They say that Hollywood is the only place on the planet where you can die from encouragement. That may be true, but I’d appreciate it if you didn’t burst my bubble just yet.
Lesson Three: Be yourself (unless you are a jerk, then you are probably better off being someone else.) People in the industry are interested in working with you, but they need to know who you really are in order to make that decision. Yes you need to have talent, but can you spend five years in the same room with that producer and not kill each other along the way. These are not people to be nervous around or afraid of. Be yourself, network, get to know them. If it’s a good fit, they will bring work to you. This also brings me to lesson four:
Lesson Four: Get out of your cave. Many creatives are cave dwellers, especially writers. We like to spend our time in our own creative world. The preferred method of communication is email as it involves no real contact and doesn’t interrupt our creative “flow.” However, when you rely too much on email, you miss out on the real chance to make a connection with these people. When you pitch via email (which I have done) you miss out on the chance to see the producer’s reaction. You can’t counter their doubts or answer their questions. You have no idea what you are missing. Get out of your cave. We work in a visual industry, be visible.
One of the shocks I had to get over when I started was the time things take to get done. Everyone is busy and wants to be polite, but they don’t always have the time to respond. I come from an industry where if you didn’t answer an email within an hour, you were late.
Lesson Five: The sands of time move slowly, Hollywood moves slower than that. Making movies takes time. The bigger the budget, the longer it is going to take to get a decision. This just makes sense. If you are going to put 100 million dollars on the table, you’d be darn careful to make sure you had it all right too. I have found that waiting months is not unusual. As long as the conversation is still open and they are still “looking” at it, that is good. That means they are lining up or trying to line up the various parts before they commit. This is a good thing. Of course if they just stop replying at all, move on. In the words of producer Pen Densham “Follow up is good. Stalking is bad.” Don’t be a stalker, if they don’t reply, move on.
Overall, my adventure is just beginning. Many of you have been down this path before me. I appreciate you blazing the way. Others are coming up behind me, following my lead and the lead of those around me. I hope each of you find my adventures helpful to you in some way. I look forward to meeting and working with many of you in the future. Best of luck in your adventure down this path. God bless and don’t forget to wave as you pass by.
Do you currently write screenplays? Do you aspire to write screenplays?