There’s an old joke: What do you call the guy who delivers your pizza in L.A.? Answer? A screenwriter. The beast is that ubiquitous. In fact, the guy sitting across from you at Starbucks right now probably just typed “Fade In” on his Macbook Pro.
Past the posers and pretenders and the very few who still think there’s a pot-of-gold payday waiting for anyone who buys the right software or enters the right competition, there remains a staunch population of would-be screenwriters. They’re not naïve; they know the odds. Yet they are compelled to do what they do. Life is not complete if they aren’t creating characters and stories then bringing them to a satisfying ending, happy or not, in 110 pages. They may not have an Oscar, a three-picture deal, or even a single credit, but they are true screenwriters.
“Screenwriting is such a crazy profession that you have to be a little nuts to do it,” says Lew Osteen, a published writer who says he was never able to “go big.”
“My motivation is that I think I can write better stuff than I see on the movie screens—NO, I DO write better stuff than I see on the movie screens. Getting it produced? Ah! There’s the rub. Even optioned scripts are full of headaches, but I keep at it. Call me crazy!”
He’s not crazy. And he’s not alone. With just enough praise to keep afloat and rarely any income from their writing endeavors, the spec writers remain motivated to face the blank page on a regular basis.
“I don’t think motivated is the correct word when it comes to unproduced screenwriters, masochistic is probably more appropriate,” says unproduced screenwriter Ronald Silva, who already has two completed screenplays, four partials and other adaptations on which he’s trying to build his rep.
“The thought of winning the screenwriting lottery has become such a seemingly obtainable giant golden carrot, it’s almost impossible to resist,” Silva says. “Every time you finish a script, there’s a carrot. Get positive feedback from your peers, a reader or script service and the carrot grows. Enter your script in a contest and the carrot grows. The script becomes a semi-finalist and the carrot grows. If it actually wins, you’ve not only got a full-blown carrot, but you have become one yourself.”
David Tickner remains optimistic that one of his scripts will sell. Right now he’s working up the fortitude to face the pages he put aside almost two months ago.
“I get half way through a project and the depression sets in,” says Tickner who believes that a successful screenwriter must have optimism, good health, exercise and a positive attitude “However, I don’t always have all four ingredients at the same time.”
For Tickner competitions can be a motivating factor, but they have become as much a lottery as a spec sale. Osteen says he’s found that while competition may give a boost, winning doesn’t really help build a career.
“So I went local. We have a group here putting it all together and hope to make our own flicks,” Osteen says, advising other writers to get out of the sales market and make their own movies
“I suggest doing as much as you can independent of the big boys,” Osteen says.
More often than not, a contest entry does not win, a script mailed out with hopes yields a form-letter reply, and the blank page beckons again.
“I am fully prepared to be rejected for years to come,” Silva muses. And he means it. That’s a screenwriter.