Writers: How Is Your Script Like a Battering Ram?

I belong to a LinkedIn group called The Writers’ Block.

Recent comment: “Getting scripts into the hands of major producers is very difficult, if there is no name attached to it. It really doesn’t matter how good the script is.”

Doesn’t matter how good the script is? Really?

This is like saying that when you wait on line at Fairway to buy a bag of peanuts, it really doesn’t matter how tasty the peanut is.

Nobody can argue that the line at Fairway is long.  But, to stick with the peanut analogy, because it’s early and I haven’t had breakfast, nothing else matters but the taste of the peanut.  The taste of the peanut, one might argue, is the very reason that Fairway exists.

So it is with scripts.  The only thing that matters is the quality of the script.  And I do not mean in a poofy granola way: I mean tangibly, a good script is an absolute necessity—the first necessity—in carving out a career for yourself as a writer.

Why? Because if you are a new writer, there is no hope whatsoever that you will make a real career writing plays, screenplays and television.  Did you hear that?  I am the anti-SPT (Stupid Positive Thinking) and telling you the God’s honest truth: There is no hope.   Now that you’ve accepted that you have no chance, you’re in a better position to understand .  The only thing that can beat the odds for you is…

A great script.

Why?  There are actualities in the entertainment industry that are working against you, O Aspiring Writer.  They are all logical.

The theater world is undergoing cuts in public funding.  To stay alive, theaters are producing “safe bets” meaning the same ten plays over and over.  To see what they are, hit the link below.  (And while I’m complaining about waiting in line, I cannot help but point out that, of those ten plays, eight are by men.)

The film world is tightening its belts, and in the process, the studios are killing off their “art” divisions.  Disney shuttered Miramax.  New Line folded Fine Line.   Virtually all the major studios have cut back their small-budget wings.   Nobody wants a script that cannot be stretched into a franchise, and, most likely, your story about an aging janitor who falls in love with a techie from Hong Kong does not fall into that category.  Everyone is seeking the next Twilight and not noticing the implications in that name.

The TV world is a reality TV world now, and becoming more so every year.  Reality television has many strong points but buying scripts is not one of them.  This sad fact recently hit me personally.  I was having my biennial meeting with my agent, and I suddenly found myself on the floor, clutching his ankles, weeping.  (And I also tied his shoelace; he’s only maybe twenty-six years old.)  I asked him to set me up with meetings with the hot-shot Paradigm TV agents in Los Angeles.  He told me, straight up, that despite my sterling credentials, he could not introduce me because there is no way in 2012 to break into TV if you don’t have a…wait for it, wait for it…show runner attached to your TV idea.  What is a show runner?  If you don’t know, buy an hour of my time and I’ll explain it to you.

Have I totally discouraged you?  I hope so.  Everything I’ve said makes sense.

And yet…

There is one thing that does not make sense.  One thing that is irrational, emotional, and unstoppable.   A great script, and the feeling people get when they read it.

When an agent or producer falls in love with your script, what happens is passion.  All the caveats, all the reasons for not wanting to deal with you go away.

A great script is like a battering ram: breaks down the solid walls, rises above the bottom line.  A great script makes people fall in love.  With the story.  With the characters.  With the voice telling the story.  It is indelible and undeniable.

In my time as a writing coach and professional appraiser of scripts, I have come across maybe two, three great scripts—out of many hundreds.  I know right away.  The great script is great from page one.  I sigh—and I move to the couch, make a fresh pot of coffee, settle in, and prepare to enjoy.

Here is a world that is not my world, shown to me vividly and without self-indulgence.  Here is a journey of another being through terrain different from my own, yet the same.  Here is longing, terror, love, hope, and an overcoming of fear and restraints.

When I read a great script, or when I see a great play by a hopeful new writer, I go to bat.  I go out of my way to further that writer’s career in every way possible.  I call my agent.  (He rarely shows up.)  I write my publishers.  (They mostly publish only produced plays now but I try.)  I spread the word in every way I can.

Do you have a great script?  I doubt it.   However, you may very well have a script that can be great.  Here’s where something very important comes to bear: You.  Are you ready to do the work?  Even if you are, that doesn’t mean you’ll get a great script.  You still need talent.  However, if you have determination and talent, and a reasonably good script, you can make it great.  When it is, send it out everywhere.  That baby will work for you.   Open doors.  Get attention.  Win prizes.  And suddenly, you are in.

Contact Diana for an appraisal of your play, screenplay, novel or memoir; for next-draft advice or an actual next draft; professionally-staged reading; and for career guidance.  

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