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The Curse of the Origin Story

Surprisingly, the kid who lives through this will grow up and yell at Shane Hurulbut for no reason.
You'd be surprised how many bloggers start out this way.

Matt’s email yesterday got me thinking about “making it,” and what exactly that means. I, too, will someday need a lawyer.

I hope.

This got me thinking about the Creative Screenwriting Podcast, and how they always start their interviews with “breaking-in stories.” I’m currently living through mine (I hope).

But there’s something that disturbs me about most of these stories. The writer always starts with, “I met producer X or director Y, and he/she/they liked my script.”

They never talk about years spent writing scripts, most of which are terrible, followed by several more years of coming to the realization that they are, in fact, terrible. They never mention working as a PA or a personal assistant orwhatever. It’s like they emerged from the cocoon of film school as a full-grown writerfly. (Butterwriter?)

Occasionally you’ll get, “I worked as a video store clerk… And then I made this movie!”

No one talks about the dozens of people they showed their screenplays to first, only to be rejected or, worse, get no response at all. They don’t discuss all the conmen and shady people they’ve had to deal with.

(I once had a producer agree to hire me for a few thousand dollars. When it came time to pay, he told me the financier would give me double the agreed amount, and I would have to give him (the producer) half. Also, he wanted me to give him his half before the funds for the post-dated check would be available. He swore to me he did this kind of thing all the time.)

My point is, the writers only talk about that one connection that panned out.

And that’s a problem for all us aspirants. We all know the basic strategy—write good scripts, network, rewrite, make friends, write some more, show your script around. Eventually it’ll land in the hands of a producer or agent, right?

But after years of running on the same treadmill, you start to think there must be something you’re missing. Some step you skipped or some trick you just don’t know. If you can just figure out how John August made it, or how Tarantino made it, or how John Wells or Joss Whedon or Aaron Sorkin did.

They’re not better writers than you,; they just knew some trick you didn’t. Some secret handshake or codeword. Something that means it’s not all random luck.

But the truth is, there is no secret. You just keep working at the video store or in the production office or whatever. Someday you’ll make it, but it won’t be because of some clever tactic or strategy. It’ll be because you met the right person at the right time with the right script.

And the only one of those things I can control is the script.  So, back to writing.

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5 Responses

  1. I recently got very lucky and was able to finagle my way out of the mail room and into a sweet PA job on the lot. I have been scouring IMDB to find the origins of all of my producers, show runners, directors, A.D.s, etc, and none of them have any experience listed before they got to the level of “line producer.” Even the writers lack any listings before their first writing gig. Why do you think this is? Typical Hollywood -I -was -born -into -greatness BS, or should we take a page from their book and hide our true job titles when out of the office or off the set?

  2. I don’t know. I still think nepotism is a good trick to have up your sleeve.

    But for those of us who don’t have that in our back pocket…hopefully the treadmill will eventually get us some where. Hard work and being serious about the business has to account for something . . . right?

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