There’s something I want to get off my chest. My need to say this has come from what’s actually a wonderful forum thread I stumbled upon about script listing websites. I was delighted to see Script Revolution recommended along with the Black List and InkTip with a bunch of positive success stories surrounding it. After three years struggling to get the site off the ground, I have to admit I got a little misty-eyed. However, since I am a defensive pessimist, I of course had to find something to find a beef with and this beef has been brewing for a long time.
Whenever the conversation comes up about script listing websites, someone always feels the need to mention that some sites, usually InkTip but this certainly should include my own, only tend to attract small production companies that produce very low budget films. Now, that is a true fact, one I cannot argue with, and I see the value in making screenwriters aware of that. I’ve nothing against someone making that observation.
What frustrates me though is the stigma.
I mean, I get it, everybody wants to win the Powerball by selling a spec script to a major studio after a furious bidding war, have that script decimate the box office, secure a top agent, and spend their lives getting paid handsomely to write what they want while being hand fed olives in hot tub by nymphomaniac underwear models. In fact, in any industry, getting to the most comfortable and rewarding place possible is always going to appeal.
What I find odd is, how in the screenwriting world, it feels like anything less than that is seen as some sort of embarrassing failure.
Look, I recently broke in via a small project for a small production company and, I can assure you, it’s been bloody brilliant. I say that as someone who’s spent most of their life working freelance from home and, for some of those years, done very well out of it. That’s been sweet but it pales in comparison to getting paid to write, even if those earnings aren’t going to change your life.
That’s just the money too. Signing that contract, collaborating with producers, watching talent attach, securing locations, gaining that credit on IMDB, and eventually watching the trailers roll in for production is nothing short of magical to experience. You can’t put a price on increased self-worth and a genuine sense of accomplishment.
And here’s the thing, there’s actual benefits to being a screenwriter on a small project. Like the fact you’ll probably be the sole writer and not just a ship passing in the night. Like the fact you’ll probably have a close bond with the producers, director, cinematographer, actors, and other team members. Like the fact you’ll probably go on to form a tight team that go on to work on new projects together while boosting each other up the ladder.
Yes, as our profile increases, we are all approached by chancers with zero credits who want us to work for free in the hope we get 1% of what’s most likely to be nothing. These pseudo-offers are best avoided but should not be conflated with the indie scene where experienced producers are doing their best with the budgets they have to pay their writers as fairly as possible.
Real talk, you probably never got into this for a Porsche and a penthouse. You probably got into it because you were looking for purpose and fulfilment. You probably looked at your pay check and, regardless of what those numbers added up to, felt it didn’t compensate for a life baron of fun, freedom, and creativity. It’s easy to forget that when you hang around with dreamers.
The Matthew Effect certainly seems to apply to film production, operating on an inverse square law and meaning something like only the square root of the total receive half of the glory and revenue. That means, out of the 6,000 films made annually, fewer than 80 are going to dominate the box office and DVD shelves. It’s easy to fear that bargain bin but rethink those numbers. It also means, out of the 50,000 scripts registered a year, only 250 are likely to go into production. Start getting excited about the thought of making it into that microscopic 0.5% because it’s a real privilege even if you are still living in the same house and driving the same car.
If someone wants to scoff at you for writing a movie they’ve never heard of while they themselves sit lonely in their office cubicle fantasising about their Oscar acceptance speech, let them. If someone mocks your status because you made a movie for less than $1m and they’ve spent the last decade fruitlessly chasing $100m, let them. If someone frames your real life success as somehow being their image of failure when they can’t even get a job, let them. See it for what it is, you’re leaving them in your dust.
Believe me as someone who’s been there; when you receive that payment however modest, when you land in LA riding in economy class, when you eat nachos with the production crew, and when that single trailer rolls in for production, you’re still going to feel like the luckiest person in the world.
Struggling by while writing movies is a damn sight better than struggling by while dreaming of writing them. Take every genuine opportunity you can.