5 Reasons Screenwriting Success Is Not Always A Good Thing
Whaaat? You ask in shock. Being a screenwriter is hard work. It can take a decade to become an “overnight success.” How can success be a bad thing?
Let’s be realistic. The majority of your screenplays will be rejected by the industry at large. Apart from the usual slew of rejection excuses such as we have something similar in development, we don’t have the resources or a similar movie bombed at the box office… you don’t want too much success early on in your career. You need to be ready for it. Otherwise, you can crash and burn before your career has flourished. You may or may not recover. You only sprint toward the end of a marathon.
You may find those screenwriters who seem to have magic in a bottle and always seem to be setting a screenplay with one company while considering a script sale offer with another. Writing scripts is not a sausage factory that produces perfect sausages every time. You need to pace yourself. Not pacing yourself properly means that you run the risk of writing subpar or underdeveloped material. We all know what happens to a soufflé when you take it out of the oven before it’s ready.
Churning out an endless stream of award-winning screenplays is not sustainable – even if you think you have a bottle of magic pixie dust. Even if you manage to hit a trifecta and sell three projects in the same year, can you follow it up with four equally good scripts in the following year? Perhaps, but unlikely.
If you hit a home run every time you bat, are you really doing your best work? You may sell a few scripts in a row, but are they your best scripts? A few setbacks along the way are necessary to keep us challenged.
Damien Chazelle famously said he was glad LA LA Land took so long to make. It may not have won an Oscar if it was produced ten years prior.
1) Your creativity needs time to replenish itself
Your mind needs time to rest and create new stories. Having a winning streak is great, but it can burn you out. You are an athlete and your creative muscles need time to rest. That’s why the occasional rejection is a good thing. It allows us screenwriters to look at our screenplays more objectively. A screenplay needs time to breathe to realize its full potential. Otherwise, it can suffocate.
Why didn’t it strike a chord with the reader? A skilled reader might not personally like your screenplay, but may recognize your writing skill. Too many successes can make your writing for granted and write an average screenplay.
2) Setbacks can also force us to change course
Are you’re writing too many westerns or romcoms in a row? The market can only handle so many projects in a particular genre at a time. Even with perennial horror and genre scripts being bought, you run the risk of saturating the marketplace with another screenplay to toss on the pile. And with that your reputation. A string of rejections can force us to ask ourselves what else we can write.
Write that thing that matters most to you and reflects your values and perception of the world. Even so, your personal story can still be rejected…. flatly – repeatedly. Maybe the world isn’t ready for it. If that’s the case, letting it ferment on your laptop for a few months will mean you’ll look at it with a fresh pair of eyes. Then you’re ready for another draft. This might allow character or plot nuances to emerge to allow a tonal shift or solidification of the story. Having your screenplay sold too early means producers, directors, and actors have more room to bend it to their whims.
3) Failure makes us grow
A skilled sailor is only apparent during a stormy sea. Same with screenwriters. Too much success may mean we’re not pushing the creative envelope in our stories. We’re writing safe because “if it ain’t broke” don’t fix it. Hollywood is plagued with “safe.” Too much success can also create hubris and arrogance. We turn to vices and think that every script we write is brilliant and will sell. A small dose of humility makes us better people. Failures should be a badge of honor. It means you tried something that didn’t work. Try something new.
4) It’s Unrealistic
Even billionaire entrepreneurs have their fair share of failures. They experience heavy investment losses – even after they heavily research their investments. One such billionaire claims that only two or three investments in every ten yields a return. And only one of them yields a fantastic return.
5) What’s next?
Landing a first-look deal or bagging that six-figure check are sure signs of success. But with bigs deals and paychecks comes great responsibility. And that means you need to write material that consistently appeals to audiences. The bar is set very high. Not that it means that you don’t have a dozen Oscar-worthy or summer blockbuster screenplays awaiting another draft. Good for you if that’s the case. However, your success can also restrict you. Once you’re known as the outer-limits space exploration king or rom-com queen, only that type of material will get you meetings around town. Only a handful of Hollywood royalty can chop and change genre. Apart from typecasting, you will also have more layers of bureaucracy and sets of notes to deal with.
Are you ready for that interference?
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