7 Ways To Define Screenwriting Career Success

7 Ways To Define Screenwriting Career Success
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Many screenwriters ask themselves (or are asked) if they are successful in their screenwriting careers. While being paid megabucks for someone to produce your screenplay is one measure of success (and a nice one at that), not all screenwriters are paid for every screenplay they write. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a measure of success to celebrate.

Even A-list screenwriters are rejected at an astonishing rate. Does that mean they consider themselves less successful? Nope. A rejection can mean a million things – many of which have nothing to do with your screenplay. They could have something similar in development, it doesn’t fit their budget, they’re busy, they can’t see how they can set it up with their current production partners, they’re focusing on different types of material… And yes, they may just dislike your script. It happens – daily!

Success is a numbers game. So play the numbers. A numbers game is not a lottery where every screenplay you write has an equal chance of breaking through. Improve your craft and think strategically.

Be certain of the uncertainty in your screenwriting career.

The film and TV business is an amorphous, unpredictable beast. Even veteran screenwriters can’t identify specific trends. They don’t consider themselves to be failures. They focus on their screenwriting – the part of the industry they can control. They don’t ask themselves if they’re successful or not. Success is assumed.

Here are some ways to identify success and keep you progressing through your career:

1) Do The Work

It may sound obvious. But you’d be amazed at how many screenwriters need to be reminded. What is work? It could mean watching movies, reading scripts, taking a class, speaking to professionals in the area you’re writing about – and heaven forbid – doing some writing – any writing – a page, a punchup, freeform stream of consciousness writing. If you set yourself a manageable and achievable task and complete it, you are successful.

Photo by Kaitlyn Baker

Doing the work will pay off. That may not necessarily mean a fat paycheck or getting produced every time. Completing writing or related tasks will make you a better screenwriter.

2) Perseverance

See previous paragraph. Perseverance doesn’t mean torturing yourself over a screenplay that isn’t coming together at a given point in time. It means keeping your focus on the finish line. It may take you a year. It may take a decade (or longer). Don’t give up. The number of screenwriters who were ready to go back to the family home and live in the basement on the verge of a career breakthrough is staggering.

Their luggage was packed, airfares purchased… until they get a call – or email, or text, or instant messenger – along the lines of  “remember that screenplay you sent me a few years ago? I’ve set it up. They want some rewrites. Interested?”

What do you do?

A) Reject the offer because you hate unpacking
B) Remain uncommitted because you can’t remember the screenplay they’re talking about
C) Conditionally accept the offer if they reimburse you for the non-refundable airfares (damn airlines)
D) Ask how much you’re getting paid and when?
E) Graciously accept the offer and thank them.

3) Take A Risk

The joy of screenwriting is that it takes the same amount of time to write a safe screenplay versus a risky one. It is not a completed film that relies on opening weekend box office to guarantee its success or failure. Script readers are inundated with more screenplays than they can reasonably (or unreasonably) handle. Give them something they haven’t seen before. Focus on that script that only you can write and means the world to you. Push the boundaries.

Is the subject matter unconventional, controversial, or outright bonkers? You’re on the right track. You will be remembered. Even if your screenplay isn’t set up, you may be considered for open writing assignments. Producers and writers’ reps have breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings – daily. They talk. They ask who or what they should be reading. Taking a risk ensures a higher than average chance you will be the subject of their conversations.

Don’t be risky for the sake of risk. The risk must serve your story and its emotional underpinnings. Being risky is not the same as being outlandish.

4) Be Unique

What do you want to be known for? Witty banter? Layered characters? Intricate plots? You can’t be everything, but by all means, try. What can you write that other people can’t? Think about screenwriters like Charlie Kaufman. His uniqueness relates to his voice and the way he perceives the world. That is his superpower. What’s yours?

Photo by Franck V.

5) Luck

Louis Pasteur, the famous French microbiologist who linked microorganisms with disease said:

Chance favors the prepared mind.

He also said that “fortune favors the prepared mind” and “in the field of observation chance favors the prepared mind.” Be observant. Study people, places and plots to enhance your chances of stumbling across a great story.

Some argue luck is so random, you can’t rely on it for success. Others counter with a rejection of the notion of luck altogether. Everything is pre-ordained by destiny. The true answer probably lies somewhere in between – on a sliding scale. Do you know writers who always seem to catch those “lucky” breaks that are elusive to you? What do they have in common? They focus on people that can help them advance their careers and reject distractions like complaining about how tough the industry is. Be present. Show up. At some point, you will be in the right place at the right time. Adjust your mindset. Be realistic and avoid toxic positivity. That is just as bad as toxic negativity.

Lucky people don’t wait around. They create their own opportunities. Luck will meet opportunity at the write (sorry, right) time.

6) Curiosity

Go out and meet more people in the industry. Show a genuine interest in their work and lives. Ask questions. Try new things. It can be something as seemingly insignificant as taking a different route to the grocery store. Your muscle memory is forced to readjust and re-evaluate its perspective of the world. Do something unusual. The thrill of the first time can really spark your creativity as your neural networks scramble to process these new experiences.

If you can’t find something different to do, do the same thing differently – that may be as small as writing in a different coffee shop. Trying new things leads to other new things – such as success.

7) Ask

Yep. It’s that simple. Can you read my script? What’s the worst that can happen?

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