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Friday, June 13, 2014

Notes from a Veteran Writer – A Million Ways to Lose Money as a Writer – Part Four* (P.J. McNeill) - posted by P. J. McNeill

A Million Ways to Lose Money as a Writer – Part Four

 

It wasn’t long before I decided that I should drop the idea of trying to become a writer/director. I was going to focus my efforts on strictly becoming a writer. But I still didn’t know what to do. I figured the best thing was to seek guidance from a professional. But there was one problem: I didn’t know any professionals.

I did, however, know a cartoon fish.

Let me back up.

During my time at the post-production house, I came to find out that one of my co-workers used to be a child actor, and made it big when he landed the role of a certain cartoon fish in a certain blockbuster kid’s film that, for legal reasons, we shall call The Small Fish Girl. When I found out that he was in The Small Fish Girl, I immediately geeked out and asked a million questions: “Was the small fish girl nice?”, “What was it like being in the lime light?” and “Why weren’t you in the sequel?” It was only a couple of months later that I realized that he might be able to help me beyond satisfying my need for pop culture minutia. Turns out, he had a friend who had made it big as a screenwriter. Like, really big. Like, movie opening nationwide TODAY big. (Don’t you hate it when people write articles and DON’T specifically name drop but vaguely allude to the person instead? I have this friend – a big A-list producer that you’d recognize in an instant – who does it all the time. So tasteless.)

So I asked my co-worker if I could interview his friend. Nothing beyond that. I wasn’t planning to use him as my “in” or toss my script at the guy; I just wanted his advice.

Side note: Don’t use people as “opportunities”. They can tell when you’re trying to. Look, I understand: this is a business made on connections. But that doesn’t mean you have to be sleazy or overly forward about it. Over the years I’ve had lots of coffees and dinners with people way better off than me. And while, in the back of my mind, I always hoped it would lead to something, I never went in expecting it. You have to realize: you’re not the first person to come to them, expecting them to hand over the keys to Hollywood. Odds are, they’re desperately trying to hold onto those keys for themselves, worried about the day they might slip away. If they can help you, and they like you, odds are they’ll offer themselves. I’m serious: I’ve never once had to ask; help has always been offered.

Anyway, I called the professional writer (herein referred to as The Pro) when he was taking a break from being on set of his latest film. He had been prepped that I was calling to talk about “how I could make it as a screenwriter”, so I imagined he had thought of several answers to toss my way. I introduced myself and said something to the effect of “Now that I’m in LA, I was hoping you could shed some light on the steps I could take to make it as a screenwriter. I’ve got a script and I’m just trying to figure out what I can do with it.” I knew the question was broad, but I honestly didn’t know how else to ask it. I guess I thought that he could give me a few broad answers and then we could work from there, narrowing it down with more specific questions.

Silence. Dead silence. I worried I had said something stupid. Then The Pro expelled a long, deep breath and said, “I don’t know, man….make it yourself?” Make. It. Myself. I immediately deflated. I had come to this guy asking how I could make it as a professional writer, and his advice was to become a professional writer/director. It was like asking someone “What’s the best way to get a Masters degree?” and their response is “I don’t know, man… get a PhD?”

But here’s the crazy thing: I took his advice. He had done it, so how hard could it be? (Note: the reason he had done it is because he was a child actor who made friends with a casting director who took his script and personally handed it to an A-list star. I was not a child actor; although at age 11 I did shoot a remake of Mission Impossible with my sister – who subsequently stormed off because I was too demanding a director, leaving me to finish the whole thing by myself. So same thing, really.)

So, how hard could it be? Really hard. And it would take me 2 years of my life, numerous favors and severed connections, and almost ten thousand dollars to figure it out…

To be continued next week….

About the writer: A talented writer and 10 year veteran of the industry, “P.J. McNeill” has seen it all (and he’s ready to kiss and tell.) Got a question, a comment or just general bile /praise you want to spew?  Email PJ at pjscriptblog@gmail.com. New to P.J. readership?  Click here for more articles!

** I think Seth MacFarlane’s flick is out of the theaters now.  So I guess we can stop this tangent, right…?

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