A Million Ways to Lose Money as a Writer –
Part Six (and Final!)
When I moved to LA I bought 200 business cards that said “Writer/Director” on them. I was told I needed them. In the end, I handed them out to a total of 2 people. A few years later I bought 200 more business cards, this time proudly proclaiming that I was just a “Writer”. I handed those cards out to about 7 people. I once handed my business card to a working, professional writer. He looked at it, paused for a second, and said “Huh. Don’t think I’ve ever given someone a business card.” The lesson: a piece of scrap paper will do just as well and not cost you 20 bucks + shipping and handling. Or just get their contact information. It’ll give you a reason to follow-up with them, and doesn’t place the burden on them to reach out. (Ex: “Hey, shooting you a quick e-mail to say it was great to meet you the other day and blah, blah, blah.”)
My point: it’s not all weasels and sheisters out there trying to get your money. Sometimes it’s bad advice or just plain bad judgment that can chip away at your wallet. And while 20 bucks might not seem like a lot at the time, as the years pile up, so do the dollars. As with most attempts to make it in the industry, the compulsion to pull out my cash was rooted in fear: What if I go to a networking event and I don’t have a business card? And because I don’t, I lose out on a potential connection? Well, I better shell out the $20, just in case. There’s a lot of “just in case” type scenarios in screenwriting, mostly rooted in the fear that you’re going to pass up an opportunity; be it a producer/consultant dangling their “connections” over your head or a screenplay competition that promises to pass your script along to “all the right people”.
Side note: There’s a lot of screenplay competitions out there and only a handful of good ones. Most of them will either offer you cash or connections as a grand prize. While the cash is nice, be wary of the connections. A couple of years ago, I won the grand prize in a screenwriting competition that’s pretty well known and promised to get my script into all the right hands. The script was a universal crowd-pleaser and, given that it had just won a competition, I was pretty confident that someone would get back to me. Weeks passed, and then a month. Nothing. I decided to reach out to past winners, and ask their experience with the competition (something I should have done before). The consensus: no one ever heard anything from the vast list of producers, managers, companies, and agents the competition flaunted. I don’t know why, but my guess is that the ever-growing list contained a lot of people who, at one time or another were game to read material, but eventually lost interest as the years passed. I know it seems obvious, but do your research. Look up past winners and see what’s happening with them. Seriously. Entry fees add up.
Odds are, you work a day job and write on the side. You might even have a family. (And if you don’t have a family, the thought of getting one and still not having made it as a writer probably terrifies you. I know it did for me.) Either way, writing is not your job yet, and you’re most likely putting more money into writing than you’re getting out of it. (Even those script registration fees start to add up.) So approach every expenditure with caution. Do you really NEED that business card? Is paying for coverage really worth it? Will this film festival/competition actually give you anything in return? Should I give this person money to get my script made? (Note: if you give someone money to make your script after reading this series, there is no hope for you.)
I’ve stopped spending money trying to “make it”. I don’t buy coverage, I don’t enter contests, and I certainly will never pay someone to query my work again. I have a daughter now, and I think of her every time I’m dealing with money. When you’re choosing between feeding your kid and printing a business card, the choice is pretty easy.
So, to sum up: Have a baby. That fixes everything.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. New to P.J. readership? Click here for more articles!