It’s always inspiring to hear how influential people in Hollywood broke into the business. At the ScreenCraft Writers Summit in Atlanta in April, attendees were treated to stories from five Hollywood insiders, who shared about their beginnings in the industry and the biggest life lessons they’ve learned along their paths to success.
Eric Haywood – TV Writer/Co-Executive Producer – Empire
Eric began his career making music videos while he was still in college, eventually producing for artists such as Usher, CeeLo Green, and Tupac. After turning his focus to writing, he was staffed on ABC’S Private Practice and Showtime’s Soul Food, and is currently a writer and co-executive producer on Empire for Fox.
Eric’s life lessons:
1. On getting edits on your script:
“The easiest thing in the world for someone else to do is to take somebody’s work and a red pen and make changes to it… what you deliver may not always be someone’s cup of tea, but that doesn’t mean you’ve failed.”
2. On a new TV writer’s first time in a writers’ room:
“Don’t be so intimidated that you don’t contribute.”
3. On pitching an idea in the room and hearing crickets:
“Everybody will occasionally have home runs, everybody will occasionally triple, and everybody will occasionally strike out.”
4. On becoming a working writer:
“If you have faith in your talent, and know what you stand for, the rest can be learned. It’s not magic; it’s a craft.”
Max Borenstein – Screenwriter – Godzilla, Kong: Skull Island, Game of Thrones spinoff
Max became an obsessive film buff as a young child, and, living in Los Angeles, had the opportunity to start his career at the tender age of 13 as an intern at Oliver Stone’s company. After finding success as a writer/director with his senior film project at Yale, he then had two of his scripts land on The Black List. He has written several studio blockbuster films, including Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island, and will be working on the upcoming Game of Thrones spinoff series.
Max’s life lessons:
5. On applying for an internship with Oliver Stone as a young teenager:
“Naïveté is a blessing in the beginning.”
6. On dealing with the ups and downs of the business:
“Persistence and devotion—hope springs eternal…embark on whatever the next thing is with the same stupidity and hope as you had in the beginning. Have a deep-seated optimism that your script is good.”
7. On dealing with rejection:
“Lick your wounds and then go again.”
Scott Carr – Literary Manager – Management SGC
Originally from Canada, Scott followed his dream to work in showbiz and drove 4,000 miles from Ontario to Hollywood with his first screenplay in hand. Upon arriving in LA, he quickly learned a lesson in humility about his 184-page epic, which he now dubs “Titanic without the boat or budget.”
To support his fledgling career, Scott first worked as a personal trainer before getting a gig in the mailroom at William Morris. After working his way up at William Morris, he transitioned to UTA and then to a development position at Hollywood Gang Productions before starting his own management company for writers and directors—Management SGC.
Scott’s life lessons:
8. On starting your screenwriting career:
“It’s OK to be naïve.”
9. On dealing with fear and rejection:
“Persist without exception… face it head on and don’t give up.”
JJ Klein – VP of Current Programming – FX Network
JJ oversees the day-to-day creative process at FX, and has been instrumental in the production of The Strain, Better Things, Married, and The Comedians. Before working at FX, she oversaw television at Denver & Delilah and was VP of Specials and Events at Comedy Central. She was nominated for an Emmy Award for the HBO original movie If These Walls Could Talk.
JJ’s life lessons:
10. On getting her feet wet in the business:
“I’ve learned everything on the job along the way.”
11. On writers getting notes from executives:
“You won’t know how to implement notes that you don’t agree with.” (She emphasized the importance of discussing notes and getting to the bottom of what the executive is really looking for. “Learn to listen, sit back, and digest.”)
12. On enjoying the writing process:
“The scriptwriting process is the only time the script is yours and yours alone.”
13. On owning up to mistakes:
“Integrity is the only thing you carry from job to job.”
Jeanette Francis – Producer and Creative Executive at Bad Robot
Jeanette started her entertainment career in the mailroom at William Morris Endeavor. She then worked her way up to assistant positions at WME and Bluegrass Films before becoming a creative executive at Atomic Monster, STX, and now J.J. Abrams’ company, Bad Robot.
Jeanette’s life lessons:
14. On pursuing a career in a hard-to-break-into industry:
“First do what’s necessary, then do what’s possible, then do the impossible.”
15. On doing whatever it takes to reach your goals:
“Look around you: what are you doing in your environment to make it possible? Even if you cannot see the road ahead—have I done everything possible?”
16. On staying the course despite the odds:
“Impossible things happen, and you can’t prepare for them; just don’t give up.”
These valuable life lessons certainly have a pattern: Don’t. Give. Up. Keep writing. Hard work and persistence ultimately pay off.
Rebecca Norris is a producer, writer, and filmmaker with her production company, Freebird Entertainment. Her recent award-winning feature film, Cloudy With a Chance of Sunshine, has been distributed on Amazon Streaming and DVD. Rebecca is also a script analyst and consultant who has read for many companies, including Sundance, ScreenCraft, Bluecat, and the International Emmys, as well as her own script consultancy, Script Authority. Rebecca blogs for Screencraft, The Script Lab, WeScreenplay and Script Magazine, exploring the film writing and production process and encouraging writers to produce their own work. Follow Rebecca’s posts on Twitter at @beckaroohoo!