Screenwriters have to make a choice during their screenwriting journey — take the blue pill or the red pill. After reading the below, which one will you take?
The screenwriting journey is wrought with rejection, struggle, and adversity. There’s no escaping it. Different screenwriters choose very different paths.
Sometimes that choice is made quickly. Sometimes it’s made after years of struggle. Here we take a cue from The Matrix, sit you down, and offer you two choices. And these choices aren’t shared out of arrogance or ego — the perspectives only represent us reaching out to those caught in the middle of uncertainty within their screenwriting journey.
It may be you and it may not. And if not, you may already be aware of these truths — welcome to the real world.
So here we go.
This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back.
You take the blue pill — the story ends. You can wake up in your bed the next morning and believe whatever you want to believe.
You take the red pill — you stay in Wonderland, and we show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.
The Blue Pill
You wake up believing at least ten things:
- Format Doesn’t Matter
- Secret Formulas and Beat Sheets Lead to a Successful Screenplay
- Taking a Year to Write a Screenplay Is Okay
- Your First Script Is Ready to Market
- Script Readers Don’t Know What They’re Talking About
- Hollywood Only Wants Sequels, Prequels, Remakes, Reboots, and Spinoffs
- You Can Sell Pitches to Hollywood Without Writing the Script
- Your Spec Scripts Are Going to be Sold and Produced as a Newcomer
- Selling a Screenplay or Being Hired to Write One is Like Winning the Lottery
- When You Get X, Everything Will Be Easy
These ten points represent a general overlay of what newcomer screenwriters believe. This is taken from first-hand accounts and can be read and heard in social media threads, writers conferences, film festival gatherings, email queries, etc.
And before anyone thinks that we’re judging people, we’re not. Almost every screenwriter (including yours truly), has believed these screenwriting myths at one time or another. And if not all of them, most of them. It’s just part of the journey.
There’s always going to be that naivete when someone first enters a new venture. Preconceived notions are inescapable. Most screenwriters start out by reading the top screenwriting books. The problem is that many of them were written in the 1990s and early 2000s when the screenwriting boom was in full force. Or the people writing those books came from those eras and were sharing very dated stories.
So screenwriters that are naive to the truth — or at least the now contemporary truth after the 2007/2008 Guild Strike and Economy Collapse changed the film and television industry so much — go on living that blind life. Much like Mr. Anderson and the rest of the people living inside The Matrix.
And in the context of that movie’s story, some people even decided to choose the blue pill — or in the case of Cypher, he wanted Agent Smith to erase his memory of the truth and live life in the false world that was safe and non-threatening.
“Ignorance is bliss.”
And what this choice leads to — in the context of screenwriters — is the shunning of every piece of knowledge and wisdom that industry insiders share. Even if that shared truth is meant to help, these screenwriters will scoff at the notion of format guidelines and expectations. They’ll use anomaly examples to prove their point, even though established professionals wrote unique scripts like A Quiet Place. And then they’ll use classic scripts written forty to fifty years ago — or scripts written by established directors that include camera directions and longer scene descriptions.
These are just a couple of examples of living in a blue pill world.
But everyone deserves a second chance. So if you want to learn more about those ten myths — and maybe some other truths — here’s your chance.
The Red Pill
You’ve chosen wisely.
Okay, so you’re not waking up in a literal pod full of goo — it’s a metaphor. But welcome to the real world.
As you navigate through the articles yours truly has shared — CLICK HERE — and those other many gems found within ScreenCraft’s Screenwriting Blog, you’ll hopefully learn from a collection of knowledge and wisdom passed done with the intention of helping budding screenwriters take that next big step. You can also find other great screenwriting blogs, helpful screenwriting books, screenwriting eBooks, and countless screenwriting videos found on Youtube and The Script Lab’s TSL 360 where the insiders and masters share their knowledge and wisdom.
Everything you need to know about this real world of screenwriting is at your fingertips.
And now that you’ve woken up — or just stuck around — here are ten truths that you will now hopefully understand.
1. Format Does Matter
The story is the most important thing, yes. But the worst advice that you can give or receive is, “Don’t worry about the format. If the story is good, it won’t matter.”
First off, good isn’t good enough. The story has to be outstanding. Secondly, the format truly does matter. Why? Because the format is the interpreter of your vision. And that interpreter has to offer the most precise and vivid interpretation so that the script reader can see that film through their mind’s eye as quickly as if they were watching the movie on a screen.
If you have overly busy format, distracting camera directions, novel-worthy scene description paragraphs, and useless technical jargon, it won’t matter how “good” the story is. If it’s not communicated well with a cinematic read, it won’t matter.
Learn the best way to structure your screenplay with this free guide.
No reader is going to toss your script because you have a few camera directions, transitions, or anything. But format DOES matter.
Read ScreenCraft’s Does Correct Screenplay Format REALLY Matter?
2. Secret Formulas and Beat Sheets Aren’t the Answer
Chasing trends, inserting scenes within predetermined slots, and hitting specific beats at specific pages in your script won’t give you anything beyond average results at best — especially considering the masses that attempt to follow the same paradigm designated by a guru book that so many people read. A paradigm that industry insiders quickly see right through.
Screenwriters should focus less on gimmicks and secret formulas that don’t exist — and more on telling stories as they individually need to be told. When there is emotional truth to the characters — whether conjured from your life or that of others — and it is injected into whatever genre and character type, audiences will respond. The industry will take notice. Compare and contrast the strengths of that with empty paint-by-the-numbers character and story arcs and you’ll hopefully see that emotional truth matched with whatever story you’re trying to tell is more dependable.
You’ll stand out not as one of many — as would be the case with stringent Save the Cat followers — but one of the few that have told amazing, unique, and original stories.
The general guidelines and expectations of the industry are inescapable, sure. You do need to engage the reader early. You do need to deliver on concepts early. You do need to launch characters into the story as soon and possible. Save the Cat does offer guidelines to utilize in that respect.
But while some stories can easily adhere to the Save the Cat page beats, most would suffer from doing so.
Read ScreenCraft’s How Rocky Debunks the Screenwriting Guru Book Save the Cat!
3. You Should Train Yourself to Write Under Professional Deadlines
The days of taking four, five, six months, or beyond to finish that script need to be well behind you. Taking that long is a product of a lack of discipline, focus, and development.
Professional screenwriters are often under contract to deliver the first draft of an assignment within ten weeks. If they aren’t replaced after turning in that draft (which needs to read more like a final draft), they’ll generally have a couple of weeks to finish a rewrite and polish.
Great screenwriters prepare themselves for when they are hopefully called up to the big leagues to tackle an assignment or develop, write, and rewrite a script of their own that has been optioned or acquired. To prepare for that, you need to set strict deadlines and stick to them.
And the great screenwriters have no problem finishing a script within three months or less because they know this and have trained and disciplined themselves to be able to do so.
It behooves you to learn to write under a three-month deadline as soon as possible. It won’t happen right away, no. But that should be the goal in your eyes, rather than saying to yourself, “It’ll be done when it’s done.”
Read ScreenCraft’s 10 Signs You’re a Great Screenwriter!
4. Your First Script Is Your Worst — Why Market It?
Your first script is worst. You’re not ready. You’re still honing your craft. You’re still making those fundamental mistakes that you need to make and learning from them.
It’s okay to test the waters by submitting them to contests and consultants, but you need to remember to lower your expectations for that first script — even the second — and take the time to become a better writer before you marking anything to Hollywood.
Save those opportunities for some fantastic scripts. And you won’t be writing amazing scripts until you fail a couple of times first. You may think they are ready — and that’s because you’re in love with them. But love can make you blind to things.
Don’t market that first script. Don’t even market the second. Take the time to hone your craft.
5. Even Though It’s Just an Opinion, Script Readers Matter
It’s only natural to resist feedback and notes that are anything but glowing reviews of your work. But you’re going to have to mature past that and use feedback and notes as information you can use to better your script and your writing in general.
Sure, it’s just an opinion. One producer will love your script while another will hate it. You can’t escape the subjective aspect of the read.
However, script reader’s — the good ones at least — are trained to look at the script as objectively as possible. That’s their job.
Being a Hollywood script reader is more than just reading scripts. It takes the ability to objectively analyze every screenplay that is assigned to them. They communicate not only what is wrong with each script, but what works as well. And most can genuinely break down each script within the context of the needs and wants of whatever company they are reading for. That forces them to need to be as objective as possible.
So use script readers and their coverage as a tool. If you have the opportunity to get coverage from contest readers, give it a try. You may get some useful information. If an industry insider has rejected you because the coverage on the script wasn’t good, learn from it.
Read ScreenCraft’s What You Should and Shouldn’t Expect From Script Coverage!
And for a peek behind the script reader curtain, Read ScreenCraft’s Confessions of a Studio Script Reader!
6. Hollywood Wants Originals and the Next Big Writer
Yes, Hollywood loves their franchises and tentpoles, but that doesn’t mean they’re only interested in making those types of flicks.
Look, it’s a business. Franchises make money because audiences show up to see the latest installments in droves. So don’t blame Hollywood for making smart business decisions.
It’s easy to point fingers and blame Hollywood for the reason no one is reading or buying your work. Have you given them a reason to? Or are you stuck in the cycle of writing your version of your favorite types of movies? Are you pushing any boundaries? Are you reinventing genres? Are you creating interesting cross-genres? Are you trying to push the envelope by writing new and original ideas?
Hollywood is always on the lookout for new scripts and new talent. The problem is, most of the scripts they get either objectively suck and are just more of the same. And the writers of those scripts likely think that their work is brilliant. Why? Because they took the blue pill.
7. You Can’t Sell Pitches in Hollywood Without Having the Script
During the screenwriting boom of the 1990s, some could. Hollywood was coming off of a strike and had money to spend. It’s a different world now.
You can’t sell a pitch without a script unless you’re a very successful writer or producer with some hits under your belt. And even then it’s difficult.
8. As a Newcomer, Your Spec Scripts Likely Won’t Be Sold or Produced
When we first start out, we have stars in our eyes, and we live with our heads in the clouds.
The reality is that most spec scripts — and we’re talking 99.99% — never get acquired by producers or studios. And even most that do manage to get purchased never get produced. And finally, most of the spec scripts that are bought are written by already established professionals.
Spec scripts are used primarily as writing samples. The real careers are made with writing assignments.
But don’t worry. There’s still hope for that spec script of yours. Once you get some notice within the industry, you can reach into your bag and bring out that amazing spec for consideration. You just need to pay your dues before Hollywood is willing to take a chance on you.
Sure, miracles happen. You can always hope — just as long as you prepare for the inevitable.
9. Selling a Script or Being Hired to Write One Is NOT the Lottery
Okay, maybe the odds of that happening — in the big scheme of things — are somewhat similar. But when you do make a sale or get hired for that coveted assignment, it’s far from a lottery jackpot.
Read ScreenCraft’s How Much Do Screenwriters REALLY Make?
10. No Matter What Success You Have, It’s Never Easy
The grind of being a screenwriter is an ongoing saga.
However, novice screenwriters seem to believe in the golden ticket.
It starts with attaining representation. Screenwriters feel that once they secure a manager or agent (or both), their problems will be solved and their struggles will be over. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those agents and managers have to now sell your script (or ability as a hired writer for assignments), and they also have to sell you, a newcomer with no experience. That’s their grind because it’s a tough job.
But then maybe they do that job well, and a sale is made, or an assignment is attained. See #9.
Then maybe something gets produced, hopefully with a name cast. “Surely people will see my name on the screen, and I’ll get more assignments and maybe even sell that spec script.”
In a perfect world, yes.
However, there is no golden ticket into the hallowed doors of Hollywood. In the end, it’s still a business, and the life of a screenwriter is an ongoing saga. Momentum often derails. Deals fall through. Months and years go by with nothing. Representation can be lost because if no money is coming in, clients are dropped.
It’s never “easy street” for screenwriters.
Therefore, screenwriters should embrace each and every hurdle they pass. They should covet that first contest win. They should covet representation that may be attained. They should covet that first paid gig and never take it for granted because all too often that first paid gig will have to last for a year or more.
Never get comfortable. Never be complacent. Never believe you’ve made it once and for all because with every hurdle passed comes another and another.
Welcome to the Real World — Now Go Make It Happen
It may sound impossible to succeed. All odds may be against you. But somebody has to prevail. Every working and celebrated screenwriter you see in the credits and on Awards shows came from the position that you are in now. They struggled. They were rejected. Nobody would read their scripts. Nobody would take a chance on them.
But, in the end, they prevailed. Why? Because they took the red pill.
And one day, if all goes well and you were meant to do this, it will all come together. Despite the many beatdowns, you’ll get up, find your way, and prove to all that you are the one.
Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.
He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies