Currently, Jonathan Mills works as a technology executive in Los Angeles with previous stints at HBO, Trailer Park, CBS and Pandemonium Films for Bill Mechanic (Heartbreak Ridge). As a writer, he was responsible for writing Nothing Left to Fear, a horror film produced by iconic rock guitarist, Slash and Heavy Water, a graphic novel published by Kickstart Entertainment. He also directed a punk rock documentary: Clockwork Orange County featuring dozens of famous punk icons. Mr. Mills is not a punk, but he is a proud member of the WGAW.
Mills was a finalist in the 2017 ScreenCraft Sci-Fi & Fantasy Screenplay Competition and is currently a semifinalist in the 2019 ScreenCraft Sci-Fi & Fantasy Screenplay Competition. We had a chance to catch up with him since his placement to talk about his career and the craft of screenwriting.
ScreenCraft: Congrats on your early career momentum. What’s your writing journey been like so far?
Jonathan Mills: Slow! In my experience, there are two types of writers. Those who break early and young and those who are in it for the long-haul. I’m clearly in the latter category at this point, which is fine. I’ve been writing steadily for many years and the best advice I got when I first started was from Carmi Zlotnik (now President of Starz) who I was working for as an assistant. I had optioned something to Maverick Films, which was Madonna’s production company and it was my first notice in Variety. Carmi saw it the next day at the office and he came out and said, ‘is this you?’ I nodded and he smiled and said, ‘Don’t quit your day job.” I heeded his advice and have passed it on, writing is a grind… Hollywood too and you have to put food on your table so no writer should be ashamed of having a second career or job. Period. As far as the journey as a whole? Everything I wanted has happened, I’ve been produced, I’m in the union, I’ve been repped and paid… it just took way longer than I ever thought it would.
SC: Have screenwriting competitions helped your writing career so far?
JM: I was never focused on competitions, but it wasn’t for any other reason except they weren’t on my radar. But in the last five years, I’ve seen contests turn into a real and tangible means to breaking into the business and that is really exciting. In my case, the first contest I entered was ScreenCraft’s 2017 Sci-Fi & Fantasy Screenplay Competition. I was lucky and my project AUTOMATIC became a finalist. Getting that far (Top 10?) boosted interest in subsequent reads and as of today, April 2019 it’s been set with an amazing director and ICM is taking it to market. I don’t know what will happen, but have to give credit to ScreenCraft; being a finalist definitely gave me some early momentum.
Learn everything you need to know about screenwriting contests, competitions and fellowships with this free guide.
SC: What are some pieces of advice that you think writers should heed, and what are some pieces of advice that writers should ignore?
JM: I’m not big on advice, I’ve been proven wrong too many times. That said, I’ll offer a few thoughts… I believe writers should write, a lot. I’ve written around twenty-three scripts and countless drafts, that’s thousands of pages! It adds up. I believe writers should try and get their material read as often as they can by other writers, and take the feedback to heart. I believe writers should probably get a proofreader. I am terrible about punctuation and there are executives who really, really care about it. I may hate them, but they are the gatekeepers!
Finally, in my opinion, paid coverage isn’t bad if you can afford it, but you have to understand what you’re getting. There are strong opinions on this, but the fact is .01% of all screenplays are produced so why wouldn’t you put yourself into the best possible position to help yours stand-out? Oh, and you don’t need representation, you need perseverance and willingness to network. Reps help, but they are no substitute for your own hard work.
SC: What’s one thing you wish you had understood better 10 years ago?
JM: Do not be ashamed of making a living. Living poor is just that, living poor. In my opinion, suffering doesn’t somehow make you a better writer, I don’t care what anyone says to the contrary.
SC: What are you currently writing and what was your inspiration for it?
JM: I just finished a new spec called RUSALKA, which I’m really proud of. It was inspired by Dvořák’s opera of the same name and my own experiences growing up in Alaska and I think it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve written to date. Which is nice.