Five Inspiring Ways Famous Screenwriters Got Their Big Break

by Ken Miyamoto on July 25, 2016

The famous screenwriters that are writing some of Hollywood's most popular movies weren't gifted immediate success when they decided to embark on their screenwriting journeys.

Like all screenwriters, they came from different walks of life with years upon years of struggle. While learning about their process and behind-the-scenes tidbits about their famous projects can be helpful and give you a general benchmark to pursue, what is most inspiring is to learn what they had to endure to get to where they are today.

Here we feature five glimpses into the early lives of some of today's most in-demand and heralded screenwriters.

Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt (Olympus Has Fallen)


The married writing duo had a nice suburban life with a great East coast house and two comfortable corporate jobs — yet both loved movies and had always wanted to write.

Creighton decided to finally take on screenwriting and began to write at 4 a.m. before going into his corporate job each morning. He would work a full day and then watch movies and read scripts late into the night. This went on for a number of years until he won the Nicholl Fellowship.

He attained an agent and then he and his wife conceived the script Olympus Has Fallen. But it didn't sell. For almost a decade they wrote multiple spec scripts after selling their house and moving to L.A. Finally, Olympus Has Fallen was sold after nearly a decade of grinding away, trying to make something happen.

The two have since enjoyed success with multiple studio deals, and major produced credits including The Expendables 3 and London Has Fallen.

Quentin Tarantino (True Romance, Natural Born Killers, Reservoir Dogs, etc.)


We all know the story. He worked at a video store for years, surrounded by an endless supply of inspiration. For three years — whenever he had the money — he would shoot footage for an early film. However, he was so poor that he could barely ever process the film he shot. And when it was processed, a fire destroyed more than half of the footage.

He wrote True Romance and Natural Born Killers while working at the video store and eventually sold both of those scripts. While many call him an overnight success with the likes of his feature directorial debut, Reservoir Dogs, which he also wrote, the truth is he struggled for almost a decade before success started to come his way.

Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith (10 Things I Hate About You)


Karen is an out-of-town success story, having broken through while living in Denver, Colorado of all places. She dabbled in various career jobs outside of the film industry — marketing for an investment firm and public relations for a non-profit.

During this time, she was writing and eventually began to send query letters to L.A. production companies. One of those was received by her eventual writing partner, Karen Smith, who was working in development at CineTel. Smith loved her writing, requested more scripts, and after their first face-to-face meeting they began to collaborate.

They sold their first script that they wrote together, 10 Things I Hate About You, which is now considered a classic. They would go on to write Legally Blonde, which then catapulted them into the studio comedy spotlight.

Diablo Cody (Juno)


She was a clerk at a Chicago bankruptcy firm, then worked at an ad agency, when she decided to quit to take on life as a full-time stripper. She began to famously blog about the experience under her internet pseudonym Diablo Cody, which she choose to use for internet anonymity — and also so she could make sure that her parents didn't discover her blogging and alternative lifestyle.

Despite blogging for a few years before that, no one ever took notice until she started writing about her stripping life.

The blog was so successful that Hollywood came calling, wanting her to write a script. She had never attempted a screenplay but decided to take hold of the opportunity at hand. That first script was Juno. It would go on to become an iconic film and garner her an Academy Award.

Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, An American President, West Wing, etc.)


Sorkin lived life in the 80s as a struggling actor living in Manhattan and touring the south with a small theater company. He also worked odd jobs, such as delivering singing telegrams, driving a limousine, handing out fliers promoting a hunting-and-fishing show, and bartending at Broadway's Palace Theatre. During this time, he had no writing aspirations at all and always felt that he was the "dumbest person in the room."

One day he saw a friend's IBM Selectric, loaded a piece of paper, and wrote a few pages. After punching up the dialogue of a script his journalist friend had been sent, Sorkin stated, '"[I] felt a phenomenal confidence and a kind of joy that I had never experienced before in my life.''

He wrote three plays, the third of which was purchased by director Rob Reiner. That play — and eventual film — was A Few Good Men.  He then began to write the script An American President for Rob Reiner, now with William Goldman himself as a personal mentor. Despite that mentorship, it took a few years for the script to be completed as Sorkin adjusted to the screenwriting format and structure. It would go on to become a critically acclaimed box office success. Unused portions of that script would later be used for the iconic show West Wing.

He battled drug addiction for a number of years, but persevered and went on to win an Oscar for writing The Social Network. He was nominated the following year for co-writing Moneyball.

While many look upon these famous screenwriters and their success stories with envy, it's comforting to know that even they had to go through the rite of passage that most novice screenwriters will face.

They too had to find the time to write while working non-industry jobs. They too suffered through rejection after rejection, writing multiple scripts that never saw the light of day. They too had to make that big and scary move to Los Angeles or were forced to write and market their scripts from afar.

Screenwriting is hard. Breaking through those Hollywood walls is difficult. Succeeding as a working and produced screenwriter can seem almost impossible these days. However, reading stories like these prove that anyone's dream can come true.

Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt were once East coast suburbanites working in the corporate world.

Quentin Tarantino was once a lowly film geek and video store clerk shooting a movie that nobody would see — actually, you can now see some of it HERE.

Karen McCullah Lutz was once living in Denver, hoping that one of her query letters would change her life.

Diablo Cody was once working as a stripper and blogging about her experiences when Hollywood came calling out of nowhere.

Aaron Sorkin was once a struggling actor that had no desire to write for television or the big screen.

Yet they all persevered and found their Hollywood path, each of which were vastly different from the other. So screenwriters can take comfort in knowing that their big break could be just around the corner. It never happens the way you expect it to. It never happens the way you'd like it to. All that you need to do is continue to write, hone your craft, and get your stories out there. It may happen sooner for some, later for others, but you'll never know when it will happen to you unless you press on. These five famous screenwriters are proof of that.



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