Peggy Bechko: Are You Living in Screenwriting Fantasyland?

by Peggy Bechko

Screenwriters, novel writers, pretty much ant writers have hopes and expectations…and then there are realities.

Here’s the thing. The process itself of writing pretty much anything is not bliss or anything close to it. It is, quite simply hard work. There are good days and bad days, but it still boils down to sit yourself in the chair and do the work.

So much for the happy belief that writing is the easiest job ever. That one just sits around in the perfect writing space, cup of coffee (or is that a beer?) in hand, ideas whirling through one’s head until the writer plucks one out of the firmament, jots it down, and it becomes the next blockbuster movie, hit TV show or bestselling novel.

Uh, no.

Then, early in one’s writing career it’s easy to visualize a life where we get paid big bucks just come come up with a great idea, write with complete freedom and move on to the next project.

Um, no.

Reality, kids, is writing can be, and usually is, a damn hard job. If you’re writing whatever you want and hoping for the best, that is one thing, but if you’re writing to a career, it’s another.

Novelist? Aside from getting a feel of what’s selling and where what you write might fit in, there’s editors, critics, delays and even at time cancelled contracts. But in this post I’m focusing mostly on screenwriting.

Screenwriter? There’s writing on spec and then there’s writing on assignment. Spec is a REALLY GREAT IDEA and carrying it out. But, on assignment is a different animal. Suddenly you’re not in your fantasy world of freedom. There are notes from producers and executives, deadlines, stories determined by others than you.

But wait a minute, let’s circle back and think about that spec script again. It’s yours, right? Wellllll, no doubt you’ll need to do rewrites because your original script lacks elements that would help make it more marketable, and that’s probably from your agent. Then development execs and the like will demand rewrites for pretty much any reason you can think of and a lot you can’t.

So you’ll have to come up with a way of applying your own way to tell a story while you balance it with dealing with the wants and demands of others who can actually get your script to production. And, if you’ve paid attention at all you know you can’t just say no…because that will be their answer as well and you’ll sprout a reputation of being difficult to work with.

Then there’s the theory that your first screenplay isn’t ready to market. By that it’s meant that your first script won’t be your best. Well, duh. Your first novel won’t be your best either. Your first anything probably won’t be your best and most people actually want to improve steadily.

Anyway, whatever happens with your first, it is a firm truth that you do need to have more than one script ready because presuming your work is liked, maybe you get a meeting or notes on it, you’re going to be asked that ‘age old’ question, “What else you got?”

With that in mind, it’s a very good idea to have more than one script complete and ready to go. Who knows, you might be pitching your third script and end up selling your first on the basis of just that question.

And, frankly, humans being what they are, if you don’t have a second and/or third or fourth script ready to fill in that empty space when the question is asked, they’ll probably lose interest and that’s the last you’ll hear from them. Few are interested in a ‘one-script-wonder’.

So, might I suggest entering a few legit contests (emphasis on legit) like TV Writer’s PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018 or for a film script maybe the Nicholl Fellowship for Screenwriting with that first script while busying yourself with writing numbers two, three, four, etc.

Once there are several scripts in your quiver, that’s the time to really hit the agents, producers, etc. The reality is, despite those hopes and expectations very few writers hit it on the first script. There’s a lot to learn about writing and the movie industry. And, the only way to learn is to try, fail, correct course, try again, fail again… and on and on.

Another hard truth to jolt script writers from their soft fantasy land is the simple fact that most spec scripts are never sold. They’re usually a sample of what a writer can do and hopefully lead to writing assignments.

Now, I, personally, optioned a script to a German production company and a couple to companies in LA for which I got paid, but did not reach production. I also wrote a couple of things under contract but be advised that receiving a screenwriting paycheck is not like winning a lottery.

We read all the time that so-and-so got $2 million or $3 million dollars for a script or Netflix or someone else commits huge bucks for a script. While it does happen occasionally don’t hold your breath. Something much more modest is likely to come your way.

So, the take-away from all this is simple. Strive for the top and be willing to take the steps along the way. This is the real world. You want Fantasyland head over to Disneyland.

Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.