A Hollywood pro steps up to tell us how the TV/Film writing biz really works. Our suggestion is that you read it carefully and relish the insight this knowledge gives you.
by Tennyson E. Stead
For almost 10 years, I worked as a development executive for Unified Pictures and Exodus Film Group. One of my chief sources of income over the last year has been writing script coverage, writing development notes, and in general parsing screenplays for writers and producers. My friends, I have read a LOT of screenplays. If you’re an undiscovered screenwriter with more than three our four scripts out there on the market, there’s a fair chance I’ve covered you at some point.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve read a lot of discussion on Stage 32 about how and why institutional Hollywood has come to regard the overwhelming mountain of screenplays currently being produced by aspiring writers as a burden, rather than as an opportunity to discover the next great cinematic voice. Is it really even possible that the percentage of “bad writing” versus “good writing” is high enough to justify ignoring or throwing away literally an entire market full of spec scripts? How did we get here?
How the Spec Market Fell Apart
Most people working in development today, whether we’re talking about screenwriters, executives, or representation, did not come from a show business background, so we need to preface this conversation with the understanding that a huge majority of the people working in Hollywood today either don’t know or can’t articulate just what the hell is wrong with our development process. Most executives today come from business school, and most writers of substance come from a literary or journalistic background. To a literary or an advertising mindset, bad screenwriting is usually a problem of tone.
Nope. Good dramatic structure is about action, motivation, and conflict – scene work, in other words – just as surely as it is about act breaks and turning points. Most actors, directors, and writers who come from a classical performance background know these practices as a matter of habit, and we usually take it for granted that Hollywood greenlights productions with an eye constantly cast towards the fundamentals of drama. Because the vast majority of writers, executives, agents and managers never actually learned those fundamentals in the first place….