You’ve written your first screenplay. Or maybe you’ve finished editing your first feature film. Is it ready for public view? We all know how competitive creative industries can be, and we’ve all heard the advice that you shouldn’t send something out before it’s ready (since you may only have one shot to impress entertainment industry professionals like agents and producers). But you also don’t want to become so precious about your project that you aim for unattainable perfection and never send it out. How can you know if your project is ready for Hollywood?
Find trusted readers
Don’t rely solely on your own opinion of your work. Create a network of trusted readers who will be honest with you about your first screenplay or film. You want to find people who will still inspire and push you to move forward, people who believe in what you’re doing and don’t try to push you in a direction you’re not passionate about. But there are also more than just “YES” men or women (i.e. you can’t just ask your mom to read your script, since she might just tell you that it’s great).
Consider joining or creating a writers group, either in person or online. You can also swap scripts with someone at your level; you give them notes, they give you notes – so it’s an equal relationship. If you get a job in development or on a production, you can also get to know your co-workers and potentially ask them for feedback on your projects as well.
If you’ve made contact with established agents, studio executives, producers, actors, directors or other people but don’t personally know them well, don’t put them on your first tier of trusted readers. Get feedback on your first screenplay from people you’re closer with – people at your level – before you send things to your contacts on the expert tier. This way, you won’t waste your big shot on a script or film that isn’t ready. FX President John Landgraf has said that you can’t just make a “good” TV show, for example. You have to make somebody’s “favorite” show.
If you don’t have contacts in Hollywood, start accumulating them through work and volunteer opportunities (at a film festival, for example). You can also submit materials to writing fellowships or directing labs such as the ABC/Disney writers program or the Sundance feature and episodic labs. If you continually apply for things and don’t get chosen, then maybe your work isn’t ready yet. Maybe you need a new draft, a new edit or a new concept. But a rejection doesn’t necessarily mean you should give up entirely – many pros had to apply for things many times before they broke in.
Don’t fake passion
Many writers and directors (understandably) try to make what they think the market is looking for. After all, entertainment is a business – and if you’re looking to make money by producing someone’s favorite show (or movie), you can’t ignore what audiences want. But there’s a fine line between knowing your audience and churning out something you hate but think is commercial. If you choose to write or produce something you’re not passionate about, it will show. Also, it’s just as much work to produce something you don’t love as something you do.
“That is what I always strive to do — try to be phenomenal, try to be amazing,” says writer-producer Lena Waithe, who was recently featured in Variety’s 2018 Power of Women issue. “I don’t want to do it if that’s not what it is. What’s the point? I don’t want to make something that is just OK. I don’t want to make something just for a check. I want to make something that people will always talk about.”
Accept that you will sometimes fail
If your first screenplay or film IS “just OK,” it doesn’t mean that your career is over. Don’t expect that your very first script or film will be your best. We all get better with time and experience. Sometimes we hear stories of “overnight” successes when the truth is that people hustled for 10 years behind the scenes. Stephen Susco, screenwriter of The Grudge and Texas Chainsaw 3D, says that he wrote 25 screenplays before he had one produced.
Ultimately, you don’t want the quest for perfection to keep you stuck on the same one project forever. Sometimes the best thing to do is move onto the next project!
Looking for new gear? Check out FilmUp recommendations HERE!