Screenwriter: Artist Or Entrepreneur?

Here is yet another fascinating article by Marvin Acuna from BOSI, answering the ubiquitous dilemma of writers facing an identity crisis. What am I? Artist or business person? The point is, there is no decision to be made. You need to be both to survive.

Famed marketing professional, Gary Halbert would often ask audiences at his various speaking events the following:

“If you and I both owned a hamburger stand and we were in a contest to see who could sell the most hamburgers, what advantages would you most like to have on your side to help you win?”

The answers varied. Some of the audience would say they would like to have the advantage of having superior meat from which to make their burgers. Others would say they want sesame seed buns. Others would mention location. And someone always wanted to be able to offer the lowest prices.

And so on.

In any case, after the audience was finished telling him what advantages they would most like to have, he’d usually respond with something like this: “O.K., I’ll give you every single advantage you have asked for. I, myself, only want one advantage and, if you will give it to me, I will (when it comes to selling burgers) whip the pants off all of you!”

“What advantage do you want?” the audience would ask.

“The only advantage I want,” he’d reply…


A Starving Crowd!”

Think about it. This makes sense, right? Right!

So when it comes to your screenwriting BUSINESS, the most profitable habit you can cultivate is the habit of understanding what the market needs. That makes sense, right?

Yet for some reason I often encounter screenwriters that draw the line in the sand. They remark, “Talent will prevail, a true artist makes his own market.” And of course the big one, “I’m an artist, not a businessman.”

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that you discard any regard or respect for your craft. Nor that you simply become a drone and as one screenwriter said, “…dance to the tune of the studios.” I am suggesting that there is power — tremendous power — in doing both. Developing your talent and knowing the markets needs. You don’t have to be one or the other. There are too many examples of screenwriters who manage to do both very successfully. Very successfully!

Authors James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras of the famed non-fiction book BUILT TO LAST, devoted a section of their book to what they called the “Tyranny of the OR.” The authors believe that the “Tyranny of the OR” pushes people to believe that things must be either A OR B, but not both.

They suggest that instead of being oppressed by the “Tyranny of the OR,” you liberate yourself with the “Genius of the AND” — the ability to embrace both extremes of a number of dimensions at the same time.

So the next time you are ready to beat the drum of “I am simply an artist, hear me roar!” consider these liberated screenwriters who balance  both artistic integrity and box office gold.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Jurgen Wolff says:

    Great point–and another aspect is that your creativity is not limited to the plots of the screenplays you write. Why not apply that creativity to coming up with ways to get your scripts seen and making good contacts in the film business? My strategy when starting out as a screenwriter was to start my own publication. Doing interviews for it gave me access to Hollywood decision-makers that I never would have had without it.

  2. As I tell my students at it’s ALL about right/brain – left/brain. All that creativity still has to be marketed and what you need to find in STORY and in life is a balance between the two. Every artist has faced that conundrum!

    Cheers – jana /

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