I was fortunate enough to get a seat at the sold out industry panel featuring writing powerhouses Terry Rossio (Shrek), David Hayter (X-Men), Mark Fergus (Iron Man) and Shane Black (Lethal Weapon). They waxed lyrical about the state of the film business.
The whole industry has changed from one which nurtures storytelling to one that is production based. That is, the screenplay with a means of production will get shot preferentially. Studio films tend to be greenlit on the basis of momentum and all the elements being in place rather than assessing the dramatic competence of the script.
Writers still need to be mindful of the mental real estate in the public consciousness.
Despite the paucity of quality material, writers should still write what they feel passionate about and not be discouraged by the mediocrity of many films produced. There really is a scarcity of good cinematic ideas and studios are hungry for good stories. Don’t emulate the path or storytelling techniques of other successful writers. Be inspired by them, but do not follow. Create your own path, page by page. Find your niche and write about what best represents your view of the world.
Populate your scenes with tone and character. Every moment needs characterization and feeling. The action should also be an indelible part of the story. Action sequences shouldn’t be interchangeable or able to be removed from the script without affecting the story.
Luck in the film industry occurs when opportunity meets preparation. Louis Pasteur famously said that chance favors the prepared mind. So go and create your own destiny.
The key advice for emerging writers is to get a job in the industry closest to what you want to do. Failing that, get any job to learn the practicalities of the film business.
The proportion of WGA members unemployed ranges from 50 to 93%. However, perfecting your craft puts you ahead of the pack. So hone your craft. Put in at least 10,000 hours of writing before you call yourself a professional writer. When you finish one script, start another. Get the script to its best possible shape before showing it around. This should normally take 4-6 months of solid writing. Any longer may not produce any further benefits.
Honor your voice and your individuality. A certain amount of fear and self-doubt will drive you deeper into your creative well. If you always know where you’re at in a script, there is little room for spontaneity.
Show your work to respected professionals before it gets sent out. Take notes objectively. Some are useful, some aren’t.
Writing is a solitary activity so take steps you ensure you’re not alone. Network, attend screenwriting events, converse with like-minded people. Think of it as group therapy. Support and nurture each other. Drain your fellow writers when you’re feeling low and power them when you’re feeling high. Share your triumphs and your woes.
Have multiple balls in the air until a specific project gains traction. They could be poems. novels, comics, plays or other literary works. Consider claymation and webisodes to break into the industry.
Agents are a necessary part of a screenwriter’s career. They have access to inside industry information. They know the current slate of writing assignments and will keep you connected to the industry so you can concentrate on your writing.