If I were a horrible person, I could make money telling people how to write and sell their screenplays.
I could have a hustle as a “script doctor” or “putting your screenplay in front of top young Hollywood execs.” I am qualified to do this, since I am technically a former “development executive.” Really I was an assistant with a fancy title and my creative work was far less important to my boss than calling somebody to fix the toilet. But I made material creative contributions to projects that won big Oscars and Emmys and are probably somebody’s favorite movie and/or TV show. I remain friends with a ton of people you would suck Abe Vigoda’s dick to get in a room with. I could make a living.
Or I’d set up one of those “pitch fests” where people pay to “network” with “movers and shakers” in “the industry.” You pay anywhere from two hundred bucks to two grand to sit in the banquet hall of the airport Holiday Inn with a thousand other cattle and a bell rings and my former self listens at a little table while you pitch a script you’ve written. Then another bell rings and I tell you great job and you go away, and I throw away the packet you left behind and never think about you again. You pay, I get paid. A hundred bucks and unlimited taquitos. I walked out of every single one of them feeling horrible and thinking “Jesus, that was awful and wrong. Never again.” Then a couple months go by and I need a hundred bucks.
Here’s the thing: every single person who does this is a lying sack of shit who exploits innocent, stupid people’s dreams for money. And I will only exploit innocent, stupid people’s dreams for pussy.
So listen up: you will never write a Hollywood screenplay that gets made into a movie, that you get paid for, that takes you out of your shit job as an actuary for a firm that insures meat packing plants or whateverthefuck. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to get money. They are no more going to get you a career than the “new message” on that facebook-looking porn pop up ad is going to get you a piece of ass. Don’t pay money for their bad advice.
Instead, take my bad advice for free. Here is how to become a screenwriter in Hollywood:
1) WRITE A SCRIPT
You will need to come up with an “original” CONCEPT.* Hollywood movies need to be “high concept.” This means you can explain the entire movie in one sentence. People who make movies will know instantly from this sentence, or “logline,” whether your movie is ever gonna stand a chance of getting made. The ideal logline is the name of a hit movie, a preposition, and one word or phrase about the setting. E.g.: “BOURNE in space.” “DIE HARD in the White House.” “THE NOTEBOOK with a werewolf.” “BOURNE in space” is something I would have shat myself to get my hands on back in the day.
You use another movie to explain yours because you will be stealing the exact story from another movie and doing a find and replace on certain elements. We’ll get more into why this is in “Structure,” but for now, remember that Hollywood only makes two movies. The Boy’s Movie and The Girls’ Movie.** In The Boys’ Movie a reluctant good guy wins against impossible odds by killing people. In The Girls’ Movie a woman gets together with a guy she should have already been with. Basically, whatever is the furthest thing from every human truth in existence, is the story of a successful movie.
If you can’t use an existing movie, just keep it as simple and lowbrow as possible.
GOOD: A man wakes up on a space station not knowing who he is and must kill his way through an alien conspiracy.
BAD: In a dystopian future, an assassin’s amnesia causes him to question the nature of his former self.
Both of these are “BOURNE in space,” but one of them is pussy cerebral shit that hints at subtext and meaning. DO NOT hint at subtext or meaning. People are too retarded to like those things.
1B) STORY/ STRUCTURE
Now you have your concept. Let’s move on to actually writing the script. You will need to break your idea down into a STORY STRUCTURE. You should probably write a treatment (loose 10 page overview of the plot with a couple key scenes discussed in detail) and an outline (scene by scene breakdown) first, but these and the script will have the same 3 ACT STRUCTURE. Because every movie has the exact same 3 ACT STRUCTURE. Hollywood types proudly call themselves “Structuralists,” which probably has some larger meaning that you should go look up on Wikipedia, but here it means: if your movie does not have the exact same story as every other movie, it will never get made.
People write whole long jerkoff books about story structure but it boils down to this:
A guy or girl finds out about a problem, embarks on a journey around page 30, has a complication at around page 60, appears to have lost everything around page 90, and triumphs by page 120.
There’s a little more to it than that, but not much. For example:
ACT 1: We meet Mario, a plumber. He’s a good guy but has an authoritarian streak that scares people. Someone tells him the Princess has been kidnapped. This is the “inciting incident.” He assembles his team of Luigi, Donkey Kong and Yoshi and they set off to the Koopa Kingdom. Act 1 ends when they walk out the door.
ACT 2: The team runs into Bowser and has a skirmish; Bowser flees. Yoshi turns out to be the clutch fighter of the group. This part is called finding “allies and enemies.” On page 60, Yoshi is revealed to be a spy and has been telling King Koopa the team’s plans, and we learn that the kidnapping was only a small step in a plan to take over the world. This is a “midpoint complication.” We also learn that Yoshi was alienated into spying by Mario’s assholedom. The remaining team battles its way to the fiery gates and barely defeats Bowser, only to angrily bail on Mario when he gives them assholishly strict orders. He’s stranded at the gates of Koopa Kingdom and spiky turtles and shit are about to take over the world, and it’s all his own fault. When he appears to have lost everything, it’s the end of Act 2.
ACT 3: Mario battles his way into the fortress solo, and runs into his fleeing former team. Using his newfound soul-searching knowledge about how not to be an asshole, he convinces them to reunite and face King Koopa. Fights, explosions, they win. Hold up a Pepsi to the camera and roll credits.
Every single movie is built like this. Note that there’s also some character shit– a character is expected to have an “arc.” This means: some trait he has in the beginning is the opposite at the end. There is literally no way this could be visually represented by an arc, but it’s an actors’ term and actors are too stupid to understand shapes.
If you’re writing The Girls’ Movie, replace “explosions” with “kisses” and “saving the world” with “settling for a man slightly less handsome but nicer than that finance guy.”
2) SELL YOUR SCRIPT
So now you have your “spec screenplay.” “Spec” means you wrote it for free. Guess what: it sucks. But if you’ve followed the steps correctly, you have made it so there is no “easy pass” from a studio, such as it’s “too small.” Studios won’t make a movie that doesn’t cost as much as a minor war; they might make a profit that way. Or it’s “too dark,” meaning, it tells the truth about the way human beings relate to one another as all great literature has done for millennia. Now they will have to pass on it by saying they liked it, but didn’t love it, or say they have a similar project in development.
But before you can get someone with money to pass on your script you have to have an AGENT or MANAGER to give it to them. An agent is a guy who wears a suit and and shotguns your script to various people with money. A manager is a guy who wears jeans and was recently fired from an agency. Both are basically doing the same job, which is, being a person someone with money will call back.
There are a few ways to get an agent. There are unsolicited QUERY LETTERS, which crazy people in Iowa send to companies with a blurb about their script, and the recipients laugh at them and throw them away. There are the aforementioned PITCH FESTS, which, if you believe that shit works I have a letter for you from the ex President of Nigeria.
Or you could go to FILM SCHOOL and enter CONTESTS. The grandaddy of these is the Nicholl Fellowship, which is judged by old white liberals with too much time on their hands and tends to be weighted toward stuff like I WAS MOLESTED DURING THE HOLOCAUST and CANCER MCALCOHOLIC’S HEARTWARMING REDEMPTION AT THE HANDS OF A PRECOCIOUS ETHNIC CHILD. If you make it to the semifinals, miserable underpaid assistants will be forced to read your script before passing because it’s “too small” and “too dark.’
Then there is the way that works, which is: live in Los Angeles and be attractive, or know people who are attractive, so an agent will want to be around you. You are plumb ugly; that’s why you’re a writer. So befriend a bunch of much better looking people and throw parties and the guy who answers an agent’s phone will agree to read your script and maybe you’ll get represented. If you don’t want to move to L.A.: fuck yourself. Get a job at the local fish cannery.
3) HOLY SHIT, SOMEBODY BOUGHT YOUR SCRIPT
Are words you are never going to hear. But let’s pretend. Your new agent sent your spec script to a producer who sent it to a studio and they bought it. Now it’s time to “develop” the script. This means they’re going to tell you in vague terms what’s wrong with it several times until you fix it into something that isn’t as good as what it was:
Their notes will be about “arcs” and “structure” (see above), and “stakes.” Even if your movie is about literally saving the world, that is not enough “stakes.” Every tiny action taken by anybody has to have stakes that are clearly defined. We’re not clear why the villain has to touch his moustache in Act 2. It’s feeling a little vague why the Hero eats that sandwich in Act 3. These shrewish careerists are weirdly terrified of hurting your feelings. They will couch criticism in weasel words like “right now, it’s feeling like…” This is because every writer on the planet is a whiny pussy.
Either the notes will work out and turn the script into what the studio wants (nope), they will get frustrated and make the producers do the heavy lifting of getting you to make it even worse for free (maybe), or they will fire you and pay somebody who’s actually good a half million dollars to completely rewrite it in two weeks.
Assuming your script isn’t in the shitcan by now, it now needs to be “packaged.” The producer and/or studio will take it to big famous directors and stars who will not be interested. When you hear a jerkoff in a bar saying “my script is out to Ridley Scott right now,” it means “my script will sit on Ridley Scott’s toilet for four months before he makes his assistant read it and they pass.” Or an actor or director will become “attached,” which means you have to wait until DiCaprio finishes five other movies and one of the three directors he will work with is available at the same time. By that point DiCaprio will have had three bombs and the studio backs out. But you have no say in any of this, because at this point no one gives a shit what you think. If by some miracle the script is a success, you will be fired and somebody who’s actually good will be paid a half million dollars to completely rewrite it in two weeks.
4) HOLY SHIT, YOUR MOVIE IS GETTING MADE
And then you woke up. But again, let’s pretend. When you have written a greenlit movie, you are now a “hot screenwriter.” This means you get to drive around to meetings and have people pitch you comic books and remakes and things that actually have a chance at success. You have four months to latch on to one of these and do a perfect first draft. Then your movie comes out, and it tanks because it’s a stupid piece of shit from bad notes and only Gerard Butler was available. Now you aren’t hot anymore. It’s time to pursue a career in TV, creating a new series about a slightly different kind of cop. You can make fifteen grand a week to argue with other movie industry failures about what to order for lunch.
Or if the movie hits: congratulations, you are a success. Still, no one else in the business gives a shit what you think, ever. Any girl in a bar would still go home with a guy who got voted off the first episode of any jerkoff reality show before you. Screenwriters get so little pussy that the one guy who does, Allan Loeb, is literally known as “the screenwriter who gets pussy.” Also, Allan Loeb is a fucking hack who can’t write for shit.
Anyway, that’s how to become a screenwriter. Next week I’ll discuss how to become an actor, which is just gonna be an essay that says “stop being so ugly.”
* Yes, all big movies are remakes and adaptations of comic books, but every single meaningful movie and comic book is controlled by someone with a ton of money who would rather watch his children set on fire than make eye contact with you. Focus on new ideas for now.
** Yeah, I know, BLACK SWAN, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. etc…. there are lots of great movies that are different, blah blah blah. These kinds of movies that you love and got into the business for– you will not be involved with any of them, ever. They come about because a tiny group of extremely established directors can get small amounts of money on the basis of their name. Unless your name is “Joel and Ethan Coen,” this is not you. You are not trying to make good movies, you are trying to make Hollywood movies.