The phrase has become such a cliché in Hollywood, that I hesitated using it as a title in today’s post. Yet, I can think of no better expression of the way Hollywood works, or the unique skill-set required of fledgling screenwriters. Thomas Edison once said that genius is one-percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration, and it’s a quote that has inspired much retrofitting to the film industry by film-folks and critics alike. If I was to have swing at it, my equation for screenwriting success would be as follows:
5% inspiration - 30% perspiration – 5% dumb, fall-on-your-face luck – 60% patience
It’s the sad truth, but you can only work so hard in this town—you can only push that boulder so far up the hill—before you reach a point where you realize THAT ALL YOU CAN DO IS WAIT.
It sucks—trust me. You spend months or years drafting a script, only to get it to a big producer, and wait many-more months for it to be read and passed on to all necessary parties. Then, hallelujah, you get a big YES—and wait many more months for contracts to be passed back and forth and finalized. Then you wait MONTHS for notes on your rewrites, MONTHS for agents and actors to consider the project, and MONTHS more still before your project has an official, money-in-the-bank budget.
And that’s the best-case scenario. Most projects are derailed well before they ever go to production, and the derailing process can be the slowest, most nerve-wracking waiting around a writer has to endure.
And yet, that’s how the business works. There is no such thing as success in this industry without quality time spent sitting on your haunches, waiting around for other people to do their jobs. YEARS go by with little perceptible forward movement—and yet, you may still be on a very-real trajectory toward eventual blow-out success. For a naturally impatient, get-it-done type of person like myself, this waiting game can be crushing. And yet, we must all find ways to endure the long waits if we are to one day reap the rewards of all our hard work.
The flip side to this expression is the HURRY UP part. When you’re starting out in the film industry, everyone else may drop you to the bottom of their priority lists, but when they want something from YOU, they want it done NOW.
And that’s okay! That’s the fun part… The part where you actually get to show your muster and your talent. There’s nothing I like more than a deadline. After so much waiting around, and thousands of clicks on your email URL just to find another low-cost vacation offer from Cheaptickets, what a relief to check your inbox and discover that THEY are waiting for YOU. It can be annoying when months of silence becomes an immediate command to GET IT DONE, but writers need to brush any resentment aside and realize that YOU FINALLY GET TO WORK. This is the part of the process you WANT to do—remember?
Every screenwriter deals with the waiting game in his or her own way. The most successful strategy, I think, is to START A NEW PROJECT. I never have less than five projects going at once—and if one, or two, or three of them is stalled at a production company, well HELLO projects three & four! I’m certainly not the first to say it, but the MORE IRONS YOU HAVE IN THE FIRE, the better off you will be. And god forbid projects 1-3 come back REJECTED, but you’ll never need to feel like you’re back to square-one with nothing to show for your work—if project 4 & 5 are already half-written, shift your focus there, and keep on charging!
Also, don’t underestimate hobbies. I spend a lot of time in this weblog talking about how best to keep oneself planted in front of a computer and WRITING, but there is certainly a lot to be said for tearing yourself AWAY from your laptop and living a little! You can’t write dialogue without a firm grasp of human-interaction, and your projects will only be improved by new knowledge of the world. So take up a sport, join a book group, start a BLOG—and stop worrying! They’ll get to your script just as soon as they finish up the next four installments of Batman, and return from their spontaneous month-long trip to Costa Rica… And when they call, they’ll want that next rewrite RIGHT NOW.