Much as I believe in the merits of positive thinking and visualization, I’m also convinced that it’s not possible to make it as a professional screenwriter by writing one script and spending the rest of your time waiting to be discovered.
Just as a writer writes books, so a screenwriter writes scripts. Lots of them. A few of which may eventually become films.
I was reminded of this when I read an interview the other day with Ben Stiller, concerning his latest movie Tropic Thunder. He first conceived of the premise for the film more than twenty years ago, when he was just out of film school and trying to establish himself as an actor and director.
However, Stiller wasn’t able to get the project off the ground then and it became something he returned to regularly during the years he worked tirelessly to establish himself as a hugely successful filmmaker.
His perseverance paid off. When the time was finally right, his reputation and clout made it possible for him to put the project into production. Now the film he dreamed of making so long ago is on general release.
This wouldn’t have happened if Stiller had treated his script as a lottery ticket, and just sat around waiting for his number to be called.
Although there are plenty of anecdotes about screenwriters having lucky breaks which launched their careers, what really counts is talent and stamina. It’s a hard slog. It takes a long time to develop the skills and sensibilities necessary to write a really attractive screenplay.
There’s a dictum in the Talmud which goes something like this: “It is forbidden to count on a miracle.” I think that’s a fairly wise motto for a screenwriter.
By far the best strategy is to keep the initiative. Continue writing, reading and learning. Always have something new on the boil. Keep abreast of developments in the industry. Make new contacts. And don’t wait around to get lucky.