Saturday, July 5, 2008

Beware: Your Screenplay is not a Lottery Ticket

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.


Anonymous said...


I connect with persistance.

But my father and most of my relatives are unemployed and collect welfare.

Ben Stiler never had the problem I had.

I'm the only one in a family of 10 that got an office job.

I am persistant. I am the definition of persistance.

My scripts are about how stress create life and entertainment. Actually its about my life BLOOD, SWEAT AND TEARS. I have won screewriting awards and every week I connect with some producers or others who want my to read my scripts. It took me 8 years to get this far.

I did it all by myself.

Ben Stiller had it given to him on a silver platter.

Sorry I cannot and will not relate to him.

With respect, is it possible to find another example.

Sorry if I come across as a "nut".
But this is what I believe in.


Raving Dave Herman said...


I'm sure you are genuinely working very hard to make a career for yourself, and I admire that!

My point here is specifically about the benefits of writing more than just the one script, not about persevering in general.

There are numerous other examples from the film world of screenwriters who wrote many scripts while working tough day jobs, before getting their first break.

Michael Arndt, author of Little Miss Sunshine, is a great example: he wrote seven scripts which were not picked up before this one was.

Now he's working at Pixar!!

Good writing to you,


Jezza said...

Hi Dave,

Thanks for your thoughts...

I guess it's comforting to know of other people who struggled through years of perserverance to realize their dream.

The life of a screenwriter, hell, ANY writer, should not just be about the destination, but the journey (cheesy I know).

So I guess we can boil anything down to years, whether it be 10 or 1, but ultimately the only truly successful writers will be those who find satsifaction in the art of creation itself.

THEN they will find the inspiration and ability to inspire others and allow for their projects to be completed.

Any writer who writes one screenplay and finds themselves creatively drained, to me, isn't a true writer.

I myself cannot STOP writing or thinking about writing or dreaming about writing. So I know deep down that one day I will find some form of success, although maybe not up to Ben Stiller's level!

Well, at least that's one way of looking at it.

Raving Dave Herman said...


Good for you! Keep writing and writing and writing, it's the only way.

My warning, if you can call it that, is to beware of false expectations. Any one of your scripts might launch your career, but you can't count on that happening. As soon as a script is out of your hands, you should already be up to your earlobes in the next one.

Happy writing!


Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

Heard Ben Stiller has a cult hit with Tropic Thunder.

I think it will do 40 million this weekend.

I read he worked so hard to get the producers to make this movie.

Will you see it this weekend?

Raving Dave Herman said...

Won't be seeing it this weekend, but I think at some point I'll be one of many people who reward Ben Stiller for his efforts by forking out the price of a ticket or a DVD ...

If nothing else, the film is being effectively marketed!