Confessions of a Wannabe

Posted on behalf of Randy Webb

Paul Haggis spent years doing work in television before he wrote “Million Dollar Baby,” based on short stories by boxing trainer and manager Jerry Boyd.

From IMDB:
“Producer Albert S. Ruddy loved the story and was determined to make it into a movie and spent four years trying to find backers who were interested in helping him make it. “I couldn’t get anybody interested”, he said in an interview, “and I’m talking about people who are friends of mine, people I’ve done business with for years. They’d tell me, ‘Who wants to see a movie about two old grizzled guys and a girl fighter?'” Eventually, he found someone interested, Clint Eastwood. He read the script and said “It’s a downer…but God, it’s gorgeous.”

There is no magic escalator to fame and fortune as a screenwriter. In fact, screenwriter are often persona non grata in the halls of the industry. No one is going to do if for us, and for every thirty of us there are probably 3,000 wannabes in Southern California, maybe 30,000.

Yes, there is some damn fine writing in the Wednesday Scene Analysis Group (WSAG) sponsored by the NWSG. And yes, there has been some real trash that makes the screens, both big and small. And the people who make it put in a lot of sweat and personal equity. We have members of the WSAG who have sold their personal belongings to make a short that might or might not make it into some festival screening. We have members who have worked on set for free to be a good dooby and be involved and maybe, just maybe, make some connections.

There is a whole cottage industry that makes a buck out of our dreams by selling courses and workshops and books and software and conferences. Some of that by people who haven’t exactly been roaring successes themselves. Robert McKee, the guru of the book “Story” and his workshops based on it, has only five writing credits in IMDB, all episodes of TV shows.

There is no magic escalator.

I’m old—older than most of you know—and I have no illusions that I am someday going to “make it,” though there are writers who have done that when nearly as old or older. “The King’s Speech” to wit. I think I write pretty well, and having the WSAG has helped me improve, but once again, I have no illusions that I could stack my scripts against “Million Dollar Baby” or “The American President” or “Brokeback Mountain.”

But I still want to get better, and I need someone other than family or friends or even the WSAG group to look at my stories dispassionately and tell me what I need to work on, so I pay for coverage. And when I do, I may not want to face up to what I learn, but I know that my script isn’t where it needs to be and so I return to the keyboard and computer screen to unwrinkle the major subplot, or do away with a cherished character, or rewrite an ending.

You need to write because you have to write, because you love to write, even though sometimes you hate to write, and you can’t stop writing. We should be here participating in the WSAG and the Guild to keep getting better, not because the Guild is somehow going to produce the magic escalator just for us. Some of the members of the WSAG and the Guild will get there and we can cheer for them because we have been a part of their success, but we shouldn’t expect that anyone else can do the magic for us.

The best we can do is to keep writing, to keep sharing it with each other, and to keep supporting each other in the WSAG and the Northwest Screenwriters Guild. That we have a community of fellow writers to share with and work with is gift.