Do you still believe these film industry myths?

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There are plenty of misconceptions about the world of screenwriting and film, just like any industry. The pervasive untruths that people believe about filmmaking, in general, are pretty wild, and before I got enmeshed in this world I believed plenty of them myself. (Heck, part of me still wants to believe that I can make bank with screenwriting. Ce n’est pas vrai. C’est la vie).

Here are some of the most common and most untrue myths about screenwriting and the film industry that I have come across.

Myth: It’s lucrative.

piggy bank

Fact: This one makes me laugh. For the most part, you cannot make a living on screenwriting alone. At least until you’re fairly well established, and even that can be a bit of a tossup. The majority of screenwriting gigs for movies are commission based; you don’t know where the next job is coming from once you’ve finished the one you’re working on. Sometimes big payouts for a script get publicized. Various entertainment and industry publications will tell you about the latest acquisition by big-name directors and up-and-coming writers, utmost scripts rarely get bought. Those that do rarely make the kind of seven-figure payout you think of when you think of Hollywood.

I don’t write screenplays for the money; it’d be nice to make some but I’m not kidding myself. I write because I love it. (And because I want to eventually have someone buy my script and Chris Evans star in it, and then meet me and fall in love with me. Obviously. This is a sound plan.)

(If you’re a poor writer like me, here are some of my favorite financial resources for making and managing money!)

Competition conniption.

I’m trying to decide if I want to tweak and submit one of my pilots to competitions again. There’s a few that are due on the 31st, and the pilot did okay last year (AFF Second Rounder good! Yippie!), so it’s not a completely impossible option. Hell, it might be a good shot even. I’m almost optimistic. Almost

I just don’t want to get my hopes up. That messed me up last year. Even when I got the email saying I was a second-rounder, I felt bad about it. Good, but not good enough. I’m older and wiser this year, but I know if I submit to anything there will still be that small flicker in me that says “This is it! This is your chance.” When it isn’t “it,” it ain’t great.

This industry can be a real kick in the pants sometimes. Just a real wallop of angst.

And I feel kind of duplicitous because I tell my clients and anyone reading this blog that a good screenplay can go a long way. But I’ve had a few good screenplays under my belt, (like actually good, I’m not just being arrogant), but they haven’t made it very far.

I’ll figure this all out, but I also don’t want to be dishonest about how draining this career choice can be. Everyone’s writing screenplays, which means competition is fierce. And I’m probably the least competitive person on the planet. If nothing else, getting into screenwriting has been an exercise in not just rolling over onto my back and letting the world mow over me.

I’ll do it. The submission fee isn’t that pricey, and every little bit of exposure matters in this industry.

Wish me luck, and tough skin.

Financial Resources for Poor Writers!

Financial resources for writers heading

God’s honest truth? Writing is hard work. Harder still is writing to make money. Establishing yourself in your niche is no cakewalk. Promoting yourself, especially as an introvert, is nightmarish. Having every family member ask, “Remind me why you decided not to go to law school again?” is a root canal with no novocaine. I’m struggling with all these things. Some days feel like just putting one foot in front of the other.

If you’re like me, however, writing is it. It’s what I do and I truly love it.

But loving it doesn’t necessarily make it any more lucrative. Here are a few solutions I’ve come across that help me manage and make money, both as a writer and as a plain old Jane. Plus a few additional self-care resources at the end that might make you days a little easier.

{This article contains affiliate and referral links; I make a little money if you use the links to sign up or purchase at no cost to you}

Financial Resources for Poor Writers!

Upwork

Upwork Logo

A real boon for the freelancer. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. I’ve had some great experiences with this site. I don’t use it often (though I’m looking into doing it more in these pandemic times). Chances are you have a sellable skill that will translate into something someone on Upwork is looking for. Can you speak two languages? Boom, translator! Do you know how to do some basic coding? Boom, coder! Can you write blog posts on a variety of subjects? Boom, freelance blogger!

Sometimes a few bucks can go a long way and Upwork is a great way to earn a few bucks for sure. Some people even do it as a full-time job and make full-time money. Be smart about it and you’ll have some supplemental income in no time.

Digit (referral link)

Well gosh, now what are you going to do with all that money you made on Upwork? As a multi-dollar-aire you have to put it somewhere, right?

This little app really saves the bacon. You connect your bank account info and they put aside a few cents to a few dollars each day depending on your preferences. (Or not, it’s up to you. For example, I manually save to Digit once a month when I have a bit of extra cash. I’m currently foregoing the auto-save because I’m dead broke!) After a time, those little bits of change add up and before you know it, you’ve got a tiny bit of savings for a rainy day. Digit also offers services like overdraft protection and savings bonuses! It’s delightful! Plus, once a week they send me a cute little text showing me how my financials are doing which helps make sure there’s nothing squirrelly going on.

Women killing the film industry game!

As much as I hate to admit it, the film industry is predominantly male. It’s 2020 and while things are better than the 1980’s, there’s still a long way to go. Women make up 51% of the population, but only comprise 12% of the directors of the top-grossing films of 2019. Also women are only 20% of the writers and 19% of executive producers.

That sucks. That’s just bad math. Especially considering that women are making some really great films, and have been since films began. Hell, when I first started writing and submitting screenplays for competitions I considered doing it under a male/gender neutral pseudonym. Because that’s the world I am living and working in right now.  

  • (But also, what if women were making really mediocre films? Men get away with that all the time, but don’t end up representing their entire gender when something flops. ‘The Room’ is a cult classic and it sucks. When was the last time you saw a ‘so bad it was good’ film directed or written by a woman? Something to think about.)

Here’s a few women on my radar that I think are really killing the film industry game. They’re making phenomenal pieces and working hard to amplify voices of minorities and other women.

Lulu Wang, Director, Writer, Producer

Lulu Wang, Vanity Fair

‘The Farewell’ was a phenomenal film directed by Lulu Wang and premiering at Sundance. Wang is fairly new on the scene. (Or rather, was working hard and then made something brilliant that put her in the spotlight). Her film killed it at Sundance and with good reason; it’s personal and raw and funny and heartfelt. It’s a beautiful story about the juxtaposition between Eastern and Western cultures and a look into the lengths families go to to keep each other happy. I truly cannot wait to see what Wang comes up with next.

Overused film tropes to avoid at all costs!

There are some things in story telling that we repeat, rehash and make anew. That’s part of the human condition; we love telling stories and boy howdy, do we love hearing, reading and seeing them on the screens. Chalk it up to the hero’s journey, but humans are just super into that rising-action/climax/conclusion cycle. And within that cycle we come up with literary tropes as well; the wise old mentor, the sidekick, the monster. These have been around since humans first sat around a fire together.

As storytelling evolved, so to have these tropes. In fact, with regards to film and TV there’s a whole website dedicated to cataloguing them. Sure we have wise old mentors, but we also have The Hacker, who can smash a keyboard and get into any computer system. We have The Jock and The Cheerleader and myriad other roles we slot our characters into. There are themes that get repeated, lines of dialogue that pop up again and again — i.e. techno jargon followed by a, “Speak English!” — and even plot holes that writers fall into again and again.

Writing and story telling is hard; it’s easy to walk on the well-trod path that others have set before. In fact, in many ways it’s a good thing; the hero’s journey speaks to us on a nearly primal level. Humans like it, and your story probably already follows obliquely; let it. Have fun with it.

But there are some things, particularly in film and screenwriting, that we do not need anymore.

The following list is a collection of some of my least favorite writing tropes. They’re just malarkey. Frankly, they are dated and offensive. You can do better.

Gremlin’s Five Year Plan

I was recently inspired by The Huntswoman (amazing blog! can’t recommend enough!) who posted on their instagram story about how to really dig deep and come up with a five year plan. There’s nitty-gritty detail work and going through everything step by step to try and reasonably come up with a plan to get from where you are now to where you want to be in five years.

I know where I want to be in five years. The dream is to write for a Pixar project.

That’s a big ask. I’d probably be happy with a real writing job, but Brianne (the Huntswoman) said to imagine your ideal life.

So far here is what I’ve come up with;

  • I live on my own, either in New York (a pipe dream) or LA (a more reasonable place for my general career choice). A two bedroom apartment with exposed brick and interesting built ins.
  • I have a dog. Probably a poodle or poodle-mix because I’ve grown up with them and they’re so fluffy and sweet.
  • I’ve sold screenplays, I have an agent who gets me, I’m working in the industry and am making a name for myself enough so that Pixar might notice.
  • I may be blogging professionally; at least making some supplemental income from blogging and selling an eBook or something.
  • I’m in a relationship that is fulfilling. This is not as important to me, but it’d be nice. Frankly I’m more invested in having my own dog and place first.
  • My family is taken care of; my brothers are able to support themselves, my parents are retired/semi-retired and living comfortably. I don’t know what steps I have to take personally for this to happen, but is the ideal.
  • Maybe I’m a little thinner, but mostly I’m wearing better clothes.

How I get there is the hard work; I’m slowly chipping away at planning and implementing. It’s hard to break down five years into month by month steps. But for the first time in a while, I’m feeling hopeful.

Wish me luck!

5 Unexpected Books That’ll Make Your Screenwriting Better (and one popular one you can trash!)

(This article contains affiliate links from bookshop.org! Buying through these links gives me a small commission and supports independent bookstores! I’ve also included my regular amazon affiliate links for you as well if that’s easier.)

There’s a slew of books and lists of books about how to write screenplays, and they’re all fine, but let me tell you, it’s the weird and unexpected books that really added to my writing chops. Read on for a list of books you need on your shelves to up your writing game, and your life!

1. The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook – Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht (amazon link)

If you’re my age or older you may remember when this book, (along with a handful of offshoots and sequels), came out. I bought my copy from the now defunct Border’s to give you an idea of the time period (ah the early to mid aughts. What a time to be alive).

This may not seem like the kind of book that would help with writing at all, but it is in fact a gold mine of plots, solutions and tips for living in a dangerous world. If you’re writing an action movie, this is your bible! Not only does it outline what to do in weird, worst-case, situations (which actually eases my anxiety a lot) but it’s a trove of inspiration. Put your characters in these predicaments and see how they react. The best part, your characters probably don’t know the ‘right’ way to react in the situations in the book; these worst case scenarios can get even wilder! 

‘Matter’ is the minimum

I’ve been painfully silent during the recent events and riots. Not intentionally, just circumstantially. I live with some hyper-conservatives so conversation about the riots and police brutality is out. Do I come up with more excuses? My anxiety and depression left me bed-bound? I had a cold and thought it might be Covid-19? I barely have enough money to donate to all the places that need support?

I don’t have any thing to really say; I’m trying to learn, trying to give a space for Black educators and activists to speak and trying to just put one foot in front of the other.

What’s worse is that I considered trying to gather up film-related resources but it all felt so fake. How could anyone write a “8 movies to watch to learn about the black struggle to live in a country that hates them” listicles? God and and some people write this and have affiliate links to the books and films they list out. As if they’ve some right to make money at a time like this.

Nothing makes sense in times like these; I’m painfully silent, and angry, and tired; and scared for my friends who are protesting and exposing themselves and being brave and good.

I donated a paltry amount of money to the Loveland Foundation and I’d love it if you would too. They focus on therapy for Black women and girls. I wish I could give more.

Black Lives Matter. That’s the baseline.

Gremlin Watches: She Ra and the Princesses of Power (Spoilers)

A short review;

Listen, I understand on a base level that a review of a show should have lots of concrete talking points, dissections of various plots, discussion of character arcs and all that jazz, but let me just sit back a moment and let out my real feelings.

Eeeee! Gay love wins! Gay love saves the universe! There’s hope in these dark times and my heroes get to be happy! Eeeee!

Yay!

I’ve got a complicated relationship with my sexuality; it’s something I’m still parsing through as a 30-year-old and will probably still be processing for the rest of my life. But the thing is, I know that if I saw She Ra and the Princesses of Power as a child I might have felt a little safer, a little more secure, and a little bit more whole. That’s god’s honest truth. I cannot help but be super grateful that we live in a world where this kind of content for children is being made because I understand implicitly that it helps, and it’s necessary. Sure, seeing same-sex characters kiss as a child probably would not have helped my anxiety or depression, but it would have at least given me an anchor point; a true north that says, “This is okay too.” Smarter people said it better; representation maters.

So yay!

“Good luck with your banana ride share business!”

There isn’t a lot of good news recently, but there’s one source of joy in my life;

Tuca and Bertie is getting renewed on Adult Swim!

Maybe it was because I was in a rough patch when the show got cancelled, or maybe because I was just too invested, but the news of the initial cancellation was such a bummer for me. It felt kind of personal; I related so hard to this weird quirky show about two birds and Netflix didn’t renew it for a second season. If a brilliant creator like Lisa Hanawalt wasn’t able to make her show last, what chance is there for a beginner screenwriter like me? And it wasn’t like I was alone; the cancellation was met with a whole lot of confusion. And the fact is Netflix didn’t do a good job advertising it and then was surprised when not as many people saw it. Lame.

But all that’s put to rest because Adult Swim picked it up!

There’s going to be ten more episodes and frankly I cannot wait to see what happens.

I used to daydream about writing a spec for Tuca and Bertie (plot not at all fleshed out, but I imagined Tuca inadvertently becoming a super famous anonymous fanfic writer who wrote raunchy gay sex scenes of in-universe superheroes akin to Marvel or DC.) Maybe with this most recent news I’ll get it done!