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Is It Worth It? [The Answer]

screenwriter at work

I received a letter from Kryz, asking Is it worth it? The subtext of the letter expresses doubts about his chances of making it in the industry, about the steps he’s taking, and perhaps ultimately about his own talent.

The question is not new to me. My answer is never the same.

But today I’m giving you the one, definitive answer.

First, a personal story.

Years ago I went through a difficult time, and had just moved to a place that was miserable compared to my previous home.

I was so lonely, broke and distracted, I couldn’t do my work. So I went outside, and sat on my balcony with my eyes closed, feeling miserable.

As I was sitting there, I felt how the sun was burning on my skin.

Then, I had a Ratatouille moment.

Remember when in that Pixar movie, Anton Ego tastes Remi’s ratatouille, and his life flashes back to his childhood?

is it worth it? (writing in the hope of a lifestyle change)Suddenly I remembered the happy holidays in the South of France with my parents, brother and sister, and our best friends. Putting my book down after reading by the pool, I would close my eyes, and just enjoy the sun burning on my skin.

Now, 35 years later I realised how most of my life I had been dreaming of living in a warm country, so I could have that experience every day.

At my all-is-lost moment, I realised that I had in fact achieved my number one life goal. I was living in Sydney, one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

And I could enjoy its wonderful climate every day of my life.

So I decided to enjoy it.

What does all this have to do with screenwriting?

It #1: Some Success At Some Point In Time

“Is it worth it?”

Did you notice the most important 2 words in the title of this article are it and it? Two placeholders.

Because no two people come to screenwriting from the same background, with the same aspirations, those two words mean different things to different people.

Before we can answer the question, we need to clarify it.

The first it refers to what you are hoping to achieve as a screenwriter. This could be a million different things.

Is your goal to pay off a debt, or improve your lifestyle in the short term from your earnings from creative writing? Quit now. Writing is a long game, with a low average income.

Is your goal to write exclusively for cinematic features? Quit now, unless you are extremely patient, and okay with the thought that this dream may never be fulfilled.

Do you want to earn a living from any kind of writing, be it for film, TV, webisodes, theatre, from copywriting, blogging, technical writing? Persist, and you will succeed. Many of my students are earning from writing for a range of platforms.

There is a fourth option, but I’ll get to that later.

It #2: Lots Of Sacrifices, Now And Forever

The second it is about the effort a screenwriter puts in to get ‘there’.

Again, the type and amount of effort you put in can be anything. Perhaps you read scripts, analyse movies, or network like crazy. Or you may be paying lots of money to screenwriting courses, script editors, and contests.

For some, the cost amounts to thousands of dollars every year. This may seem a lot, but the same people often happily spend even more on their hobbies. And once you start earning from your writing, the expenses become tax deductible.

Screenwriting is not the only area in life where it seems you need to put in an inordinate amount of time and effort to gain anything. But the problem for many is the lack of tangible progress.

Meanwhile, all we get is rejection emails.

The rejection that screenwriters experience is not too different from that of real estate agents making cold-calls or door-knocking. When a real estate agent hits pay dirt, it can be big. When a screenwriter is successful, he can pay last month’s rent.

Sometimes it seems the effort is somewhat out of proportion with the results.

And this brings us back to the original question.

So, Is It Worth It?

Literally, hundreds of thousands of people are writing scripts all over the world. Collectively, in one week they complete more scripts than you can watch movies in a lifetime.

If you do the maths, I think you’ll find that something like 0.0005 will ever be able to make a living as a screenwriter.

Now think about it, while you are not yet earning from it, you are writing. And isn’t this exactly what you wanted to be doing every day in the first place?

This is your fourth, and most important option for the first it.

The ultimate goal for most writers is to be able to write for a living. This means that most of your day will be filled with exactly that: writing.

By the way, if you have a decent paying job now, it is unlikely that you’ll be earning a whole lot more as a writer. You may well have to live (even) more frugally.

So, instead of focusing on the material side of screenwriting, be aware that the biggest change in your life will be that you’ll be writing more.

And when you look at all the so-called sacrifices you are making, how many of those are really procrastination? Perhaps you should just be writing more. Because that’s how you improve. By practising.

In which case, the sacrifice is the same as the goal.

In other words, what you are doing now, is what you’ll be doing when you get there.

You already have what you want.

Ain’t that ironic.

Now close your eyes, and have your Ratatouille-moment.

-Karel Segers

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Is It Worth It? [The Letter]

I received a letter from a screenwriter with doubts. Doubts about his chances of making it in the industry, about his process in trying to get there, and perhaps ultimately about his own talent.

In the next post, I will give you my reply.

Meanwhile, here is the letter.


Dear Karel Segers,

Hi, my name is Kryz Woodhouse, and I’m addicted to screenwriting.

Six years ago I was working as an assistant manager for a retail company and was feeling the pressure to move up into a store manager position. Keen to expand my horizons I began meeting with other companies looking for store managers and found quite a lot of interest.

I took some time to stop and think: What did I want to do?

The nagging answer: I wanted to write more.

I realised that when I get to the end of my life and look back, I’d rather have failed at something I wanted to do than succeed at something I didn’t.

I left my job, got a fairly easy part-time non-management position instead, and threw my spare time into writing.

At that time I had already written a few screenplays and undertaken a number of screenwriting courses and I was convinced that with one year of hard work and dedication I could come up with a seller.

As I said, that was six years ago.

A few weeks ago I submitted the first rough draft of a screenplay at the conclusion of your Immersion Screenwriting course. This would be the start of my tenth screenplay.

I am hungry for the next step of my career, but for all the information and courses out there, none of it seems to be progressing me any further.

Yes, I am motivated by the job of the craft and not the lure of the dollar. Yes, I have focused on developing and writing awesome stories rather than chasing agents and producers. Yes, I have been entering leading international screenplay contests, and have made it twice into the top 10 per cent of finalists, but do I keep writing and flogging this tired trail, hoping to one day beat the odds of one against many thousand?

Repeatedly I have been told the first step in selling a screenplay is to become a great writer first.

Well, I am a great writer. I say this not to be vain, but I honestly believe it. I also have great feedback from both friends and professional assessment services. I have done many courses, studied many books, and have written and written and rewritten and rewritten.

I’ve told myself it doesn’t matter that I live in Tasmania, away from most of the industry. It doesn’t matter than I have no connections. It doesn’t matter than year after year, I get older and older and more delusional. Story is king.

I’ve told myself I can overcome these barriers if I work hard enough, be committed enough. If I keep writing and writing and getting better and better… then finally… perhaps one day…

But here I am. Years later with a growing pile of projects underneath me, yet still no closer to finding the next doorway, never mind having a chance to open it.

And so. This year. I will again continue to write, and get assessed and do courses. I would like to send some of my more developed projects to your services for assessment, and I look toward the Get Your Script Read course that you are proposing to run later this year.

But, in all seriousness, is it worth it?

For me and all those in similar situations, or all those who are just starting out, is it worth it? Is the belief that if one works hard and is dedicated enough one might finally sell something – or, forget selling, just have somebody, anybody, willing to take a shot at making a film out of it – are there any grounds for this belief? Or are we doomed to keep writing, doing courses, rewriting, reading books, and more writing – forever?

And look, if that is the case, it’s okay. Even if I’m doomed – or perhaps it’s not within me to write well enough no matter what I do, ever – then I will be hurt. It will smart. But I will sooner or later return to the thrill of screenwriting like the addict I am. Because succeed or fail, this is what I love to do.

I am a writer, and I will keep writing.

But, still, I just thought I would ask.

Regards,

Kryz


I’m grateful that Kryz allowed me to publish his letter.

Here is my answer.

-Karel Segers

5 Reasons Why Loglines Are Incredibly Important

loglines

Loglines can predict failures. This week, I watched a movie where the writer had not adopted critical notes. The film failed. I’m not saying that it would have succeeded if he had heeded the advice. If only things were that simple.

The draft I read could be summarised in a one sentence logline. Based on that logline, I predicted the film would fail.

I am not the only one who makes snap decisions based on the logline alone. In fact, EVERY busy film executive does this – every day. And everyone I know in the film industry works incredibly hard to make a living. They have absolutely no time to waste.

Within this context, loglines are the only tool that allows you to make decisions quickly, and efficiently.

Many writers think they can write loglines. The truth is that only a very few understand this very specific skill. If more writers did, there wouldn’t be so many flawed concepts floating around. I’m not talking about execution now, merely premise.

I have been studying loglines for a long time now, and five years ago I decided to launch Logline It. Since then, it has grown into the leading website and a community dedicated to the promotion of effective loglines. Today, we have over 4,000 loglines on the site, and over 20,000 reviews to learn from.

Thanks to this site, many writers have perfected their loglining skills, and are now able to judge early on whether they have a story idea that could fly.

A properly written logline allows you to make a reliable snap judgment on the prospects of a project. This is one reason why the logline is the most powerful instrument to gauge the quality of a screen story.

1. A Snap Decision Tool

The logline is the smallest recognised industry format that allows gatekeepers to make snap decisions. Based on it, they may either eliminate a concept from their list, or allow it to jump to the next level (usually the synopsis).

For this reason, loglines are the most common summary in trade publications at the most important annual film markets: Berlin, Cannes, Sundance, Toronto, AFM.

2. Loglines Test Uniqueness

A properly written logline describes a screen story uniquely. Using three key story elements, it triangulates a film so effectively, it will differentiate your project from every other film made, or story told.

Using the power triangle of main character, inciting incident and story goal, you lay the basis of the logline – and that of your film’s 3-act structure.

3. It Shows Inherent Structure

Following the right logline format, you will give the reader an exact idea of the key information that will be conveyed in your story’s first act, and a promise of what may be expected in act two.

Most writers who don’t understand this, capture only about the first ten minutes of their story. They’re not to blame; most teachers don’t understand the function of a logline, and teach a format that is way too loose.

4. Loglines Express The Writer’s Vision

Until you understand your story thoroughly, it is impossible to write a logline that does service to it. For this reason, it often takes weeks, sometimes months before a writer is happy with their logline.

By the time the script is finished, the writer MUST be capable of conveying the essence of his/her story in one sentence.

5. Loglines Are A Guide Through Development

Robert McKee talks about the Controlling Idea, and John Truby discusses the Premise Line, but neither are particularly useful when you have to create them yourself.

These gentlemen provide us with extremely vague guidelines, and their examples fail completely and utterly in capturing consistently what is unique about the films they describe. While some of their examples hit the mark, others don’t. This proves that their approach is not systematic, not reliable – and therefore useless for the working writer.

I’m proud that I have developed a format that is used by every professional writer who has studied with me. Some use it as a basis to build their own version, but they all stick to the foundation I teach, because it is so simple and at the same time effective.

A properly written logline not only helps you capture the essence of your story, it guides you through the writing process. It helps you make tough decisions during development, and ultimately keeps you on track.

If you don’t already master this skill, it’s about time you get to it.

Test your own logline during the Logline It fifth anniversary event!
More details here.

Happy Loglining!

-Karel Segers