5 Reasons NOT to become a Film Screenwriter
Renowned writer Martha Polo gives her 5 good reasons to choose a different aspiration.
[I’ve handed over the keyboard below to my good friend Martha Polo — Alexis]
Number 1: You’re No Good
You know it, the industry knows, the competition judges know it, and all your best friends know it. You’re basically no good at screenwriting. I know, I know, you can write 90 pages of story with a beginning, middle and an end in screenplay format. But no one will read it unless they’re in love with you or being paid by you. Or unless — in return — you’re reading the crap that they’ve written. It’s going to take you years of blood, sweat and tears to be able to write something that someone who doesn’t know or care about you, someone who’s busy, someone who’s desperate for entertainment, to pick up a script of yours and actually enjoy it and want to keep reading, all the way through. Why bother? You can become a Doctor in the average time it will take you to become a truly pro writer. Or a lawyer. If you want to get into this industry quickly, become a producer. Any idiot can become a professional producer.
Number 2: You don’t want to be a screenwriter
“Yes I do!” Oh no you don’t. “Oh yes I do!” Please be quiet. What you want is to be recognised as a screenwriter. You want to go on the mission to become one and at the end be told — and feel- that you’ve made it. You are one of the chosen few. The next lit manager who says “There are more NBA players than working screenwriters in Hollywood” will receive a personal visit from me during which I will insert their flipping iPad Air up their flipping a**e. [Please note: we do not condone violence - Alexis] Let’s suppose, for a moment, you get your lit manager, a producer options you, you do generals all around town — and you tell all your friends and the people you swipe right on about it — what’s next? The next script or re-write. But this time the manager and producer will be bugging you and interfering. And you will discover, much to your horror, that you still have the same insecurities: “am I good enough for this manager, will my re-writes be good enough.” You’ve not had an amazing article appear about you in Variety or Hollywood Reporter. But now the years stretch out before you, years of writing, re-writing, but with all the pressures you didn’t used to have. It’s like a romantic comedy — they finish the film when the couple get together. They don’t continue with the practicalities of being together: hating each other at times, getting jealous, potential infidelities, falling out of the honeymoon love, cleaning your teeth while you partner cr*ps, watching them cr*p themselves when a baby comes out of their private parts etc etc. Screenwriting doesn’t become easier when you’ve made it, it becomes harder. Less fun. Stop.
Number 3. Cinema is Dead
If you’re over 40 please forget about Spielberg, Coppola, Lucas, Kubrick and all the other classic mysogenistic New Hollywood filmmakers. Forget about Schrader, Kaufman, and Towne, the self-hating starf**kers. They’re history. Take your copy of Easy Riders Raging Bulls and put it in the bathroom to use when the paper runs out. The movies haven’t worked like that for years. If you’re over 30 forget about Tarantino and the Wachowskis. It’s over man. It’s over. Like the 60s (if you remember those, you shouldn’t be reading this article). How many people are going to keep paying to go into a multiplex and sit in a screen with 5 other people to wach a film? [I still like to do this! — Alexis] Consider the Oscars — once a cultural powerhouse whose shadow stretched across the world. They are now becoming a sideshow. Antiquated, made irrelevant by its own craving for its relevance in the past. Get out while you can my friend. The way forward is Disney and Netflix. And both want movies that can work on an iPhone screen. Why did the Beatles hold out so long from being on Spotify? Because as soon as they got streamed, they got devalued. Movie writers for Netflix are a commodity. You’re nothing. You’re nada. Zilch. Kaput.
Number 4. What you really want, is to be famous.
You pathetic excuse for a human being [Easy there tiger! — Alexis] — if you really wanted to be a writer, you’d be a novelist. Kubrick himself (ALL HAIL KUBRICK) said that the best writers don’t become screenwriters, they write novels (a form in which the writer has true control). So why did you become a screenwriter? Because you want to be in the movies! Oh dear. You want to get a taste of that tinseltown magic. You want to be caught in the sunlight of the shining stars of Hollywood. You’re too cowardly to become an actor because of the rejection (or because too ugly). You’re too lazy — or protective of your mental health — to become a director (they have to work standing up!) Sure, you like the acclaim they receive. You’d love to be idolised like a Speilberg, or create an industry like a Lucas, or help to run Scientology like Tom Cruise. But you know in your heart you’re not gonna do it. So what’s the next best thing? Sit alone in your room typing into your laptop, imagining worlds and emotional depths that feel as profound as any of those movies you’ve seen in the movie theatre. Reality check. If you think writers are famous, then name me the writers of the following films (not the director who co-wrote): Wizard of Oz, Casablanca, The Dark Knight, Goodfellas, Schindlers List, The Shining, Mad Max Fury Road, Saving Private Ryan, Parasite, Joker, Spiderman: No Way Home, Up, etc. Now go to any webpage with pictures from the red carpet. How many are pictures of screenwriters compared to the other jobs? How many screenwriters get interviewed on the Oscars Red Carpet, compared to other jobs? Did you know that a lot of the general public think the actors actually make up their own dialogue? If you eventually do become a screenwriter working on large budget films that actually do get made (which means you’re one of the 1 in 100 who keeps writing until they’re good enough, then the 1 in 100 of those who gets a screenplay picked up by a producer, and then the 1 in 100 of those who work on bigger films, and the 1 in 100 of those whose film gets actually made) — all your friends will say is “have you written anything I’ve heard of?” and “did you meet [insert name of famous actor here]?” If you’re thick-skinned and stupid enough to work hard and long enough to become one of the 0.001% of writers who get to write a film that gets made and seen by some “people” in the cinema, then you’d better practice reacting to your friends’ disinterest if they’re under 30, or — if they’re over 30 — disappointment you didn’t date the leading actor, or become best friends with the star director.
Number 5. You’re fine just as you are.
Did mummy not love you enough? Did daddy leave home? Is your sibling so much more successful than you? [Yes to all of these — Alexis] Awww bless. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret — the occasional semi-public profile achieved by the very top movie writers has done NOTHING to assuage their sense of being unloved. It has merely exacerbated their imposter syndrome. Nor has the ability for “successful” screenwriters to get invited to red carpets or industry parties helped them to feel better about themselves. The reason is: there’s nothing wrong with them that couldn’t be put right by inside work. A couple of years studying and practicing Buddhism would be cheaper and infinitely less soul-destroying than a decade spent scrabbling your way to the unappreciated top of the writing part of the film industry. If you try to nix your inadequacies and insecurities by becoming more successful, you’ll be confronted by the next level of failure. You win a minor competition, now you feel a failure because you can’t win a major competition. You get a script optioned, now you’re a failure because it’s not been bought. You get a script bought, now you’re a failure because it’s not been made. The script gets made, now you’re a failure because no one wants to buy or see the film. Your film gets distributed, now you’re a failure because you can’t get a writing gig from Warner Bros, you get a writing gig from Warner Bros, now you’re a failure because that film wasn’t made. And even your Warner Bros opus eventually gets made, now you’re a failure because the indie world thinks your films are shallow. The cycle of Samsara goes on forever through human, animal, gods, hell beings, and hungry spirits. Until you become a director, no sorry I mean, until you become a Boddhisatva and eventually a Buddha. So take a leaf from my book. I’m happy to be writing Haiku poems. They don’t earn me money or prestige, but each poem is a little bit of heaven in my heart. My bitterness has merged with the Godhead and I am free.
Martha Polo, Santa Monica, Apr 2022