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Expert screenwriting tips by working screenwriters

Expert screenwriting tips


Every successful screenwriter needs persistence running through their blood.

Screenwriting is a tough industry to make a living by - non-pros (assuming they're not repped by an agent or manager) are going to find it difficult getting their scripts read by agents and prodcos. Once they get a read, only a small number result in options or outright sales.

But as they say: anything is possible.


Screenwriting persistence: Hanna

Hanna screenwriter Seth Lochhead exemplifies the commitment and level of persistence often required to break into screenwriting. Seth penned Hanna whilst attending Vancouver Film School.

In a single year of querying, he queried over 400 agents, producers, managers, executives, and assistants. In return: he received only two requests for Hanna.

Five years later, Hanna - staring Saoirse Ronan and Eric Bana was on our screens. The $30 million picture ended up grossing more than twice its budget.

In an article on Vancouver Film School's website Seth writes:

So I'm steaming soymilk for David Goyer‘s extra hot chai latte and I'm thinking to myself, 'Do it, man. Do it. Tell him you're the same. Tell him you're a writer too. Tell him the best part of Blade 3 had nothing to do with vampires and everything to do with boobs. Tell him. Tell him now.'

Instead, I poured his drink, avoided eye contact, and whispered quietly to my coworkers, 'That's the guy that wrote Batman Begins.'

I went home that night not regretful, but definitely feeling that I missed an opportunity. or maybe not. Maybe I would've told him of my fabulous idea for a movie (with a fully realized script sitting in a drawer at home) and it would've evaporated from his mind as quickly as the steam off his extra hot chai latte.

I convinced myself I wanted to make it on my own. I wanted to be the coffee shop phenom that launched into Hollywood's upper stratus from oblivion. I didn't want to ride in as the student of some 'greater' screenwriter. I wanted to walk into Hollywood as master.

I set to task. I emailed 400 agents, producers, managers, executives, and assistants in the stubborn hope that it's not who you know, it's what you write that will define you as a Hollywood player. And boy was I right. sort of.

In one year of emails I got two requests for my script. One was from a kindly producer and the other was from a kindly management company called Circle of Confusion.

Now, this wasn't your run of the mill management company. These guys were the real deal. They launched and repped some of Hollywood's power players, namely The Wachowski Brothers, Simon Kinberg, and Iris Yamashita.

I wrapped my script in a manila envelope, sent it down to Culver City, and spent the next day and a half throwing up.

Six weeks later, I get a call. These boys loved and I mean loved my script and they wanted to rep me. Great. But what does that mean? I still have no idea. really.

My script is the violent tale of a 14-year-old girl raised in isolation to be the perfect assassin. This wasn't an easy film for the masses to swallow, so the boys at Circle decided to leak it slowly.

They got a whole bunch of nibbles and then suddenly they got a big fish - Focus Features. And that's where the proverbial shit hit the fan (and vomit, lots of vomit. I vomited a lot in those early days. now I just eat).

They optioned Hanna and, after a manic (on my part) phone call, they hired me to do the rewrite.

And this is where life got really crazy. The William Morris Agency starts calling my house. CAA, UTA, ICM and myriad of smaller, excellent agencies start calling my managers and they all want to rep me.

Screenwriting persistence: Saw

I'm not a huge fan of horror but Saw had a knockout twist and the story of how the movie got made is an inspirational one for all aspiring screenwriters and directors.

The co-writer and director, James Wan, created Saw with Leigh Whannell (co-writer and actor) who he met at college (RMIT) in Melbourne, Australia. They wrote Saw in their year after college but were not able to attract any financial backers in Australia.

A manager Whannell knew sent the script to the US where an agent showed an agent and wanted to meet the pair. Although Wan was 'flat broke' at the time they managed to raise $4,000 to make a short version of the film to showcase their script - it was shot in three days.

They flew to LA, the agent loved the showcase.

Two days later, they had approval for an initial budget of $700,000 (the movie would eventually be shot for a million). Wan would direct his co-creation, Whannell would act in it.

Saw would go on to became a global bit, grossing 40x+ times its budget.

It would create a hugely successful global horror franchise and make stars of its creators.

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