Marty Lang is a screenwriter, filmmaker, journalist and educator. His feature writing/directing debut, RISING STAR, won Best Premiere at the 2012 Seattle True Independent Film Festival, and was acquired for worldwide distribution by Content Film in 2013. His producing credits include the 2016 Independent Spirit Award-nominated OUT OF MY HAND, and BEING MICHAEL MADSEN, starring Michael Madsen, Virginia Madsen and Daryl Hannah. Twitter: @marty_lang.
Every now and then, news breaks in the entertainment world about someone (or ones) who think up an unusual, novel way to get attention for themselves and their screenwriting work. Last month provided the latest crazy story: screenwriters Jonathan Witz and Jeremy Spektor wrote a comedy spec called THE KOSHER NOSTRA, about an Uber driver who ends up working as a getaway driver for the Jewish mafia. Their dream was to get the script to actor/filmmaker Seth Rogen, but when they couldn’t make that happen, they tried something very different.
They changed the title page of their script to say it was written by Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg (based on a story by Jonah Hill), and sent it out around town via a fake email address from a fake UTA agent named “Danny Goldstein.” The script didn’t get sold, but it did get sent to industry heavyweights like Netflix’s Ted Sarandos, Annapurna’s Megan Ellison, Scott Stuber, Mark Gordon and Will Ferrell. It also got coverage in the Hollywood Reporter and Forbes Magazine. And now Witz and Spektor are screenwriting celebrities.
Such inventive (and in this case, borderline illegal) screenwriting stunts are woven into the fabric of Hollywood lore, and they can offer some insight into how to get some traction in your career. History has shown us some great examples of seriously creative thinking by writers to get their work out into the world.
MASTER THE ART OF TIME MANAGEMENT
Eli Roth has become a king of horror filmmaking through his HOSTEL films and THE GREEN INFERNO, and also an actor after working with Brad Pitt in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS. But before he hit it big, he was just like many other entry-level dreamers in the film business: he was working as a production assistant on the Howard Stern film PRIVATE PARTS. His job was to stand guard outside Stern’s apartment, built for him at New York City’s Silvercup Studios, while Stern slept. So Roth had his nights free, while working on the set of a major motion picture. What did he do with that time? He wrote a script. In longhand. That script eventually became the film CABIN FEVER, the film that put Roth on the map as an up-and-coming horror filmmaker.
EXPLOIT THE COMPETITIVE INSTINCTS OF BUYERS
In the 1990s, spec scripts were being picked up for record amounts of money, so many looked at screenwriting as a way to make a few bucks. Writers Brian Helgeland and Manny Coto were two of them, and they came up with a rich idea one day while talking on the phone. Helgeland joked, ”Let’s not hang up the phone until we come up with an idea we can sell for a million dollars. We started throwing bad ideas at each other. Then Manny said, ‘What if a nuclear bomb become sentient?’ Within minutes we had our robot.” That conversation turned into the spec script THE TICKING MAN. And to seal the deal, their agents at Triad Artists sent out ticking clocks to studio executives the week before sending out the script. That got executives into a feeding frenzy, and THE TICKING MAN ended up selling for one million dollars.
PROVE YOUR WRITING METTLE IN AN UNUSUAL ARENA
We all know that books, graphic novels, comic books and plays often become movies, but the Internet has created all sorts of new opportunities for writers to show their stuff. Like Reddit. Where software manual writer James Erwin got his big break. While scrolling through Reddit one day at lunch, he saw a question being asked by a site user: “Could I destroy the entire Roman Empire during the reign of Augustus if I traveled back in time with a modern U.S. Marine infantry battalion?” Erwin began to write a short fiction piece about a group of Marines that disappear on their way to southern Afghanistan, appearing outside Rome. The story took off on Reddit, with users demanding Erwin write more. He kept writing that day, and more than a quarter million people read the thread where his story posts were. That led to Madhouse Entertainment’s Adam Kolbrenner contacting him (through Reddit), asking him if he wanted to write a screenplay based on the story. Erwin said yes, and eventually, Warner Brothers hired him to write a treatment for a feature film based on his story.
IMPRESS ARTISTIC PEOPLE WHO HANG AROUND YOU
When Harmony Korine was a teenager, he met a photographer who was taking pictures of him and his skateboarder friends in New York City’s Washington Square. He told the photographer about a short screenplay he had written, about a boy whose father took him to a prostitute on his 13th birthday. The photographer liked the script, so he asked Korine if he wanted to write a film about skaters. He wanted the movie to be about a teenager whose way of having safe sex was to sleep with virgins, and to include something about HIV. Korine went off and wrote the script in three weeks, to prove that he could do it – and the photographer went on to direct the script without making any changes at all. The photographer was Larry Clark, and the movie was the film debut of Chloe Sevigny and Rosario Dawson, KIDS.
LIVE AN INCREDIBLE LIFE, AND TELL YOUR STORY
After being born in prison, and growing up with an abusive foster family, Antwone Fisher joined the US Navy, worked for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and eventually worked as a security guard at Sony Pictures. There, he decided to find his blood family, and eventually met his birth mother – who told him he had four siblings who were taken away as wards of the state. He decided to write a screenplay based on his life, and his story spread around the Sony lot. Fisher had multiple suitors for his project, but he initially declined them all. He wrote over 40 drafts of his script, eventually selling the rights to 20th Century Fox. The script was eventually made into a movie, with Denzel Washington directing!
If screenwriting is your dream, there’s as many ways to success as there are successful writers. And sometimes, thinking way out of the box can give your career a push toward the success you’re working toward.
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