Balls of Steel: Your Character, Your Career

While doing yet another rewrite of Slavery by Another Name, I took a Twitter break and saw a tweet scroll by, showcasing an “entertaining interview with an idiot” that included a link.

Hello, perfect writing-break read.

The link led me to Jim Vines’ The Working Screenwriter site.

The alleged “idiot” turned out to be Justin Samuels, the screenwriter who recently sued CAA and WME for eight million dollars. Samuels claims the agencies practice in a discriminatory manner, both sexually and racially, and he has been unable to work professionally as a screenwriter because of it.

By the time I finished reading the interview, my blood was boiling. When a Sicilian, black belt, hard-working screenwriter gets mad, watch out.

I urge you to read the interview for yourself before reading on …

Did you enjoy it? My guess is you either laughed your pants off or you have whiplash from shaking your head in disbelief. Time to learn from what, in my opinion, are Mr. Samuels’ mistakes.

First a disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this post are mine and mine alone, not that of Script or Final Draft. Gotta cover my tracks when the aroma of lawsuits floats by.

After nine years and eight completed scripts, Samuels has still not broken in, and in his opinion, it has nothing to do with his writing ability.

“I’m saying I have no access, in part because of my race and because I’m not in on the right social circles that would allow me to talk to a producer or agent one-on-one … You’d need wealthy parents — disproportionately white — or some sort of backing where you basically didn’t have to work in order to schmooze with film people all the time … the mainstream agencies have policies that disproportionately lock non-white — or those who don’t come from wealthy families — out of the industry.”

Sadly, even in 2011, discrimination exists, but whether you are black, white, purple, polka-dotted, male, female, transgender, or a eunuch, it is extremely difficult to break into Hollywood. Even if you actually are the greatest writer in the universe, it’s still hard.

As for the need to be rich, my answer is Twitter. Doesn’t cost me a damn thing to tweet and connect with industry people all over the world (see my Tweet to Success piece).

Here’s some homework for Mr. Samuels and anyone else who feels frustrated they haven’t made it yet:

I could go on and on with advice on how to get read and break in, but I won’t because any writer with half a brain cell can research and figure that out.

What I want to talk about today is character. Not your story’s characters, but your character as a writer, a human being and a professional.

What Samuels has done, in my opinion, is demean any real cases of discrimination that are indeed happening. To fill the court’s time with false claims from a scorned writer should be criminal.

Shame on you, Mr. Samuels. Shame on your lawyers.

We writers already get very little respect in the industry. Lawsuits like this only make us look like a bunch of whining sloths who don’t understand the business and can’t handle the challenges of climbing the seemingly endless mountain to success.

Our careers depend on not only educating ourselves on our craft, but also on the countless paths you can take to production.

What Samuels wants is to only deal with the top agencies and production companies, even though he has never had anything sold, optioned or produced. That’s like me saying because I run nine miles a week, I should be allowed to run the Boston Marathon without having to qualify, or to be a part of the Olympic team simply because that’s what I think I deserve. And then when they reject me, I should sue them because I have a vagina and that must be why they aren’t letting me in. It couldn’t possibly be because I run an eight-minute mile.

I am not on an Olympic team because I have not earned that place, and I am not a produced screenwriter because I haven’t polished my scripts enough and haven’t gotten them into the hands of the right producers … yet.

I have not “arrived” because I still have work to do on my craft. Period.

I know this business is frustrating. There are many days I question why the hell I do this. Days I crave hiding in a hole and writing my novel in solitary bliss. But until the day I have exhausted every single option out there, I will not quit, nor will I blame anyone else for my failures.

Above all, I will always follow my father’s wise advice: Never let your character ruin your chances at a career.

Don’t lash out in anger, finger point, or stab others in the back. Don’t act out of desperation, jump onto the “casting couch,” or hire lawyers to be your bullies.

Put the project first. Put your future first. Put your long-standing career first. Put your character first.

Be fair and noble, even when you want to scream because you can’t stand one more rejection coming in.

“Thank you sir, may I have another.”

I swear that is exactly what I say when I read each “pass.” I can get 1,000 rejections, but all I need is one “yes.”

If I’m a class-A moron in how I conduct myself, a slut in a producer’s office, or a money-hungry lawsuit pariah, no one will take me seriously or ever want to work with me.

Every time I walk into a meeting, I need to approach the room with a polished script and a great collaborative attitude, ready to hear feedback, do the hard work, go back to my desk and rewrite that script until someone finally says, “yes” to both my script and my career.

Making excuses and blaming people for my not being produced isn’t going to get me hired. Acting honorably, thinking outside-the-box, and working hard is how that happens.

Mr. Samuels clearly hasn’t been reading Balls of Steel.

This rant was brought to you by a proud yet unproduced writer in the trenches.

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17 thoughts on “Balls of Steel: Your Character, Your Career

  1. Cecilia Dominic

    The thing that almost made me :headdesk: (or :headbar:) was his remark that if he wanted to, he could be a novelist because he lives in New York. Also, in my line of work, I see clients who have faced real discrimination and who have true psychological trauma from it. Whiny, self-entitled ppl like him make me want to scream. As for what will happen to him, two-ish words: defamation counter-lawsuit. He’s gotten enough press it could happen.

    CD

  2. Kelly Greene

    Well said…I love that he’s been “trying” for 9 years. Do a little industry research… I know writers who have been trying to break in for more than 15 years. Contest winners, prolific writers (more than a dozen spec screenplays & other writing samples) And, did I read that correctly? Justin’s written a whole 8 pieces in those 9 years? And no contests? And expecting only A-list producers? And people didn’t know his race, but weren’t willing to up and produce his work? No networking…no workshops, seminars, pitchfests…SMH. That’s not working – that’s being a spoiled brat. What a world.

  3. Unk

    You said, “Vagina.”

    Everything you say is undoubtedly TRUE in my humble but TAINTED opinion.

    Tainted?

    Oh yeah… Because word on the street is that there are POWERS THAT BE that will be sitting down and reading this guy’s material.

    Because word on the street is that it would be better to quash this suit as SILENTLY as possible.

    And trust me… If that means giving this guy a SHOT — these agencies will do just that and make him sign an NDA.

    I’m sure everyone in Hollywood wants to read LUNATICS by now anyway…

    RIGHT?

    Unk

  4. Michael Berg

    Someone email him the youtube link to “Malkovich’s Mail” and then ask him if he thinks he’s the only one being ignored by Hollywood.

    No offense to anyone, but I find it really sad (and irritating) when a “minority” member of society doesn’t achieve what he/she thinks they rightfully deserve so they complain and play the race card.

    Has he ever considered that maybe his writing just isn’t good enough? Or his scripts weren’t high concept enough to entice an insider to read them? Or maybe the few times he got someone to take a look at his script he had such a chip on his shoulder that they brushed him off?

    If there’s any discrimination going on from Hollywood, it’s to everyone who lives outside the LA pearly gates. Locationism :)

  5. writeproBobby Fleeks

    Hellooo! Black or not this a-hole should keep his comments to himself because now, whether he knows it or not HE WILL NEVER SELL ANYTHING!

    He might as well as hang up the word processor screenwriting software or any idea that he will ever be a screenwriter in Hollywood, now. The word is out, He’s a problem, and Hollywood doesn’t like problems… they have enough with the writers who keep sending them bad scripts claiming that they are God’s gift to the industry.

    I have been writing for countless years, have come so close to a selling that I hurt when I think of all the lost opportunities that gone into the round file, but to demean the hand that would feed me? Boy that is the dumbness thing I have ever heard or seen… and he actually sued them.

    What was he thinking and what did he hope to accomplish; that they’d suddenly decide that if he had balls enough to sue them they should now listen to him?

    Shoot the only thing that did was make them aware so now every time his scripts come across someone’s desk or his name is mention, he is bad news and no one in their right mind is ever going to hire him because he has been marked as a pariah.

    I am still hoping for that big sale and writing and writing and writing, but none of that will be a letter of distain or lawsuit against the very people I want to work with.

    Stupid is as stupid does… and this guy was the dumbest of the dumbest!

    Guess he can go drive a truck now, cause if he’s still in Hollywood, that’s the only job he’s gonna get now!

    Aspiring Screenwriter who knows better!

    Bobby

  6. Ian

    In a weird way, I can understand Mr. Samuels frustration. But saying his lack of success is because he’s black? I really don’t get that at all. Even in the interview, he tries explaining it but it doesn’t add up. To me, I feel like he is making excuses.

    Even though I’m pursuing a screenwriting career, I’m still struggling as a graphic designer/illustrator. But the fact is, I’m better off now then where I was three years ago and I have seen improvement in my work. I’m working two part time graphic design jobs but I can’t quite seem to get a full time job yet. All I can do really is keep trying to improve. I blame part of it on the economy but I’m not blaming it because of some obscure reason.

    But judging from the interview, I don’t feel that he is really working hard on learning the craft. He is more of a complainer.

  7. Eva__said

    After reading the interview, I came to the conclusion that Justin didn’t make the effort to try. He mentioned just how he didn’t have time to pitch his script because of work. Yeah, I understand. We still have to work to pay our bills and have a home. But if we truly are passionate about writing, we make time to write. We make time to go and find someone to read our scripts. Or better yet, we make the time to enter the contests. There’s nothing wrong with entering contests. In fact, they are a great help (I don’t think he understands that).

    I don’t see the real reason behind the suing of CAA and WME. Oh, wait. I know why, there isn’t one!

    I have always believe that getting into the business is a gamble. But most importantly, we writers have to give it our all. Writing isn’t easy. Selling our materials is even harder.

    This man just wanted an excuse for publicity. Yeah, he got it. Unfortunately, I don’t think it will do any good for his career.

    Worst of all, he has just made us all look bad. :shakes head: what a disappointment.

  8. Anthony Perez (@FilmTony)

    All I can say is “wow” to this “stat”:

    “According to the WGA, 5% of screenwriters in film were non-white.”

    Fact is that is proportionate to the population. Only 12% of American Adults are African American. Is it a low number? Yes, but I highly doubt it’s due to race.

    I’m Puerto Rican. I haven’t broken into film yet but it’s because I haven’t made a significant attempt yet. I’m still in the learning and practice stages. I did break into advertising, however, which is also notorious for its lack of diversity.

    It’s all about ability. I didn’t know a single person who worked in advertising when I grew up. I started studying the profession in my sophomore year of college. I didn’t grow up particularly well-off. My family was actually lower-income for the majority of my childhood and only rose to lower middle class status as my father moved up the ranks in the postal service during my teenage years.

    I simply hustled to get into advertising and my smarts and ability did all the legwork. I actually work in “strategic planning” a position within advertising that is usually manned by people with 2-3 years of experience in other departments. I got in as an intern and was hired after my internship due to one fact: my ability.

    Now in regards to film, no one sees writers unless they happen to win Oscars. It doesn’t matter what color you are because no one will really know what color you are anyway. The material is all that matters.

    This guy didn’t try hard enough and probably isn’t talented enough. PERIOD.

  9. Romona Robinson

    JVB — I’m an aspiring African-American, female screenwriter (supposedly I would have two strikes against me right there but I have strong belief in that excellence and mastering the craft will trump those supposed strikes)…and I have absolutely no words…actually..I have a lot of words…but I can’t express here on the site regarding Mr. Samuels.

    *He’s making aspiring writers of every color, creed and gender look bad period. It’s hard enough to get a toe in the door as it is…I just can’t…I can’t…*

    *walking away…*

  10. Lee

    While I was reading the interview with Mr. Samuels, I wasn’t thinking what an idiot he was, I was thinking that he is probably one of the most well known screenwriters in Hollywood today … quite a feat having never sold a screen play!

    He may never sell a script, but he might now get an opening he craves, or he might get a deal to write a novel on all this and he’s established a name for himself.

    While I think what he’s done is wrong, we as struggling writers can use his example of thinking of new ways to get ourselves noticed.

  11. Fey1IsleofSkye/Sidney Peck

    The old adage “If it’s worth saying, it’s worth repeating.” applies here beautifully. I read the original article and I’m glad to see you have commented on it here. I did both things reading the original: LMAO and almost got whiplash from the head shaking. Like you, it pisses me off when I see these kind of frivolous law suits clogging up the court system AND putting another layer of protective armor in the development trenches. It’s already difficult enough for writers to get meetings and these kind of idiots only make it more so for the rest of us. GRRRR

    P.S.: I had to laugh when I saw the photo you used here, because I had downloaded it this morning from another post with the intention of using it in a future blog. Great minds think alike! :)

  12. Princess Scribe

    Jeanne:

    What a heartfelt and honest article. We’ve discussed many times the trials and the tribulations of the existence of the screenwriter, and the challenges that face us all within this journey.

    “I have not “arrived” because I still have work to do on my craft. Period.”

    Amen, sister. We have to work hard, so very very hard, to get that “final” polish… only to realize that we’re not there yet, so back to the drawing boards we begin.

    Yes, it’s frustrating. Yes, we can become forlorn. We can even get angry – hence those 9 miles+ per week… but what we cannot do is blame. Certainly not others – it’s not their fault that our script isn’t where it should be, and honestly, not even ourselves, for rewriting is simply part of the process, and if we’re not a 20+ year pro, then we’re still in a learning curve. I think all writers ride this curve, regardless of one’s level of experience.

    The only blame we should bear is if we cut corners, try to find the easy way in, and don’t do the work.

    And so, off I go to my rewrites on EDEN, TLAU and the new comedy. Again.

    Your column makes me look forward to the work today. Thank you for your candid, thoughtful words. ~ a

  13. Jonathan Peace

    I too read this interview and was quite frankly stunned by the ‘me-me-me’ attitude. Surprisingly enough, here in the UK that very same week a bunch of similarly minded idiots ran the streets of London in a vagrant display of this, choosing not to work hard at a job/career but rather simply go take what they thought they deserved.

    In both cases this is pure criminal arrogance. I too feel the frustration of yet another pass, but I’ll tell you this: (adopts Scottish Braveheartian accent): iache to see my words on the screen but in two years I’ve written over twelve feature scripts and seven shorts – not Samuels paltry eight. I’ve put the time in and will continue to do so with no droop of head or self-righteous posturing, until that day, that GLORIOUS day, when a producer or studio head calls me up and offers to work with me (at guild rates). Until then I’ll put the hours in and if needs be work a 9-5 to provide for my family until that glorious day comes.

    And I’ll have fun doing it. I love making shit up for a living – the worst day is still the best ever playtime any child ever had (I think that’s a Stephen King line). Mr Samuels obviously hates what he does otherwise hed be too busy being creative rather than greedy.

    Idiot!

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