Zen and the Art of Guerrilla Script Marketing

I don’t have to tell you that there are too many writers trying to break into the film business these days. When it comes to writers and “Hollywood,” I’m reminded of what baseball great and part-time philosopher Yogi Berra oxymoronically said about his favorite restaurant: “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.”

Frankly, up till now, I’ve been hesitant to tell you all my secrets about how to break into the film industry. It feels a little like telling you about my favorite neighborhood restaurant — a little hideaway with great food. If everyone knows about it, the place is going to get awfully crowded. Maybe I won’t even be able to find a seat at the table for myself anymore. Well, I’ve finally decided that the movie business can’t get much more crowded than it already is. I’ve had a seat at the table long enough. It’s time to give some other writers a chance.

I’ve been a story analyst for over 25 years. During that time, I’ve also sold six books to major publishers, gotten a big film deal with a superstar attached, have been in the Hollywood trades over a dozen times, and been profiled in The New York Times. I’ve even lectured about screenwriting aboard the greatest ocean liner in the world, the Queen Mary 2, where I became the only seasick screenwriting teacher on the Seven Seas.

In this blog, I’m going to show you everything I know about how to break into the film industry as a writer. For those of you who don’t read Script, I’ve noticed that a lot of what you’ve been told elsewhere is dead wrong — designed to capitalize on writers’ anxieties.

To quote the sage of the Yankees, Mr. Berra, again, “You can observe a lot just by watchin’.” Well, in my long career in the movie business, I’ve learned a lot just by watching. And by listening to other writers’ stories and helping them with their scripts, I’ve come to better understand why my approach to breaking into the business has worked for me and my clients — and why, too often, other writers fail or give up too soon.

You see, until I began teaching screenwriters about eight years ago, I didn’t realize that there was anything unusual about my approach to writing and marketing my own books and scripts, which explained my success. My approach was hard work, but it came naturally to me. I figured every writer used the same approach I did. But I was wrong.

I’ve since learned that there are a boatload of myths and misconceptions out there about how to break into the business as a screenwriter. I also came to understand how my own attitude, personality, and method of doing work and business gave me certain advantages and explained my success. There were big differences, I discovered, between the way I saw the world and the way most other aspiring writers did. And it’s those differences that became the key to my understanding of why some writers succeed, and others fail.

I spent some time picking out a name for this ongoing column. It’s no accident that the title seems almost as oxymoronic as any quote from Yogi Berra. After all, how can an approach to marketing a screenplay be both “zen” (peaceful, thoughtful, enlightened, restrained) and “guerrilla” (creatively aggressive and proactive) — a seeming contradiction in terms?

Well, it turns out that those two words aren’t contradictions at all. And learning how to use both qualities simultaneously is one of the secrets to writing and selling a screenplay. As for the rest, stay tuned.

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