Writers on the Verge: Give the Banana to the Monkey

Most writers think it takes one screenplay to get themselves out there. To get noticed. To establish their career. This is indeed true, but only in the case of those who have the Million Dollar screenplay. If you have the Million Dollar screenplay that can go into the currently-struggling marketplace and be sold within days, it will then have to be followed by a second screenplay, even more brilliant, more powerful, more unique and yet cohesive and focused, and which will be – I guarantee you – twenty times harder to come up with than the first if only because there are all these expectations suddenly there.

photo source lolriot.com

photo source lolriot.com

But I digress. The point? If you want to be a screenwriter, with a long standing career, rather than just some guy who sold a screenplay once and never worked again, give the banana to the monkey. It’s your best chance for success.

Not sure what I’m talking about? Let me explain.

Words float in the emerging-writer space: Expert. Specialist. Your brand. Articles have been written and lectures have been given about this very subject. But that’s not necessarily what you want to hear. Being an expert in one thing, one genre, limits you from being an expert in something else. To some, the resistance comes because being a screenwriter is supposed to be about being an artist, being free, trying different things, not limiting yourself. But here is something I once heard: Being good at lots of things means that you’re probably not great in any of them. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to focus in on the single genre in which you just might be great, and put all your writing time and attention into building that.

Screenwriting careers are built on continued success in a single area where the writer can initially excel. This doesn’t mean a life sentence: It means making a powerful case for yourself. Building meaningful connections. Getting your name out there. Proving to those on the inside that you are a sure thing. That there is a meaningful way that your representation can position you for success. You have a good comedy, a good thriller, and a good action/adventure under your belt? Your reps might try to sell them as one-offs, but they won’t have any confidence as far as selling you on future work.

Take, for example, Adam Cooper. Prolific writer along with his writing partner Bill Collage and a perfect example as far as positioning yourself for success based on a solid brand, than building and extending from there. Look at Cooper & Collage’s early credits: New York Minute, Accepted, Tower Heist. Strong comedy titles, again and again, for the past decade. Fast forward ten years since their first released credit, and what are these guys doing now? Developing a Western/Drama for HBO with Ron Howard, while in-development writing credits include Exodus with Ridley Scott attached to direct (historical drama) and The General, a period action drama that has Darren Aronofsky attached to direct.

These guys knew what they did well, dug in their heels, and built on it. They got their names out there and became prolific and reliable enough for people to agree to read their other, off-genre stuff once they’d made a name for themselves. My friend Tracey Becker, producer of Academy-Award nominated Finding Neverland favors a saying she passed on to me early on in our friendship: Give the banana to the monkey. It’s as simple as that.

Seriously.

Give the banana to the monkey.

Once the monkey trusts that he can get the banana from you every time, he may let you slide a peach or a pear in there once in a while. In time, the monkey may come to prefer the peach to the banana. But at first it all depends on you being able to deliver that freaking banana, reliably and consistently, every time.

Picking a brand and running with it, building a cohesive and compelling body of work around a single, marketable genre will allow reps to sell you effectively, and development executives to feel secure working with you. They know what you do. What you can deliver. They have no doubts or questions about whether you can get the job done. You’ve done it before, brilliantly, and you’ve done it more than once. You are an expert. A specialist. And the longer you will work in a single genre, the more skilled at it you’ll become.

So when you’re starting out and making a name for yourself, if you want to build a career rather than (maybe) sell a script and never be heard from again, be sure to give the banana to the monkey. Every time. It will give your career a real, fighting chance.

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