Screenwriting is Hard

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I have a dear friend who, one day, asked me the most outrageous and absurd question that I have ever been asked about my screenwriting career. When he first asked me this question it sounded innocent, just a typical question that any aspiring screenwriter would ask a working professional about the business. But the more I thought about his question the clearer it became that this dear friend had just insulted me.

“How long does it take to get paid once you sell a screenplay?” That was it. That was his question. See what I mean? Doesn’t that sound innocent?

So I answered him … “It depends on who you sell it to. Some studios take longer to pay than others. Smaller companies can take forever. It just depends.”

My friend frowned. Not satisfied with my answer he decided to push further. “Does it take weeks? Months? What’s the average?”

“From the time I make the sale about a month,” I said. I also added a few more details like the payments came in steps connected to rewrites and not in one lump sum.

“And what’s the average amount a script could sell for?,” he then asked eagerly. “One hundred thousand? Two hundred grand? What?”

Okay, it was at this point in our conversation that I began to suspect that this was more than just an innocent inquiry about my pay schedule. “Why?,” I finally asked. “Why do you want to know this?”

My dear, dear pal looked at me with the most sincere expression ever and said oh so matter-of-factly … “Oh, I need to make some quick money so I figured I’d just write a horror film or a comedy or something and sell it real quick.”

I must have just stared at this motherfucker for two minutes straight. No words, just an astounded stare. Like I said earlier everything he asked sounded innocent… but this asshole had just spit in my face and in the face of the craft that I love so dearly.

You need to know a little more about this sucker to understand the scope of his insult.

He graduated from an Ivy League university. He teaches part time at another Ivy League school. He’s a decent screenwriter but all of his specs are artsy high-minded dramas that in my opinion are unsellable. Now are you beginning to see it? Here’s a translation of what this asshole was really saying to me:

“If Dwayne, a college dropout, can sell so many horror and comedy screenplays, then me, an Ivy Leaguer, can easily do the exact same thing any time I want. All I have to do is lower myself to his level and I’m in the money.”

See, he’s under the same delusion that a lot of wanna-bee screenwriters are also under. Screenwriting is easy. It must be easy. Look at all the stupid movies that get made. Anybody can write that crap. Would my friend be asking me that dumb shit if I was a brain surgeon, or a composer, or even a plumber? NO!

Here’s a tip: If you’re writing screenplays because you think it’s an easy way to get paid… YOU’RE AN IDIOT.

Yes, yes, yes … anybody can write a screenplay but not just anybody can write a good screenplay. Not just anybody can write a screenplay that can sell. Want to know why?

Because good screenwriting is a craft that takes years to learn and even longer to master… and even then you still might not sell shit if you don’t get lucky.

So, finally I stopped staring at my dear friend and calmly said: “If you need quick money you better get yourself another plan because… SCREENWRITING IS HARD YOU DUMB FUCK!”

Three months later my dear friend sold a horror spec for 750K and got signed to write Spielberg’s next movie. And if you believe that, I have an artsy high-minded drama spec collecting dust in my desk drawer that I’m willing to sell you cheap.

More articles by Dwayne Alexander Smith
Check out Dwayne’s award-winning novel, Forty Acres

2 thoughts on “Screenwriting is Hard

  1. Boomer

    I have to agree wholeheartedly. I once thought writing screenplays were easy. I bought some software and was off and running. After I got to 100 pages, I realized that I was only filling the landfill. That was 7 years ago. I now write every day, go to seminars, learn through classes and get notes from established writers. I have begun to appreciate the work and skill that goes into crafting a compelling story. I have to agree that anybody who thinks they can jump in and write something that is actually marketable on the first try, may be possible but highly unlikely. Great article.

  2. E.Z.

    Just wanted to drop a note to tell ya that this article made me laugh! The fact that I stumbled upon it three years after it was posted, and no one has left a comment tells me there are more people like your friend than there are cool dudes like you.

    Your article on outlining screenplays (via Final Draft)was helpful and motivating.

    All the best!