Wednesday, March 18, 2009  

Becoming a Million Dollar Screenwriter

It’s Awards Season in Hollywood as the countdown continues to Oscar Night. I don’t know about you, but every year when I watch the Oscars, I love to imagine myself all tuxed out and mingling with Hollywood’s Elite at the Kodak Theatre. The million dollar question is, what’s the real difference between the tens of thousands of unproduced writers out there and the screenwriting members of the Academy sitting at the Kodak?

The obvious answer is, they have big agents who make sure they’re constantly working as writers. They’re the insiders. But even insiders like Paul Haggis, last year’s Oscar winner for both writing and directing CRASH started out as outsiders scrambling to break in.

It’s not about who has the most talent, though talent is important. Nor is about who has the most powerful agent, though again, having a strong agent can be a major asset. It’s about how you see and treat yourself as a professional. Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, there was a young man who very much wanted to be in show business, or more specifically, making movies. He attended one of the best film schools in the world, while there discovered the joys of writing and producing and everyone around him had high expectations about his career. Yet for more years than he cares to admit, that career was stalled.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that young man was me. And this article is for everyone who, like me, has visions of having their name up on the big screen as a writer. It’s all about the importance of getting a balance of what I call “macro training.”

Over the years, I’ve invested tens of thousands of dollars in classes, seminars, books and retreats all intended to teach me to be a better writer. Don’t get me wrong. Many of these classes were well worth the money when it came to teaching me about the CRAFT of screenwriting. I absolutely learned a lot. But talent and craft by themselves are not enough to make you a regularly working professional screenwriter.

I learned through painful experience that if you want to succeed as a professional artist in show business, whether it’s as a writer, actor, director or any other craft that’s employed by the networks and studios, you have to treat your career as a small business with yourself as the CEO. As countless people have said to me over the years, it’s called Show “Business” for a reason.

Eureka! This was the missing piece. When it finally registered with me the importance of treating my artistic endeavors like an entrepreneurial small business, I began to see things in an entirely different light. I call myself a writer and producer – and those are accurate titles – but the business I’m in is really manufacturing, sales and distribution. Huh?

Think about it. As a professional writer, you’re manufacturing a product – the things you write. In order to get paid for that product, you also have to have a sales, marketing and distribution mechanism in place so that the scripts you write can generate money for you.

Of course you have to have the talent and skills to consistently deliver quality scripts and do so on time. But talent and skill alone don’t hack it. If you want to be a successful, consistently and steadily working writer, you have to understand that you’re in the business of creating and selling products. Your products are your scripts.

Like any manufacturer, in addition to dedicating part of your business to developing and creating products, you also need to address the sales, marketing and distribution of those products (scripts) along with the business affairs aspect (contracts, accounting, etc.) of working with your customers (studios, production companies and/or networks). You don’t have to do it all by yourself, but you do need to make sure these aspects of your business as a professional writer are handled. Just by making that shift in the way you see yourself and your career, you’ll immediately transform from would-be writer to an entrepreneurial professional well on the road to success.

© Gordon Meyer, all rights reserved

About the Author: Gordon Meyer is an optioned screenwriter and the creator, producer and host of The StoryMakers Studio, an ongoing series at the Grauman’s Chinese Theatres Complex in Hollywood which tells the story about how particular films got made through the eyes of the people who made them. Hollywood’s biggest, brightest actors, directors, writers and producers appear at the popular series – LIVE AND UNSCRIPTED.

His book “The Screenwriter’s Manifesto” explores the concept of the writer as an entrepreneur in detail and is available at