Tuesday, 6 April 2021

4 Screenwriting Negatives FLIPPED into Positives

Screenwriting can, as fun as it is, be a negative space on a personal level. It's easy to get downtrodden, even disillusioned, by rejection, bad notes and even scripts that take a lot longer to write than you had initially planned for. It's easy to let it get into you and seem more damning and impossible than it really is. Often, even simple sentences have torpedo your confidence for a day or more, depending on what that project meant to you.

However, like making or practicing pancakes (see? Not just for a title pun), there are always different approaches to something that seems like there's only one way, but is actually just hiding alternate methods.


So, let's run down some common ones that may seem like disasters, but in actuality, have something more to offer to those more determined and diligent:

  • When you don't place in a contest, it doesn't mean you wrote a bad script. 

Nice and easy one to start with: Contests are often the first port of call for new writers. They are also lotteries, whether they are paid (Script Pipeline, Nichols, Austin) or not (BBC Writersroom, ITV Original Voices): you and thousands of others gamble on having the winning combo. It can be easy to think that winning these is the only ticket, and not doing so is a sign that you cannot write worth donkey diddle. 

Not true, however: taste plays a part in any reading and sometimes, yours will not be to the reader's, never mind a myriad of other reasons why it's not meant to be. A spec pilot of mine that failed in contests got me my first adaptation gig, and another got me Pablo, for example. As I've discussed in other posts, there are more ways to find people in the industry, and they don't cost a penny. 

  • When your email to someone bounces with an automated 'out of office' email, you might get extra info. 

In doing the above, you may have the bad luck of sending someone an email while they are away - holiday, maternity leave or no longer part of the company. It's annoying and can kill your buzz. You may get lucky in that the automated reply'll provide an alternate means of contact, such as another email for them, or of another person on the development team.

Okay, so what? What's so special? Well, in the event that it doesn't work with Person A (be it ghosting or them not being able to read), suddenly, you have a person B available to try instead, usually their assistant or a more junior member of the company i.e. someone looking for that next big thing. Just remember your manners.

  • When you get notes critiquing your storytelling, it doesn't mean you can't write. 

Let's continue with an evergreen classic: you get notes from a service or writing friend on your script and it just isn't working. May be the characters or plotting or pacing or ending; anything. But don't worry: everyone screws up or misses something. It doesn't mean your whole script is useless or is not salvageable. Always look for the note behind the note, and sometimes, an absence of a note can be illuminating in its own right as the fault behind the other faults.

If you want a more detailed solution, check out Screenwriting is Rewriting by Jack Epps Jr. A great resource and hey, who wouldn't take advice from the writer of Top Gun?

  • When you get a rejection, unless specified by the person, it doesn't mean the door is completely closed. 

You took a gamble and it didn't pay off: they didn't like your script. It can be for any number of reasons and it almost never is personal. Everybody gets it. It can be a devastating feeling.

However, that's far from the end. Say your thank you and then retreat for maybe 6 months to a year and come back, refreshed and with a newer, better and more appropriate project. Do ask if you can stay in touch, and always be polite and maybe even a little humourous in your catch ups. Half the job is networking and just being genuine.

Even in business, like in fiction, there is creative license. Use it.