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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Talkin' Bout Your Competition

So yesterday I had a meeting with a client, let's call him, I don't know - Robert - to go over three scripts and to review his overall trajectory and game plan as a writer. He is 20 years old. He is crazy talented. He is focused as hell and he is your competition. In other words, Wavers - I have seen your enemy and his name is Ambition.

First scary fact about "Robert:" he has innate talent. I have read two feature scripts of his in the past few months and while they had room for improvement, the general level of execution was quite high. I asked him how many scripts he'd completed. Just those two and a tv pilot (which I also read and which I think is not far from being presentable to a rep). My jaw dropped. He can write like this after only two scripts?

But it gets better. We talk about branding oneself and what other ideas Robert has. He opened his laptop and showed me an excel spreadsheet. Filled out, top to bottom with ideas, by genre and with status update columns next to each. And here's the thing - several of those ideas were great. High concept, unique, fleshed out and - well - they sounded like movies.

I snapped the laptop shut and asked Robert to be very careful who he shares those ideas with. In fact, I counseled him, these ideas are valuable, please don't share them blithely with anyone unless you are in a meeting with a somebody who is speaking seriously with you about working with you as your rep.

I asked Robert if he is willing to move to LA (he's currently visiting from the East Coast). Yes, he is. He realizes he needs to be here in order to network, rub elbows and learn more about the business. How often do you write? Every day. How long have you been writing in one form or another? My whole life. How long does it take you to write a script? Two or three months. What about this particular idea? I have a treatment written.

We made a list of the top five projects Robert is most passionate about and that are the most realized and that serve to "brand" him as a writer. Robert will continue to add to and update his idea list but he's organizing that list by commercial potential versus very indie, and by genre and status. So that the newest idea he just had goes way on the bottom; it's not developed yet.

Look, 20 is very young. Robert has a lot of life to live and a lot of emotional depth and understanding to add to his skillset as writer and as a human being. Naturally. It's one of the glorious upsides to aging, isn't it? The marinating that results in wisdom, patience, empathy and humility? But sometimes I think that's what we older writers say to comfort ourselves when we see the 20-year-olds nipping at our heels with an iPhone in one hand and a soy latte in the other. What does that kid know about life? He knows what he wants and he knows what he's going to do to go get it. And he doesn't have a mortgage or two kids or a career. Hollywood is indeed a very young industry. To say otherwise would be to lie to your faces, Wavers.

It's a bitter pill, Wavers, but Robert is your competition. He's young, he's focused, he's talented, he's ambitious as hell and he's investing in his writing career now. One of the things that impressed me the most (beyond the undeniable natural talent) is that Robert is shrewd enough to seek a mentor, which is what our meeting yesterday was all about. He knows what he doesn't know and he sought trusted guidance.

So what are you gonna do about that, Wavers? Where's your slate of ideas? Do you write every day? Do you network? Do you seek learning opportunities and guidance? How seriously are you taking this screenwriting thing?

You know by now that I have firmly planted in the ground here at TRW and in my life that writing should be playful, joyous and fun. That said, if you really, seriously want to compete in Hollywood, you have to do the work and you have to compete with people like Robert because for every 100 screenwriting aspirants who try it but give up a couple of years later when they quail at the negativity and rejection, or the dilettantes who try it because it sounds glamorous but don't have the chops or the focus, there are 10 or 15 Roberts who do have the chops, who do have the focus and who also have the advantage of youth and the time to spend writing. That's the only competition that matters. The snarky masses on the message boards don't matter -they're not going anywhere. But Robert is.

I don't mean to be negative this morning - far from it - I mean to inspire you, Wavers, to take your competition seriously and to be inspired by it.

You know, about two years ago, the director of a very large script coverage company here in LA, upon learning that I had started my own company, sniffed haughtily - well, I don't consider you competition, Julie, so good luck. That was all she had to say. It has fueled me ever since to overtake her company and while I can't share confidential information, if I were her, I'd be looking in the rear view mirror about now. Objects are closer than they appear.

So here's to you, kid. Because I love that Robert is determined and talented. And I love that he can inspire us all to work a little harder and reach a little further. And because his success is our success because he shows us what ambition and focus looks like.

Now get back to work.

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Mike Scherer said...

I quit!


Not really, Keep Writing!

Christian M. Howell said...

Have at thee competition. It makes me work harder. I'm arranging my move to LA and it should be finalized in the summer.
Though I do write something everyday, a lot of times it's outline stuff - but hey that's the most important tool a writer has.
I never write more than a few lines unless they come directly from an outline.
I think I've been doing a pretty good job coming up with stories that would love to be movies.
I just wish I had started this sooner.
RIght now I really need to get my living expenses down so I can spend more money on consulting, etc.
I hate viewing all the opportunities I have subscribed to happening without me.

I definitely find that NYC isn't as "movie-centric" as most people I come across in my writer's group don't do much collaboration. I'd like something like the deal John August et al got last year - even if it's just the collaborative aspect.

millar prescott said...

I'm taking classes. This week it's dialogue. Subtext to be precise. When you say East Coast, you mean West Coast, right? and Robert, that's Millar?

Audrey McKenzie said...

Wow! Impressive. I hope that you'll let us know who it is when he makes his first sale.

On the other hand, it's a sobering reminder to me of the odds of my own chances for success.

Ah well, back to work.

Dave Shepherd said...

The more good writers the better!

It's not a zero-sum game we're playing... the more people who are able to innovate and create the more opportunities I get to learn.

I'm kinda like a parasite in that way ;)

E.C. Henry said...

Robert sounds HOT -- does he have a sister?

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

Tavis Sarmento said...

I'm assuming he had clean cuticles too. ;)

Nicholas said...

Wow, I'll be honest...this guy sounds almost exactly like me. I'm 20, ambitious as hell, and instead of an excel spreadsheet have a notebook full of about 50 concepts that I've come up with over the past year. I'm on the East Coast, and if I had the means my ass would be in LA right now working on finding contacts, etc., for spring break instead of sitting here and just writing/sleeping. I've been laboring for the past 5 months on a spec script for Nicholl, and I've got a spec pilot under my belt, though I am going to rework it into a film instead. My mentor/screenwriting/independent study professor has made it a personal goal of his to help me get repped before I graduate, if not before the end of '09. It is my own goal to be the youngest person to create and run a show on Network TV. Move over, Josh Schwartz. And with an opportunity I recently had presented to me, it might actually happen. I just have to finish this Nicholl script, first.

I keep seeing my friends who want to be screenwriters just diddling around, never ever writing. It baffles me.

I'd love it if it were possible to get into contact with this person whom you speak of. I have a feeling that we are a lot alike in ambition and mindset.

I'm going to email you about it, Julie. Just gotta trim a page off my script first.

Désirée said...

Ironic, isn't it, (a little at least) that an older writer often write better simply because of more experiences in life, but older also often mean less movable.

My "problem" is that opposite a twenty-year-old single I have a family to support.

Writing every day? You bet.
Exercises, classes, challenges? Yes, sure.
And yes, I take this seriously.

And if someone tells me it can't be done, I love to prove otherwise.

Life is a great place to attend.


Hi Julie!

I've got a slate of specs, a bigger slate of proposals, I'm inspired, I'm ambitious, I'm writing, I'm the other side of the big pond...

Gareth (U.K)

Lisa said...

There's always room in Hollywood for another set of fangs. I'm sharpening mine right now. *Ting!* At the same time, I am writing another screenplay, taking a class, making a deadline, and baking a cake. :)

Great post, Julie! Thanks!

martinb said...

Damn. I always thought it was necessary for a writer to spend half his life in alcoholic dissipation and self-destructive behavior.

Evidently, I have been misinformed. I demand three decades be returned to me!

Seriously, does young Robert have any formal training: a MFS, Film School, courses, whatever?

Stan said...

"He is 20 years old. He is crazy talented. He is focused as hell and he is your competition."

This is reality, folks. Ahem.

Which is exactly why we must all form an alliance to vote Robert *immediately* off the island by next tribal council.


Mike - funny.

It's all so 'Lord of the Flies'...

Wow, Robert sounds like the Emperor, Damien, & the Manchurian Candidate all rolled up into one person. In fact, he sounds a lot like the villain in my next script! Hmm...

STAN strokes chin.

Stan pulls open desk drawer to REVEAL *ARSENAL* of scripts...closes it. For now.

writer0825 said...

Did he bring you cupcakes?