Letter To The Frustrated Screenwriter


I wrote this in reply to a fellow scribe going through a particularly rough time. I publish it here for what it might be worth so that others facing their own dark night of the writerly soul will not despair.

Dear Fellow Screenwriter

I’m sorry to hear of of your heartbreak and disillusionment, although I can certainly understand it. When it comes to Intellectual property rights, copyrights and ideas, Hollywood has always had a freewheeling proprietary attitude, but it does seem to be more prevalent and brazen these days. Personally, I take great interest in the legal issues on both sides and I’m amazed by some of the more glaring examples of late ( Elizabeth Bank’s Walk of Shame and Tess Gerrtisen’s Gravity lawsuit in particular.) I suppose in some perverted way there is some small solace in knowing your ideas are good enough to rip off. Most screenwriters are not so fortunate. Still, I would encourage you not to lose heart. The business is in turmoil and it is always prudent to cultivate other directions for your writing in such times. There are some terrific movies being made, and even more so in television, so I would caution you to not withdraw entirely. I guess I would just advise you to step back from it, as it sounds like you have, and consider other options until such a time as your spirits and creativity are renewed. In my career I’ve always found there were those who were overly protective and suspicious and never got anything made, and there were those who were probably too cavalier about it. (Myself included) Finding the right balance is the key.

As a producer, I sold a project to ABC television written by a truly great screenwriter — with very few credits. The execs at ABC “didn’t know him” and demanded immediately to replace him with their own in-house fave whom, in my estimation, was not nearly as talented. As I fought to keep him attached to the project, they grew ever more insistent they wouldn’t work with an unknown writer. I remember challenging them, “What’s to know? You just have to read his script to know he’s one of the best screenwriters out there.” In the end, they won, but instead of removing him from the project I made him a Co-Executive producer with me. The movie turned out to be a god awful mess, and he went on to reexamine and retool his career, vowing to stop writing scripts for everyone else, and write the movie he always wanted to see on screen. A few years later, he did just that, and not only wrote one of the greatest films ever made, he won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Good luck to you all. Don’t despair, and carry on! I’m sure the muse that brought you this far will return and inspire you forward.