The State of Screenwriting
The State of Screenwriting
It’s Best of Times; it’s the Worst of Times.
It’s currently the best of times for screenwriters because there are more places and ways to get hired to write, to sell one’s work, to have one’s work seen, than ever before. There are currently 20x more outlets creating original stories than there were in 2010.
It’s currently the worst of times because the current climate in Hollywood is less about art and more about the bottom line on a balance sheet than at any time in history. And that’s saying something. Hollywood has always existed to make a profit. But there was always a significant part of the industry which believed quality = money. Not so much these days.
Covid changed everything about feature films, and even had a significant impact on how television is made. That, along with the trend of the last dozen years - studio movies becoming more and more only big events (see the MCU); the disappearance of what I call the “Michael Douglas film” – the $40-$80M film for made for adults: WALL STREET, BLACK RAIN, BASIC INSTINCT, FALLING DOWN, WONDER BOYS, you get the picture - and the advent of streaming services which enabled studios to cut P&A costs by 75%, has caused the importance of quality screenwriting to drop. Don’t get me wrong - good writing is still vital to the process, but today a studio making good deal is much more important than making a good product.
The screenwriter hasn’t been this derided or disrespected since the days when Jack Warner said screenwriters were nothing more than “Schmucks with Underwoods.”
But it’s the best of times because it is easier than ever for someone to break into the world of screenwriting. Social media and all the entities providing “content” have given Hollywood a window to find fresh talent like never before.
It is the best of times because for screenwriters of all shapes, sizes, gender identities, race, and culture there has never been a more inclusive era. That said, Hollywood is still light years from being a true meritocracy; it still has decades and decades of racism and ageism and gender-bias to overcome. But it is fewer light years away.
The gatekeepers you hear about do exist - though they are not the gatekeepers you think they are. And the gates are opening today - in 2022 - more often and wider than ever.
It is the worst of times because in this day and age, no matter how much talent you have, no matter how amazing your script is, you still may end up being a victim of timing. Meaning, if it comes down to a choice between 1) an amazing script written by the unknown you, and 2) a fairly good script written by a screenwriter with quality credits… odds are they’ll go with the veteran. And part of the reason for this is these very inclusive times.
People can get their stuff seen in more ways than ever before. People can make their own films on their phones; they can create their own buzz with a social media account.
While it was much more difficult to see behind the Hollywood curtain thirty years ago, today access is so readily available (all you need is a quality WiFi signal) that it has created a monster. Everyone is trying to show off their stuff.
There are more people in 2022 wanting to be screenwriters than the total number of working screenwriters in Hollywood over the past 20 years combined.
But let’s focus on the positive…
As I said, inclusion and access is at an all-time high. Is it where it should be? No. But it’s better than it’s ever been. So, you can choose to look at one side or the other… either you’re going to focus on it being the Best of Times, or you're going to focus on it being the Worst of Times.
Which one do you think gives you the best shot at making it?
So, how do you do it? The answer is something you don’t want to hear. The answer is…
Stop focusing on the result, the outcome, the winning lottery ticket, and instead focus on the work. The craft. The creation. In short, focus on BEING A WRITER as opposed to selling your writing. I know it’s not the answer you want to hear, but it is the truth. And that’s what this site is all about.
Become the best screenwriter you can be, and the rest will take care of itself. While there are certainly bad screenwriters making a living in Hollywood, there are almost no truly great screenwriters not making good money.
Hollywood is desperate for good screenwriting. And a main reason why is the astronomical number of people wanting to be screenwriters. With that many people trying there is going to be a significant amount of crap being written. It’s just math. And every person who’s focused only on selling something, chances are very good their material is going into the crap pile.
HOLLYWOOD WANTS YOU. They want good screenwriters. You have an opportunity to leapfrog over all that entire crap pile simply by working to be the best writer you can be. Writing script after script, and then rewriting and rewriting. Every time you type FADE OUT makes you a better writer the next time you type FADE IN.
For every story you hear about someone striking gold via social media, or by writing one thing, there are tens of thousands of folks who it never happened to. But more importantly than that, for each one of those “lottery ticket winners” - there are thousands of professional screenwriters making great livings at it because they put in the time and effort and work.
It is the best of times; it is the worst of times.
Which one will you focus on?
– Paul Guyot