[PREFACE: This is the kind of post that enrages lots of you, and earns me scads of sneering comments and emails. I can't help it. Every now and then, I just have to return to this same theme...not for myself (ahem...) but for my many friends and colleagues all of whom could write the same message. "Tis a far, far better thing I do..."]
At any given time, I have a dozen email messages in my in-box, and another handful of letters on my desk from folks who want to be actors or writers or "something vague" in Hollywood. (The "somethings vague" will generally say that they love movies, that they have tons of great ideas for stories, and then, that they are not sure where they should start with a Hollywood career.) Some of these folks are self-deprecating, some are haughty, some are flattering - all want something impossible from me. To know what they should do to have a successful career in Hollywood.
I always wonder if surgeons get these kinds of letters...
Dear Dr. Surgeon Person -
I have always wanted to be a successful surgeon. I love the idea of being very wealthy and respected, and of saving people's lives. I have read a book on Anatomy and my mother's cousin was a dentist. I was wondering if you could give me some advice about how I should get started in surgery. I would be willing to come and meet with you, and maybe meet some of your other surgeon friends, and even just hang around the hospital and see what happens. I know you are really busy, but look at this as helping out a future friend in surgery who shares your values!
You can reach me at home at ###-###-####. Or my cel ###-###-###.
LD in Cheyenne
Of course, these kinds of letters get placed on the bottom of everybody's stack. It isn't so much that they take a lot of time to answer (which they do), or that often people get annoyed with the answers I send (which they do), as much as it is that I don't really think I can help someone in an email or letter or phone call. There is no way for me to analyse someone's dreams or aspirations. If they have a script or a reel, they can try and get us to take a look - and if they pay us they move up in the pile. The advice is stunningly similar in the end: "Find out what you are good at. Do that. A lot. And spend lots of time and money in your professional development. Have your efforts measured by professionals. Don't give up if you love it."
Today I got two chiding letters from wanna-be screenwriters. One wrote me earlier in the summer for my opinion as to what he should do to jump start his writing career. I didn't have time to answer the letter because we were in the middle of running two programs for fifty assuredly talented students who paid for the privilege. Here is a composite of the letters I got this morning...
I sent a letter quite some time ago... You didn't answer. I thought certainly that you would respond to a snail mail letter as that would show more seriousness than an email message.
I know you are very busy but if I am being shunned for some reason, I would appreciate the courtesy of being told that.
To restate my situation, I went to film school twelve years ago but left after a year to support my growing family. I have completed three scripts and have many more ideas all of which are better than anything that ever shows at our local theater. I have prayed many times for God to release me from my certainty that I should be a screenwriter, but the stories I have just won't let me go. I have been told that my screenplays are too "on the nose." I don't know what to do with that.
I'm not even sure of what I would like from you. Maybe some advice? Some help? A referral to an agent? (Just kidding on that last...although if you want to...!)
I'm sure that you're very busy, but I know that you want other people in Hollywood who are committed Christians. I assure you that I am.
So, here is the answer I sent this morning...
I am sorry you haven't gotten a response yet. Your letter is on my desk. I did read it (and wondered about the calligraphy...). Unfortunately, my time is so divided these days that unsolicited queries are invariably on the bottom of the pile.
I get many requests for general advice. There isn't much I can say to most of these requests without personal familiarity with every individuals skills and possibilities. That you have completed several scripts and yet not sold anything may mean several things. Either you aren't getting your work out there, or you aren't a good enough pitcher or writer. Or else you are writing stories that are not commercial. It is impossible for me to know what the problem is in your case.
You could certainly submit your scripts to our critique service - or someone else's service - for evaluation. You could also apply to Act One and if you get in, we can work with you much more seriously. Beyond this, work hard, be involved in a writers group, do everything you can to be around people in the business. If you don't sell anything within a decade, than it may be your writing will be more of a hobby than a profession.
Good luck to you and God bless -