A screenplay is not a piece of art. It’s a piece of work. Screenplays have no life outside the Hollywood system. In fact, screenplays have no value outside the Hollywood system. They are not great literature. They are not great plays. They are wholly different than those two forms. A screenplay is a blueprint for producer, director, actor, and a host of other people to follow in general to make a movie.
There are as many stories about first-time screenwriters selling their scripts for hundreds of thousands of dollars as there are million-dollar winners in Vegas. The truth of it is, when you read or hear something about these fortunate few writers, the stories rarely tell you things like how many scripts they’ve written before, what connections they had to the film industry already, and other factors that often make these stories less fantastic, though no less enviable.2
Screenwriters can’t bank on good fortune. They can bank on having a solid theoretical and practical foundation. Writing is like exercise: the more you do, the easier it is, and the faster you’ll do it. The more you do, the more experience you get, and with experience comes confidence, cohesiveness of thought and story, and a good instinct for what works and what doesn’t. In the end, you can only count on yourself doing the best work you know how.
The life-cycle of a script is similar to a ride in an elevator that stops at all floors, occasionally goes back down, or gets stuck, or never reaches the top. About a million scripts are submitted to Hollywood studios and agents every year, but only 400 or so are made into actual movies. Obviously, there are many obstacles to getting a script produced, but there are also many lucrative stops along the way before the script is actually shot. This all comes down to knowing for whom a script is written, which also means it’s important to know something about the system executives use to cull through, weed out, and otherwise eliminate scripts considered of no value.
It’s important to know about the reader.
Everyone in the film industry wants to be something else. Actors want to be directors, directors want to be writers, and writers want not to be hungry. People who become readers are no different, and want to be working screenwriters.3 They have probably already written scripts and registered them with the Writer’s Guild. They may have gone further. Nobody wants to stay a reader.