The Business of Screenwriting: There are three kinds of people in Hollywood
Story. Some get it. Some kinda get it. And some… well…
There are three kinds of people in Hollywood:
Group 1: People who know nothing or next to nothing about story.
Group 2: People who can tell you what’s wrong with a story, but don’t know how to solve its problems.
Group 3: People who not only can determine what’s wrong with a story, they can fix it.
Guess which group a writer wants to be in.
A few caveats:
- Virtually no one in the acquisition, development, production or marketing side of the movie business would ever admit to being a member of Group 1. But they’re there. A tip to figure their identity: If you ask someone, “What’s the story about,” and they respond by actually telling you the story beat for beat, there’s an awfully good chance they don’t have a very good grasp of the concept of story.
- Most people in Hollywood fall into Group 2. They know enough about story to be dangerous. That is they can tell you at least some of the things that are wrong with a script, but often their solutions are way wide of the mark. The worst is when they suggest something that would force you to radically reinvent the story, but they can’t see how or why that doesn’t make the problems worse. “I know it’s called ‘Nuns With Guns,’ but why does it have to be nuns?”
- If you’re a writer, you hope you qualify for Group 3. A studio exec may be involved in shepherding a dozen projects or more through the development process, so they are looking at writers to be problem-solvers. Your ability to identify a story’s underlying issues and suggest solid, tangible ways to resolve those concerns will serve you in good stead in Hollywood.
However, if you are a member of Group 3, you can not speak to people who are in Group 2 and certainly not Group 1 as if they understand story the way you do. You have to be able to break down your analysis and ideas into a series of graspable talking points. If you try to impress them with your deep understanding of the nuances of story theory, you will not only likely lose them, they will probably feel a great deal of discomfort sitting in a room with you.
Instead you must try to meet them on their level and shape your suggestions into digestible, bite-sized talking points. This is not to demean them in any way. You may know story, but you probably don’t know squat about business or the subtleties of networking. You have your talent. They have theirs.
And by the way, this is not only about Group 3 trying to communicate with Group 2 or Group 1 people, it’s also understanding the fact that studio executives have insanely busy lives, so being concise and on point is at a premium when dealing with them.
Bottom line: They don’t really need to know the ins-and-outs of story theory. All they want is for you to fix the damn script!
Note: Are there producers and studio execs who are members of Group 3? Absolutely. And that can be both a blessing and a curse, the former because you benefit from their great ideas, the latter because they will want to explore every conceivable plot possibility, hopefully a beneficial process, but an exhausting one.
Now I can hear you asking this question: How do I go about becoming a member of Group 3? Apart from those of you who are preternaturally wise about story, movies, and screenwriting, there is really only one answer to that question: Immerse yourself in cinema.
Not just screenwriting, but the entirety of movies.
See every film.
Read every book.
Analyze every script.
Study the business.
Think like a writer.
Think like a director
Think like a producer.
You should envelope yourself in everything related to filmmaking and the movie business. In other words, you have to love cinema and follow that passion into the world of cinema.
That is until some pharmaceutical company comes out with a little blue pill called MovieAgra: The one pill to take to magically arouse your cinematic sensibilities!
Otherwise if you want to join Group 3, see every movie, read every book, analyze every script…
The Business of Screenwriting is a weekly series of GITS posts based upon my experiences as a complete Hollywood outsider who sold a spec script for a lot of money, parlayed that into a screenwriting career during which time I’ve made some good choices, some okay decisions, and some really stupid ones. Hopefully you’ll be the wiser for what you learn here.
To read more articles in the Business of Screenwriting series, go here.