What it means to be an 18-year successful “unsuccessful” screenwriter.

18. That’s the magic number.

It’s 2018. I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 18 years now. And I’ve been slowly working at being a successful writer for almost all of those 18 years. Wow. 18. That’s crazy to me. I guess it makes sense that some success is now starting to fall into place because my slowly blossoming writing career has now technically reached the legal age of consent. It’s time.

Now, it’s not like I haven’t worked consistently in Hollywood and had success as a writer, because I have. I’ve had more hills and valleys in this business than Northern Idaho. If you’re my friend, or follow me at all, many of these hills and valleys you know about. The Hills are so much more fun to talk about. They were the “hooray” moments.

THE HILLS:

  • The screenwriting contest that I won 1st place in, and they held a big reception for me.
  • My many feature script options and sales throughout the years.
  • My comic book writing. Seeing my words in print for the first time.
  • My graphic novel RUN LIKE HELL finally being published. A labor of love.
  • Pitching and selling my first TV show THE FINAL GIRLS with two of my horror idols Jamie Lee Curtis and Steve Miner.
  • Developing, writing and assisting directing a live-action zombie horror video game for Microsoft.
  • Writing some fun horror content for large Internet sites that have a couple hundred thousand views.
  • Getting hired and writing for the WWE after worshipping wrestling my entire life.
  • Meeting and working with an endless array of my childhood idols. The pinnacle here has to be working with Stan the Man… Stan Lee. My first time pitching to him, when he surprised me by leaning in 12 inches from my face because he couldn’t hear me that well, and I had to do the entire pitch with him staring at me from that distance, was one of the most terrifying and exhilirating experiences of my life.

But what you don’t always see are all the Valleys that soon followed each hill…

THE VALLEYS:

  • The people behind the screenwriting contest that tried to steal my script (and put their own name on it. Long story. There was an article in Creative Screenwriting about it long ago.)
  • The script options that were developed forever and didn’t go anywhere.
  • The script sales that were victims of regime change, or studios being bought and destroyed (thank you very much Relativity for killing Rogue Films.)
  • The low sales of comic books and graphic novels, unless your name is Robert Kirkman.
  • I don’t want to go into the insane story with my graphic novel again. If you’re curious you can read the four-part series of articles starting here — The Long and Torrid History of RUN LIKE HELL: Part One.
  • I reaaaaaaaalllllly don’t want to relive the story with what happened to THE FINAL GIRLS again. If you want to know more about this story, read my previous article here — Let’s Finally Discuss What Happened to My Show and Jamie Lee Curtis.
  • Being clear across the entire country from the WWE team based in Stamford, Connecticut, when you’re in Los Angeles, and feeling entirely out of the loop because you’re not physically in the writer’s room.
  • Being rewritten on projects so badly that you’re actually glad your name isn’t technically on it anymore.
  • The endless array of producers, actors, directors, and executives that, while their heart was in the right place, gave endless notes to try and justify their own jobs and eventually killed many projects.

Trust me, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Every person I know in this business has a million of these stories. That is why it is next to IMPOSSIBLE to get your name on a project, AND have it released to the world. Ahh yes, I’m speaking of the elusive… credit. That credit means everything. Without it, you’re branded “unsuccessful.” It doesn’t matter if you’ve worked in this business for ages, the almighty credit is the true currency in this town. The credit… means success.

Why am I telling you all of this? Why am I being a little too… honest about the actual life of a successful “unsuccessful” screenwriter? It’s because I want the friends and family members of these screenwriters to understand that sometimes success goes beyond simply seeing a credit. Credits are the white whale. Many screenwriters have acheived success in some shape or another. Whether that success is actually working and getting paid to be a writer (but without the credit to prove it), or crafting incredible stories that many people in town love but can’t get made into films for one crazy reason or another, there are countless screenwriters (I’d say the vast majority) that fall under the successful “unsuccessful” category.

We are screenwriters that are hard-working and dedicated to our craft. Some obviously have more talent than others, but the drive seems universal. We’re all creative animals that have an unknown urge to be a storyteller. We have tales inside us that we just HAVE to get out. I know a hundred writers that could be as successful as any of the top paid Hollywood screenwriters, but things just haven’t fallen their way. Hell, you can be the single greatest poker player in the world, with all the knowledge and skill to make you the best, and yet depending on the cards you’re dealt, you can be broke and pawning your wedding ring within the hour.

I wanted to give a voice to all successful “unsuccessful” screenwriters out there because I’ve been one for 18 years. Now that I’ve finally gotten my elusive credit, and lately the flood gates are opening on a whole slew of projects, I’m finally being deemed “successful.” I’m an 18-year overnight success. Ha. I’ve been fighting with every bit of my soul for every single one of those years. As do countless of my fellow successful “unsuccessful” screenwriting brothers and sisters. It’s not easy to fight for everything you desire in this way constantly. It really isn’t. So please… family, friends, acquaintances, people you meet at parties, be a little more understanding to that successful “unsuccessful” screenwriter (or any artist, really) in your life. They’re busting their ass. This was a career choice that chose them, not the other way around. We love this business so much it physically hurts.

All it takes is time, perseverance, and luck. I’m living proof.

 

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