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Caldwell (Select portions taken from So You Want To Be a Screenwriter: How To Face the Fears and Take the Risks By Sara C. Caldwell and Marie-Eve S. Kielson) As humans we are by nature storytellers with a strong yearning to recount our experiences to others in order to make sense of them. Storytellers remind us, through drama or laugher, of what binds us together while teaching important values, traditions and histories. Gifted storytellers have the power to persuade our thinking and shape our beliefs, and there is no more impacting media in modern society than the visual storytelling of film. It is no wonder that scores of people are drawn to share their stories this way, despite the inherent uncertainty, chances of rejection and improbable odds for success. The Fears Screenwriting, like any creative endeavor, involves many moments of fear. Every screenwriter, beginning or advanced, has felt feelings of insecurity. Unfortunately, very few ever see their names on the big screen. The vast majority of screenwriters face a world of rejection, unemployment and self-doubt. And yet that amazing human instinct to share important stories keeps so many on track, with an incredible determination to beat the odds. While rejection and unemployment are par for the course, other unexpected fears that can arise for the screenwriter. Who hasn't heard negative remarks—sometimes even from family and friends—putting us down for pursuing such idealistic dreams with questions like, "Is this realistic? How will you manage? What does your family think? What makes you think you're so special?" These types of questions can make us very defensive, and the more we try to explain our answers, the more frustrated we will undoubtedly feel. It is all too easy to internalize other people's projections and if we're not careful, they can kill our creative spirit. Negativity and the seemingly insurmountable challenges to a successful screenwriting career can breed panic in even the strongest willed.
10 Common Fears I'll look like a failure if I don't sell a screenplay. I won't have the drive and endurance to make it. I won't be able to convince agents or producers to consider my work. I won't be able to finish a script. I'll have to give up too much to pursue my writing. I'm afraid to go after what I want in case I don't get it. No one will take me seriously. My family/friends will tell me to get a "real job." I don't have anything interesting to write about. Everyone will think that I failed if I change my mind about being a screenwriter. Fears Based On Myth Why do screenwriters experience these fears? While insecurity plays a big part, most
of our fears are based on myths, which are assumptions others have created and we have accepted. Throughout our lives we buy into other people's ideas about what reality looks like, and there is no greater deterrent to the writing process than incorporating negative myths. These myths also become excuses for why we aren't progressing. In the world of screenwriting, myths about "succeeding in Hollywood" abound. Examples of Common Myths If you have to work hard at screenwriting, then you must not be talented enough. Only the "gifted" few get to do what they really want in life. I have to know someone in the film industry to make it. I have to live in Los Angeles to sell a screenplay. I can't sell a screenplay without an agent. One of the most prevalent myths is the purported need to live in Los Angeles in order to be a successful screenwriter. While living in Los Angeles certainly opens networking opportunities, all the contacts in the world won't help without a quality script in hand. Many writers move to Los Angeles prematurely, sometimes even before completing a first screenplay, in the hopes that meeting the "right people" will propel their careers. What in fact often happens is that they encounter daunting competition, unfamiliar territory, isolation and unrelenting rejection, leading to disappointment and discontent. I always encourage writers to think twice before making such a decision. You can, after all, write from anywhere in the world. You do not need to live in Los Angeles to get an agent or attention for your script—let your words work for you. As they say in L.A., the cream always rises to the top. Whether the cream surfaces from Los Angeles or Idaho is truly not relevant. If there comes a time where you feel that moving to Los Angeles is the next logical step to your career, take some time to evaluate what you will need to sacrifice in exchange. The Risks One of the first risks to becoming a screenwriter is to claim the dream. This means being able to proudly state your new profession, i.e. "I'm a screenwriter." Most writers are embarrassed to admit they're even working on a script and don't have the confidence to announce it without having acquired some form of success such as an agent, an option or a sale. However, if you're willing to state your intentions, you'll begin to take yourself more seriously and before long, others will perceive you differently as well. Like any other worthwhile endeavor, becoming a screenwriter also takes planning and preparation. While nothing is certain in life and luck is too often credited for success, important endeavors do require a commitment of energy, spirit and declaration. The screenwriter's journey requires a study and dedication to the craft and the tenacity to keep writing, even when results are lacking. As mentioned before, one of the biggest risks any screenwriter must face is overcoming seemingly constant rejection from agents and production companies. Being professionally rejected can trigger all sorts of immobilizing fears, which work to our disadvantage when trying to pitch screenplays and story ideas. Fear of rejection has a root—most commonly a fear of being embarrassed in front of others. One way to handle rejection is to approach your work in the same way a
salesman approaches prospective clients. After all, your screenplay is a product and the agent or production company a potential client. Salespeople need to project 100 percent confidence in their product to make a sale. There is a term in sales called "positioning." If you try to position yourself as an Alist screenwriter, then that perception might become a reality. But to position yourself as number one, you do need to be able to offer a product that lives up to the hype. Is your screenplay as well-crafted and professional as it can be? Did you write and rewrite it until you were satisfied? Did you get objective feedback before marketing it? Is your query letter and "pitch" well thought out? Another inherent risk for screenwriters is making the pitch. Pitching screenplays and story ideas on the phone or in person can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially as the person to whom we're pitching wields a certain power over our dreams. In truth, the fear of pitching is far more anticipatory than real. Rarely will you run into a fire-breathing dragon (though a few have been known to exist in Hollywood.) And if you do, it won't ruin your career. Most often you can expect a neutral and noncommittal response but indifference is not rejection. It's a normal reaction from a preoccupied stranger and not a personal affront against you. A technique psychologists use to help patients deal with their phobias is paradoxical intention. This might be the method for you if you are scared to death of pitching. Paradoxical intention means conjuring up extreme images of what you fear. Imagine the worst possible thing that could happen when you make a pitch. For example, you might imagine that a studio executive screams at you for submitting such a sloppy piece of writing. He tells you that you are a worthless maggot and should never hope to make it in the industry. He tells you that if he ever sets eyes on you, he will personally rip your head off for being so impudent as to bother him while he's working at a real job. Ridiculous? Of course. The absurdity of such an image helps to deflate fear by exposing it for what it really is, not what your imagination can frighten you into believing it is. It is hard for the human mind to accept both the fear and the absurd image you have put in your consciousness. And if you can face the possibility of being screamed at and threatened, then anything a producer might say during a pitch surely couldn't be as bad. It's also important to remember that you can't change someone else's behavior. If someone isn't interested in your screenplay, you shouldn't feel inadequate. False expectations like that will slowly erode your self-image. Remember, your endeavor is as legitimate as theirs. You are a professional, too, and you have something valuable to offer. If circumstances prevent them from taking advantage of what you have to offer now, opportunities may still exist down the road. One of the most important things any writer can do to overcome the fears and brave the risks is build a support system. This support system should include friends and family who have faith in your dreams and offer encouragement. It should include others who are going through similar circumstances so you can share resources, ideas and experiences. The best place to meet others "like us" is in a writers' group— it's pretty hard not to find one in any given community around the country. Writers' groups are not only a safe haven of encouragement but often result in networking and other opportunities.
Even with shared experiences, no two screenwriters will know the same journey, yet they have a common goal—to be storytellers! For some, the journey can be lonely and isolating. For others, strong support systems are in place, making risk-taking more manageable. Regardless, the screenwriting journey involves facing fears, questioning myths and taking risks. It is important to ask yourself questions to uncover what screenwriting really means to you. It will lead to discovery and help stimulate new ideas and goals. Delving into the purpose of screenwriting and evaluating your motives, determination and ability to struggle through difficult times will provide you with new awareness and answers that will help guide your next steps. ABOUT THIS AUTHOR Since forming Amphion Productions in 1991, Sara Caldwell has written/produced over 150 film, television, documentary and other media projects and is co-author of So You Want to Be a Screenwriter: How to Face the Fears and Take the Risks (Allworth Press.) She is a script consultant and frequent workshop leader who donates 50 percent of registration fees to non-profit organizations. For more information, please visit http://www.writeworkshops.com/ and email@example.com
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