I am in the creative arts industry for two very important reasons. The first is that I love great movies and the second is the fear of dropping dead and my last thought being “I should’ve written that flying monkeys origin story”. To prevent this, here are five mistakes to avoid.
1. Not working on enough drafts
I never understood people using the term perfectionist as an insult. As a student, one more draft can be the difference between a good and a great paper. A screenplay should represent who you are in fundamental ways. Independent producers aren’t interested in screenplays that are “good enough” and neither should you. Constantly work on strengthening your screenplay until you think its ready to share, and then work with the suggestions given to you. No one wants to waste time with typos or clear logic errors when they have to read dozens of scripts. Make sure your work is polished so you don’t miss the opportunity to tell the story you’re so passionate about.
2. Never taking that first step
Everyone loves to refer to themselves as a writer because it allows you to seem intellectual. However, to be a writer you can’t just do Woody Allen impressions… you actually have to get that wit and neurotic nature on paper. I’ve seen potential talent waste their lives away explaining how great they would be if just given the opportunity. Don’t rely on others to hand opportunities to you. Write your story, try to get it made and avoid masquerading as a writer at parties. Whether things work out or not, at least you don’t have questions about what could have been.
3. Doing what I was suppose to do vs. what I wanted to do
Writers always have to be careful about their motivations to pick certain projects. It’s very easy to work on a film that you don’t want to for the money. Unless you are on the verge of starvation, just don’t do it. You have to live with the consequences of the film’s success or failure. Picking a project based on money is an easy way to destroy your career and be mocked for the rest of your life. Only associate yourself with the script if you’re proud of it, just ask the screenwriter of Battlefield Earth how purely fiscal decisions affects your career.
4. Not following my own voice
One of the frustrating claims screenwriters make is they’re the new Tarratino. Guess what? The old one is going to be around for a while; it’s probably a better idea to develop your own style. Influence is inescapable, but you have to take small bits from those sources and create something new. Why dedicate yourself to such a personal and risky career, only to imitate someone else? No one wants to be known as a lesser talent and the easiest way to avoid this is developing that unique voice. Personally, I’d rather be the first Debono than the new Tarratino.
5. Allowing writing to get in the way of life
I know quite a few people who love the myth of writers locking themselves up in their apartment to write their masterpiece. Not only is this terrible for your mental health, but it’s counter-productive to creativity. The best stories I’ve heard come from real life and the best writers use their own experiences to give them inspiration; forced writing and sentimentality are very apparent. Some of the best stories I’ve heard are from real people retelling special moments in their own lives. A script should capture a unique moment in a otherwise normal/relatable character. You can’t understand this emotional truth without leaving the house and having those experiences, life is too short for anything else. So whether it’s finding your true love, traveling the world, producing a masterpiece or becoming an honorary member of Wu-Tang Clan, go out and make it happen.