Screenwriting: from Fail to Sale (2/5)

I love the following principle, implemented by many beginning screenwriters, myself included.

Let’s transpose the idea to another profession – the manufacturing of, say, a car.

-By Samuel Bartlett


Most people have driven a car – they’ve sure as hell seen a car, so what the hell is there to stop them just going and making a car.

What do you need to make a car? Well there are wheels for starters, so let’s buy four wheels. Good start, what else? An engine? Fuck, what goes in an engine – stuff and shit right? …

You get the idea of where I’m going with this. You want to build a car you study engineering – the key word there is study, something that MOST screenwriters don’t do.

So when I finally pulled my finger out, sat back and lowered the arrogance level just enough to let others tell me how scripts REALLY work, holy shit, that was a day of revelations.

There’s more to this shit than I figured damn it!

I’ve been studying film writing from 2009 until now, and just last night I learnt something new. Hell, even writing this piece I’ve learnt something new, – the importance of voice. Think about it, you can hear the way I’m writing, like I’m talking to you, this isn’t the only way I write, the first draft of this piece came out quiet, dry, point by point, soulless.

MicEvery writer has different voices, choosing the right one for the right piece of writing (HOW you say it) is as important as WHAT you’re saying.  This brought to mind a script I read the other night, it wasn’t a great story, but fuck me if the voice wasn’t incredible, and that script sold for $750 000.

After reading it I asked why the hell did that script go for that much? Then the next day it hit me, I was still thinking about that script, and it wasn’t the story that got me, it was the tone, the voice it was told in. It got under your skin, stuck with you.

The point is, you’re always learning with this craft and if you’re not, if you ever think, fuck it, I’ve got it all down now, then you’re limiting yourself, you’re not doing the best you can.

Anyway, back on track, enough with the lessons and what not…

…so after studying at AFTRS and actually realizing that there was craft to this business of writing I wrote my first, halfway descent screenplay.

If you ever think,  fuck it, I’ve got it all down now ,
then you’re limiting yourself

That was is amazing experience, the moment when you sit back and suddenly realize that, hey, this isn’t actually that bad! It might not be the greatest piece of writing to grace the digital page, but shit man, it doesn’t suck, and that’s something.

I soon wrote another one after that, which wasn’t too bad either. I then wrote another one, this third was to be my ‘break in’ script. If you want to call it that.

Red Brick Wall (Wallpaper) This brings to light the notion of that metaphorical ‘wall.’ On one side of which are the unknown writers and on other side lies a plethora of writers lost in the throes of orgiastic hedonism – here’s news for you, that wall really, really doesn’t exist.

Screenwriting is no more black and white than any other career. Look at police for example (yes I was just watching The Wire ). Is it possible for a rookie cop to become commissioner over night just because he busted ass in some major drug haul?


Can he get a promotion?


And that’s how it is for MOST screenwriters. The very best example of this came from the mouth of Shane Black – this guy is a god to screen writers, responsible for Lethal Weapon and the highest selling spec’ film script of ALL TIME –  The Long Kiss Goodnight.

Is it possible for a rookie cop to become commissioner over night
just because he busted ass in some major drug haul?

At the Austin screen writing conference (I ended up going BTW) Shane gave a talk to a packed room of hundreds of budding writers and cinephiles. In his own words, after having just written Lethal Weapon and sold The Long Kiss Good Night for $3 million (in 1995 dollars – that’s like a trillion dollars nowadays) and having knocked out another classic, The Last Action Hero (not the greatest film, knock it all you want but, hey, it got made with Arnie starring so, you know, there’s that) Shane went on to say that he fell off.

He failed to be prolific.

Then seven years later after a drug induced hiatus from writing he started putting pen to paper again and he was having meets with 25 year old low level studio execs saying, “Shane I like your writing, you stick at it you’ll break in, and you might just make something of yourself in this business.”

My point is to illustrate that imaginary wall we talk about breaking through. There’s no in or out, there’s simply one step at a time, working hard, getting better and most importantly Keeping At It.

-Samuel Bartlett

Part 1 – The Beginnings
Part 3 – The Truth about Comps
Part 4 – The Law of Causation
Part 5 – Writing and Reading

Photo Credit: billaday – sergeant killjoy –

Samuel Bartlett is an award winning screen writer and film maker with two feature films currently in development with Los Angeles based production companies.
He shot his first award winning feature film in 2011 and has another short film ready for the festival circuit. He divides his time between Sydney, London and LA.

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