Screenwriting: from Fail to Sale (in 5 easy parts)

The call came through from Austin as BLOCKED. The summary of the conversation was, ‘Congrats, your script has just made the top ten of its category in the Austin Screenplay Competition of over 5,800 scripts, we hope to see you in Austin for our conference.’

-By Samuel Bartlett


I thought, no shit? That script, but that was like, my worst script, I only sent it out cos I thought, hey, what the hell, it’s a $50 entry fee, what have I got to lose?

The main script that I was working, on, my baby, the one I was sure to bust through with didn’t even get a mention… and get this, I entered it twice. $100 entry fees and not a mention – but that script, that baby, was to later get me meets with a manager who had two scripts on this year’s black list, so it wasn’t all a waste – more later on that.

(If you don’t know what the black list is and you’re screen writing, you fucking need to.

For now, rewind.

Londres: Picadilly Circus2006, London, heretofore I’d dabbled in the world of cartooning, music recording and animating, then I figured, man, I dig writing, I want to write.

In summary it took six years, four novels, 90,000 words a piece – no easy feet by anyone’s terms – none of them published, though I did secure a literary agent that did SFA for me. I wrote that ubiquitous first screenplay that was about me and my buddies just doing stuff – oh that was a winner! (Hmmmm)

I wrote four more scripts that started with a cliché twist at the end and worked backwards. You know the story lines, the one that can be summarized thusly, but at the end it turns out that the guy he’s chasing is himself! The cop is actually out to arrest himself! (Insert vacant looks of expectant stares from friends and loved ones as they nod approvingly, hoping you don’t give up your day job…)

Among those four ‘first scripts’ I somehow managed to get Robert Kosberg (Twelve Monkeys) to read and give notes on one of my scripts (for free – go figure? To get that now is impossible, no idea how I did it. Ah, the arrogance of ignorance…) I also had another one put in the hands of Guy Ritchie and associates —

— I mean seriously, talk about wasted opportunities! I can’t even bring myself to look at the work I was doing back then, it makes me feel sad, seriously, reading that shit is like remembering a really bad break up, it twists my stomach, and there I was, sending it out, what a rookie mistake.

I can’t even bring myself to look at
the work I was doing back then, it makes me feel sad

Don’t send shit out unless it’s really, really good.

Fast forward, I came back to Sydney to study film at AFTRS. Managed to get into one of their courses, where a wwwhhhhhooollllleeee lot of shit opened up to me. (The word ‘whole’ does not look great extended like that, but you get the idea.)

Until then, 2009, I’d spent my time winging it as so many novice screenwriters do. I’d seen films, right, I had pretty solid opinions, so fuck it, I can write a film damn it. What’s a film but a bunch of scenes back to back with a twist at the end? There’s a formula to this, work out your wicked twist, work backwards from there, BAM! You’ve got your film.

Ba-bow. (That’s the iMac fail sound.)

-Samuel Bartlett

Part 2 – Cars and Cops
Part 3 – The Truth about Comps
Part 4 – The Law of Causation
Part 5 – Writing and Reading

Photo Credit: Zyllan via Compfight

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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