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It’s Not About Luck… And It Totally Is

Sometimes professional writers say that screenwriting success is *not* about luck – and get quite heated when people suggest it is, especially newer writers. As an example, Bang2writer Dominic Carver has written on his blog several times about contests and whether there is an element of luck involved, here is one of the posts – be sure to check out the comments, too. By coincidence, today professional writer Daniel Martin Eckhart has written on his blog about how stamina is key and comes above even talent. Check his post out here.

For the record, I don’t know a SINGLE writer who has had their work produced that was *suddenly* plucked out of obscurity, having done NO work! For every single media item out there – whether it’s a no budget film on YouTube, a prime time show on TV, or a feature hitting the theatres, DVD or film festivals or just a SCRIPT IN THE SPEC PILE – there has been blood, sweat and tears. Scratch the surface of ANY project and you will find all kinds of heartbreaking stuff for the writers and makers underneath. We’re talking major personal sacrifices, both in terms of TIME and FINANCIAL. All for something so many people will barely notice!! It’s a HARSH life, no question about it.

The novelist Dean Koontz wrote once, “People in the media work twice as hard for a product worth half as much“. I totally agree with this. We WORK OUR COLLECTIVE NADS OFF on all sorts of projects, in the hope of getting someone’s attention, most of the time making no or little money – and certainly never a living wage in “real” terms. Can you imagine a doctor, teacher, or even SHOP ASSISTANT for working for as little as we do? There would be an OUTCRY. And then, when we DO get someone’s attention and manage to get that project through all kinds of hoops others are NOT privy to, what happens? People call us “lucky”. OUCH.

Except… we are lucky! Therein lies the paradox. I think we are both unlucky and lucky in equal measures and I’ll explain why:

We do it for love. OK, having no money sucks. There’s no denying it. And even if we DO get paid for our specs and collaborations (and even some commissions we can include here), in comparison to the sheer amount of work we’ve done on them, no amount of money can truly compensate us… If you want to work it out on a hourly basis, one of my Bang2writers reckons he was paid MINUS £4.55 for every hour he spent on his produced feature (not sure exactly how he worked that one out, but makes for a good story to illustrate my point! LOL). But we are ONLY doing this work because we LOVE it – else we wouldn’t be doing it, ‘cos it’s certainly not for financial security! So if we don’t LOVE it, we can just STOP. End of. How many other jobs could we say the same as this?

Produced work means the writer in question HAS to have caught a break **somewhere**. We’ve all heard the phrase, “right time, right place” and this DOES figure in getting produced work out there, as unfashionable as it is to say this. We can write the BEST script in the world and network with all the “right” people, but if the **need** is not there for that particular writer, then their stuff is simply not going to get made. End of. Besides anything, relationships with the “right” people can take YEARS to establish, there is no “quick route”. So TRY telling the team it’s “all about hard work” who’ve missed out on film finance for no other reason than that particular pot of money has been cut at the last minute. Or the writer who had a promising budding relationship with an agent – who suddenly left or went on maternity leave. Or the writer whose work was dumped the moment a new producer came in on a TV show, because the decks got cleared. NONE of those things relate to the work of the writers in question, the writers themselves, nor their hard graft. And YES, all of those things have happened to me. But when this happens, we have to remember pt number 1 on this list, as difficult as it can be.

Bad luck always turns to good luck and vice versa So as above, we all know of writers who had runs of EXTRAORDINARY bad luck, sometimes for extended periods. It’s not that their work is pants; it’s not that they interview badly; it’s not they’ve burned too many bridges. Whilst the answer is to simply keep going, it can be incredibly demoralising. 2008 for me was the worst year EVER! Despite having a whole bunch of irons in the fire and doing a huge stack of work, not one of my projects came to fruition – NOT ONE! During that time I saw several of my peers catch their break: in comparison to my efforts, theirs paid off- yet we were working at that same pace, on the same type of projects, going for the same type of opportunities. It was so GALLING, because what I was not doing, that they were? (Though I should add I did not blame THEM, nor begrudge them their actual success, which was totally deserved). Fast forward the last two years and I’ve caught a couple of couple of breaks in the form of Deviation and The London Screenwriters’ Festival and the tables have turned and my friends report a complete dearth of work on *their* horizons (for which I totally sympathise btw, no laughing and pointing here! Noooo sirrreeeee). But it is proof none of us should despair OR get complacent.

You’ll get no argument from when if you’re of the belief it’s TOTALLY about hard work, first and foremost; I think it’s important to recognise our own success as a writer will come as a direct result of that. However, I also think it’s important to realise it *could* have worked out very differently, despite our best efforts. Whilst *some* writers would rather whinge about luck than actually do the work (and we all know one of those, or have seen them on e-bulletins and message boards), I would venture there’s plenty MORE out there who DESERVE to catch a break and haven’t yet.


Submissions, Rejections & Relationships

Are We There Yet? (Making It As A Writer)

Good Luck (A Post On Making Your Own)

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