A while back I did an email interview with Ben Racicot for an article on his blog called "Build Yourself as a Filmmaker from the Ground Up." He recently published my answers and as I'm a long-winded sort, there was plenty that hit the cutting room floor. Even if you read this post, please go over to Ben's site and check out the whole article, as he interviewed a few other people for this piece.
However, I think there's some good advice buried in there, so I now present some of the uncut answers:
How do you build yourself as a writer from the ground up and getting first gigs etc. A no name, with no industry connections does what to attain produced work?
A no-name with no industry connections isn’t likely to get produced work. Step 1 – move to L.A. Step 2 – meet people. Make friends in the industry. Yeah, you can try cold queries to try to get your material past the gatekeepers, but it’s a helluva lot easier to get a guy on the inside and use them to put your material in the hands of the right people.
Look, if you were trying to break into Fort Knox, do you think it would be a lot easier to have the help of someone on the inside? Perhaps someone with know-how who can point out security weaknesses, or a guard who can be trusted to see that a certain security breach will go unreported?
This leads to Step 3 – have a damn good piece of material to show off when you do get in. People on the inside have no shortage of people trying to get them to look at scripts, each of them with the claim that their work is worth the time. I’ve read many of those scripts – few of them are worth the time it takes to summarize them. You might not get a second chance, so make sure that your work is impressive on its own.
Would you say that screenwriting and actually getting behind the camera is THE best method to fulfill a project?
I don’t think it’s THE best method. It’s certainly an effective method, and one that has worked well for many struggling directors who made their name on their first film. It’s hard to imagine Kevin Smith having any success had Clerks remained a spec script rather than an indie film that practically invented a whole subgenre.
As with writing, though, the director in question actually needs to have the required level of talent. There are some writers who probably wouldn’t know what to do if you put them behind a camera. A lot of writers are introverts, some perhaps lacking the communication skills and the authority necessary to deal with actors and department heads.
Is there a list of mistakes un-produced writers make with a budding career?
I’ve probably covered a hundred or so mistakes on my blog, but I think perhaps the worst mistake they make is sending material out before it’s ready. Don’t be in such a big hurry to start your career that you end up neglecting your craft. I’ve spoken to a lot of writers who’s spent years trying to break in, and if there’s one thing they’ve all said in common, it was some variation of, “Man, five years ago I met an agent and pushed my first script on him. It was shit and I didn’t realize it at the time. Now I’ve burned that contact and have no way to get him my new script, which is ten times better.”
Patience is a virtue.
Oh, and be nice to the assistants you meet along the way. Today’s assistant is tomorrow’s development executive, and today’s development executive is tomorrow’s studio head.