|Ryan Condal was born and raised in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey. He attended Villanova University in Pennsylvania, where he received his degree in Accountancy in 2001. After spending six years working in pharmaceutical advertising, Ryan made his first sale with his script Galahad to The Film Department in early 2008. Since then, he’s been hired by Warner Bros. to pen the adaptation of Ocean, a graphic novel by Warren Ellis, for Nick Wechsler Productions. He was recently hired by Spyglass Entertainment and Film 44 to write Hercules, a comic book miniseries by Radical Comics that Peter Berg is attached to direct.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey. It’s a 1.5-mile-square town that lies about 15 minutes outside Manhattan. But in addition to blessing Hollywood with my presence, "Heights" also can take credit for educating Jason Biggs, who is known internationally for setting the civil rights of warm apple pie back decades. We were in student council together when I was in 5th grade, clearly a formative experience in my life.
I attended a small, charter high school that focused on math, science and technology at the expense of having fun, being cool and getting laid. Seeking to continue punishing myself academically, I enrolled at Villanova University (also David Rabe’s alma mater, I’m proud to say) as a major in accounting with the hope of being the very first accountant-turned-screenwriter. I was disappointed to learn much later that Paddy Chayefsky blazed this path long before I did.
When do you remember really becoming first interested in writing for film or TV?
Really as far back as I can remember. There was a short time in my youth where I also vacillated between wanting to be a paleontologist and a Jedi Knight.
But I have wanted to be involved in the movies since I was just a little Ewok. I thank Star Wars (the original trilogy) and Indiana Jones (the original three) for pushing me in this direction. I used to write things, story ideas and such, in grammar school and middle school, but in high school, I wrote my first dramatic piece: an X-Files episode about bigfoot, an "unexplained" case sadly ignored by the entire series as far as I can recall.
(For those wondering, I no longer have the teleplay, but I can ensure you that it was utter crap.)
So how did you find yourself being drawn to writing while studying accounting?
People of course ask me this all the time. It’s one of those ridiculous situations we’re put in as children. And yes, when you’re 18, you’re still a child in this country—the lax educational system has seen to that. But how the hell is someone to decide what they want to do for the rest of their lives when they’re 18 years old with no real-world experience outside mowing lawns and working at the mall? For me, it was simple: my parents were paying my full ride to school (thanks Mom and Dad!) and made it very clear to me that I would be getting a "real degree."
I actually really enjoyed economics (and still do—it’s the science of worldwide business) but was given some, I now think, bad advice and was pushed into the accounting major.
Everything worked out just fine with me, though.
While at school, I knew I wanted to write, but I always looked at writing as "that other thing you do." I didn’t want it to be my main educational focus. Many famous writers I knew of wrote at night to become famous. I’ve always been a big fan of working hard to get the things you want. I saw this as a challenge: I wasn’t going to get anywhere without a ton of hard work and determination. I loved the sexy idea of being hunched over my typewriter late at night, working by candlelight with Tool blasting in the background (sorry to ruin the romance of the imagery: I’m a metal-head).
College is what you make of it. I took 18-credit semesters my entire time there, trying to soak up as many electives as I could to indulge my brain. I took amazing classes in myths & legends, American folklore (still my favorite), acting, archaeology and even one in screenwriting. That was taught by a woman named Sloan, still one of my best and earliest writing influences. I’ve since lost touch with her, but if you’re reading this, Sloan: thank you.
But the point of this all is: I went to college to raise the bar on my knowledge base. I tooled around with screenwriting, read books, watched movies, read scripts and took classes that I thought would make me a more interesting person (and therefore, writer).
Tell us about writing your first script. This was a TV spec script, yes? What was your approach?
Yeah, it was that X-Files script. I didn’t have any conscious knowledge of structure, really, but I had this great English teacher in high school that used to work in film. Dr. Mayers broke down the Joseph Campbell hero’s journey for us for the first time. This really opened my eyes. So I took that and my recorded tapes of the X-Files and broke down what I now realize was the show’s structure and just wrote. I used this crappy DOS-based program we had at my high school. It was terrible to work with, but I eventually had a 50-some-odd page teleplay.
And then what was it like writing your first feature? What was the idea? Were you reading books about writing? Studying it on the side?
I was in college. I had plenty of time to write, so I wrote.
I read a lot of books about screenwriting early on. Syd Field, of course. Then a bunch of others recommended to me by my English teacher in high school. When I read McKee’s book, I nearly quit. I couldn’t understand one thing about what he was trying to say. I’ve since come around to realize that this is why he’s writing books on screenwriting instead of writing screenplays.
Ted [Elliot] and Terry [Rossio]’s site, Wordplayer, was a huge, HUGE influence on me early on. This was the first time screenwriting was put into lay terms that I could understand and digest as a young kid. I printed all forty-some articles off their website and kept them in a binder that I would go back and read regularly. I also read Stephen King’s On Writing, which is his memoir and "how-to" writing book. There are so many great quotations in there and the book is so inspiring that I still read it once every other year or so. It’s a must read for any writer, aspiring, working or otherwise.
It was shortly after writing Mindframe, my first spec feature (a sci-fi thriller about government conspiracies and psychic remote viewing) that I found the message boards at Done Deal. This was back in early 2001. I would say that these boards, Wordplayer and later in my development, Chris Lockhart’s site Two Adverbs, were my biggest sources of inspiration to keep going as a writer. The "community" nature of Done Deal and Two Adverbs are great for discussions, debates, and getting feedback. I recommend them highly.
(For those wondering, no I no longer have Mindframe, but I can assure you that it was utter crap).
You were living back east in the New York area. What was it like for you writing scripts for Hollywood but not being out here? What advice would you give to writers who want to break into the business but can’t move to Los Angeles right away?
The vast majority of my unpaid writing was done outside Los Angeles. As Stephen King said: "The first million words are free."
I’m of the school of thought that every writer that is serious about writing needs to move to Los Angeles when they are ready. There’s no point in being here if you haven’t written a script and know nothing about the craft. But once you start placing in contests and getting favorable reads by someone other than your mom and dad, you really need to move to LA. It’s such a great and inspiring place to be when you start doing good work that it is a boost to your motivation. That, and when you start looking for that first manager, it’s going to be a lot easier finding one when you have a 310 or a 323 area code (no offense to my 818 brothers and sisters).
That all said, I found it great to be struggling in New Jersey and New York. I was the only writer I knew, so it felt like I was doing something totally unique. I had the ability to retreat into my own world (at my local coffee shop) and focus on the most important thing: writing. There weren’t any distractions, people succeeding around me, Hollywood bullshit, or other nonsense, to keep me off course.
My advice to the rookies is this: the most important thing you need is not a manager, it’s not an agent, it’s not an uncle who is a VP of Marketing at Universal, it’s not any insider contact whatsoever. It is great writing. You need to focus on writing the best god damn script you can. When you do that, and you do it well, all the rest will follow in due time.
Nothing else matters but the words on the page.
When and why did you finally decide it was time to move out here? And how has moving out here changed things for you?
I came to a quarter-life crisis of sorts. My brother Adam had just graduated film school at Ithaca College and the brave kid just packed up his shitty truck and drove West with his ATM card and the ink still drying on his degree. And there I was, living and working in New York City at my comfortable job writing ad copy for prescription drugs.
Adam’s remarkable show of cajones woke me up. It was time for me to go West, too. If I didn’t do it now (26 and unattached to wives, children [that I know of], mortgages or federal warrants), I was never going to do it. So, being the "responsible older sibling," I found a way to transfer my job out to Los Angeles and up and moved and kept on plugging with the safety of a well-paying day job cushioning my ass.
I think things worked out pretty well from that point on.
Not long after coming out here, you placed in the Nicholl Fellowships, correct? Which script did you submit? Did reaching that level help you much in terms of breaking in? Gaining confidence as a writer?
I actually got the quarterfinalist letter about a month after my feet hit the Los Angeles soil. It took a little longer because the folks at the fellowship didn’t update my forwarding address in time. I took it as a wonderful omen of things to come. I later made the semis, but the road unfortunately came to an end there. Thankfully, however, my "wonderful omen" proved true about a year and a half later, so I can tell this story and not sound like a total ass. Maybe.
But it was a huge confidence boost. Prior to moving to LA, I "started over" once again (now for the third time) with my writing. Instead of writing these big huge movies with big ideas and big casts, I sat down to write something simple: something very Coen Brothers. An idea that was a vehicle for great storytelling, great characters and great dialogue—all things I thought I could do well at this point.
I finished the first draft of this script on April 29th and mailed it via overnight mail on April 30th to the Nicholl folks. The deadline for this contest was May 1st. I just made it.
Ironically, this script later went on to get me repped, though it wasn’t through the 2006 competition. It was through the 2007 competition when it placed again with a newer, better, leaner draft that was judged as inferior to the first one and eliminated after making the quarterfinals.
But this go-round did net me about 40 requests from production companies and managers looking for new material. So began the era of "Ryan looking for representation." I kept writing scripts (three more before the genesis of Galahad) and looking for a manager.
You’ve mentioned receiving notes from someone who "trashed" a script you wrote. It kept you from writing for a couple of months. What did you learn from that experience?
Yeah, it was pretty discouraging. I had been ego-raped plenty of times coming up through the ranks, but when you achieve a place where you believe (and your harsh self-critic is telling you) that you are consistently writing at a high level, having this come from a source you respect is really crushing. I was going through a tough time personally and professionally (the advertising job), as well, so that didn’t help.
But ultimately, you can cry in your apple pie as much as you want—no one’s going to give a shit or help you. You have to do that for yourself. I sucked it up and moved on to the next script.
Two weeks later, I received a letter telling me that that same "awful" script (same draft, too) made the Nicholl quarterfinals alongside my other entry, the one that reached the semis the year prior. I was suddenly reinvigorated.
In March you sold Galahad to Film Department. Can you tell us about the script? What was the genesis of the idea? How did you get it sold?
Galahad was an idea that I’ve had in my head for probably 4 years, but not the way you think. I have this unhealthy obsession with the age of chivalry, and I’ve always wanted to write something in that period, one that Hollywood had never done justice until recently with Ridley Scott’s brilliant director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven.
The idea I had was for a knight framed for murdering his King by an evil, vindictive Queen. The knight then went on the run inside these secret passages and tunnels built into the castle where he had to collect evidence and allies to depose the queen and clear his name. However, the wisdom of places like Done Deal and Two Adverbs told me to "never write a period spec" because it was an exercise in futility.
So I sat on it. But then Nottingham sold to Scott Free. It was a reinvention of the Robin Hood tales—brilliant. "Something familiar, but different." I found my window. Later that week, the idea hit me like the best punch in the face ever: King Arthur should be the murdered King. We’ve never seen him murdered before! And then I sort of went from there, reinventing every Arthurian character as I wrote. That was my hook to get a Hollywood obsessed with finding value in existing intellectual real estate. Familiar, but different.
While I was finishing the outline for Galahad, I was contacted by my now manager, Adam Marshall of Energy Entertainment. He had read my Nicholl script and really liked my dialogue and characters, but not the concept. He told me they needed a good action writer. I pitched him Galahad and he proceeded to have graphic idea sex with my pitch.
It was very, very disturbing but also the most encouraging meeting of my entire seven-year writing career.
(I’m kidding, of course. Adam fired the starting pistol on my writing career and I will forever be thankful for that.)
You’re also repped by Aaron Hart at William Morris. How did you find representation with him? What is your relationship like? Do you talk often? Is there a lot of feedback?
After Adam’s response to my pitch, I spent the next 2 months finishing the first draft of Galahad. After sharing it with two trusted writers, I was very encouraged to pass it on to Adam. He read it that morning and flipped for it. He immediately passed it on to Brooklyn, who is the Commander-in-Chief of Energy Entertainment. I knew his name well and was very intimidated to have my work being read by someone with his resume.
Brooklyn called me a week later and asked me to come in. When I sat down with him and Adam, Brooklyn told me he loved the script. He spent 20 minutes rattling off these incredibly insightful notes off the top of his head—he didn’t even have a notepad in front of him! At that point, I was completely sold on Energy. These guys absolutely knew what they were doing story-wise and they had a massive stack of Varietys to back up the other part: getting writers paid.
I asked Brooklyn what his plan was for Galahad and he responded "I’m going to take this thing out and sell it." Running on the high-octane rocket fuel of motivation, I did another pass on Galahad, and in late February, Adam and Brooklyn started taking the script out to potential buyers. The early response was very strong and encouraging. At the end of that week, Adam called me to ask me if I had time to have lunch with an agent at William Morris.
I don’t have a pregnant wife (or a wife of any kind, for that matter), but I would have left her fully dilated and in the capable hands of the delivery doctor and the hospital’s maternity staff to go to that lunch.
I sat down with Aaron and instantly got this great vibe from him. Sure, I’m biased, but I am convinced that the best place to be a new writer in this town is at WMA. These guys know how to start and build careers like no one else. Aaron loved Galahad and wanted to sign me on the spot.
You know those job interviews where you just "know?" Well, I just knew with Aaron. I drove back to my office and immediately called him and told him I was on board.
That was Friday. On Tuesday morning, WMA and Energy were negotiating my deal for Galahad with The Film Department. As they say, "when things move fast, they move real fast."
What do your managers do for you that’s different from your agent’s work? What is your relationship like with them?
Brooklyn and Adam are insanely talented on the story side. These guys know how to develop work that (a) is high quality and (b) finds buyers. I trust them so implicitly with my work that I really don’t look anywhere else anymore for advice. Between trusting my inner critic (a nastier version of the Talkbackers on AICN) and my respect for them, I’ve gotten a script sold and developed and won two more projects off the strength of my outlining and in-room pitches. They’re great managers and great guys and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
You also have entertainment attorneys. How did you hook up with them? How important do you feel is it for a writer to have an attorney along with an agent and a manager?
I’m repped by Rob Goldman and Jeff Frankel. WMA and Energy Entertainment actually took care of this part of the deal—they hooked me up with them out of the need to get me the best deal possible from The Film Department for Galahad. Together with my reps, they bumped my deal by 25% on the front and back end, so I’d say they’ve already earned their cut.
I think it’s a necessity to have a lawyer. Deals with major buyers don’t get done without them. Plus, since the lawyers don’t really need to worry about the "schmoozing" end of the relationship, they can afford to be total pitbulls with the buyers and get you, the writer, the most out of the deal.
In June 2008, you were hired to adapt the comic miniseries Ocean by Warren Ellis. The project is set up at Warner Bros. and Nick Wechsler is producing. Can you tell us how this assignment came about and what you did to prepare for your pitch/take on the material? And for those not familiar with Ellis’s work, in particular this series, can you tell us a little more about the story?
There was a studio exec at Warner Bros. who was a huge fan of Galahad. He and Nick Wechsler were having a hard time finding a take for Ocean that they were in love with. Ocean is a great graphic novel and a fantastic concept, but Ellis is a very cerebral writer who writes very thematic pieces. Warner Bros. was looking at a huge action movie and they needed a big script to service the awesome concept. Together, they really liked the "world building" I did in Galahad and the attention I paid to the little details in the world to make it feel very authentic. Because of that, they loved me for Ocean and gave me the chance to wow them with a pitch.
While I was developing the pitch, I went back and rewatched all the James Cameron movies from the 1980s—Terminator, Aliens (Ridley’s Alien as well), The Abyss and Terminator 2. I saw Ocean as a love letter to these great sci-fi epics that I grew up with and pitched it as exactly that.
I can’t say much about my take on the material, but the graphic novel deals with an expedition from Earth 100 years in the future burrowing beneath the ice on Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. When they get down there, they find thousands of aliens in coffins. Hilarity ensues.
It’s a wild idea and something the fourteen-year-old geek inside me is very eager to share with the world.
You mentioned working on a Hercules script for Peter Berg. What’s that project like and how did it come about? What’s it like working with Berg, a director, to develop a project?
We’re still in the very early stages of Hercules. Because I closed Ocean first, I have to submit a draft to the studio on that before I begin work on Hercules. But the pitch process for Hercules was very involved, so I had to develop a really "soup to nuts" take on the material before I won it, so the producers, director and I all have a really good idea of what the script is going to look like. I’m of course really excited about this because it is my first opportunity to work in tandem with a director (and one that I really respect, at that). But those tales will have to wait until our next interview.
While waiting to hear whether you were officially hired to adapt Ocean, you worked on other jobs, including an extensive treatment for one project. What advice would you give to other writers waiting to hear back about deals or assignments? I assume always keep writing, yes?
You always need to be writing something. Even now as I wait a few days between submitting drafts and having a meeting about them, I work on other things. Whether it’s a spec, an outline, a treatment—always be writing something, even if you’re working. With little exception, I work 7 days a week. This industry is extremely competitive and I know that the first 3–5 years are the most important in establishing a long-term career for myself. So I just work, work, work whenever I can. Thankfully, having written at night and on the weekends for so long while I had a "real job" has given me the necessary stamina to be able to do this.
I’m always working on something, but it’s no fun talking about it yet, right?
Can you discuss a little about the process of selling a script or getting hired for an assignment? Briefly, what are the stages? Who is talking to whom? Is there a lot of back and forth? Does your representation keep you updated at every step or just tell you when the deal is done?
The spec sale was the easiest one for me—I just wrote the script and my reps took care of the rest.
The assignments are a lot of work. As with every other area of writing, you really do have to love this to be able to succeed at it. I did a big round of meetings and my reps helped me weed through the potential projects that were being shared with me for the ones that were the best fit for me and also the most "real" in terms of having a paycheck on the other end of the pitch. We selected three (Ocean and Hercules were two of them) and registered interest with the buyers. I then came up with an initial "take," sort of a "here’s what I’d like to do." I’d pitch that (15 minutes or so) to the junior development folks and get their feedback. If they liked it (which they did in all three cases), I’d take down their feedback and go in and pitch the more senior people. Sometimes, as it was for me, this is more than one meeting. But you just keep polishing the pitch and giving it again and again with enthusiasm until they stop calling you in.
With assignments, we’re living in a world of reduced overhead and increasing budget scrutiny, so there is a lot of work done by writers up front to win jobs. It’s just the nature of the beast. As I try to put a positive spin on everything in life, I will do so to this, as well—in the end, if you win the job, you already have a killer outline/pitch/treatment to work off that is hugely detailed. You should be ready to go on the script!
For instance, with Hercules, there were four pitch meetings before I won the job. Four. And it all culminated with a 45-minute verbal pitch. Screenwriting is not for the writer with high blood pressure or anxiety.
Luckily, I only suffer from anxiety.
You’ve talked on our forums about being branded as a writer—in your case a "comic book" guy or a "tent pole" writer.
Yeah, I think this is really important for serious writers to key on. What do you love to write? If you had to write one "type" of movie for the rest of your life, what would that be? Notice for me, I’m writing Ocean, a sci-fi actioner and Hercules, a Bronze Age sword ‘n’ sandal epic. Seemingly different, but inherently the same—big, expensive "tent pole" movies with a big world and big cast of characters. So there is a huge amount of diversity available to me inside my "brand." I know writers hate feeling pigeon-holed but (a) you should only be so lucky to be pigeon-holed—it means you’re getting paid—and (b) you need to accept it as a universal truth, embrace it and use it to your advantage.
At least I’ll never have to worry about being asked to write musical horror.
Do you do much research when preparing to write a script? Do you travel? Take tours? Visit libraries?
I like to know a lot about the topic I’m writing about. For Galahad, I bought a stack of books about medieval towns and castles, knights, Arthurian legends, religion in the period, and even medieval medicine. It’s fun. Also remember from the first part of this interview that you likely read three and a half hours ago that I’m a big nerd—I eat this stuff up.
For the assignments, I take a similar approach but I try to understand the source material as much as possible first and foremost. The other research will be necessary much later in the process.
What about feedback on your work? How do you handle that?
It’s all welcome, as long as you love my work and call me brilliant.
Seriously, my inner critic is the meanest bastard out there. No one else can knock me down like that guy can. That’s why he’s a writer’s best friend. Develop your mean little bastard inner critic and come to trust him—he’ll be right 90% of the time.
The rest of the feedback comes from my very experienced representatives and the people that are paying me to do the work. As a writer, you need to have confidence in yourself and why you were hired for these very competitive jobs—because they like your work and they trust you! But you should always be challenging yourself, asking yourself if your work can be better and how to get there. If you beat yourself up the way I do, getting feedback from others is really easy by comparison.
You hear a lot from working writers that after they sell that first (spec) script, a lot of what they do is rewrites, assignments, work on other people’s ideas, etc. Have you gotten to that point?
Yeah, I’d say that the way things are looking, it’s going to be a long time before I must write something original. That’s not to say I won’t—that’s some of the most fun. But honestly, I’m having an absolute blast adapting other people’s work. It’s so inspiring after writing out of my own head for so many years. There are ideas in Ocean and Hercules that I never would have thought of, and these ideas lead my brain to places I would have never been otherwise. Adapting and rewriting helps round you out as a writer and, I think, makes you better for the next original piece you’ll create.
It’s a great problem to have.
What’s a typical writing day like for you?
Despite all the hilarious jokes I hear from family and friends (who are just bitter that I can earn a six-figure income without putting on a pair of pants), this ain’t easy.
You have to have an incredible amount of self-discipline to succeed at this "working for myself" thing. The biggest adjustment for me was the sheer amount of time I spend writing now—between 6 and 8 hours a day on most days. This might not sound like a lot until you try it (7 days a week in most cases), but please don’t sneer until you try it. Writing is different than counting beans. I know, I’ve done both.
But you have to work, it’s what you’re getting paid for.
I wake up early (around 8—which is the equivalent of a pre-dawn raid for most writers) and brew a half-gallon of coffee. I answer e-mails and read up on the activity of the Superbowl Champion New York Giants and then I get to work once the caffeine sets in. I’ll usually work until around noon when I take a break and go to the gym. The gym is one of my favorite parts of the day because, on most days, it’s the one time where I go out and interact with other people, even if it’s only saying hello to the person swiping your ID card. After the gym, I come back, shower and do an afternoon session, which usually is about 3 hours. I’ll then catch up on reading or Netflix or TV. On some days, depending on deadlines and how many projects I have going on and how motivated I’m feeling, I’ll go to the local café at night and turn in another few hours of work.
Like I said, you have to love what you do. Luckily, I do.
Do you outline all your stories first? Do you always do a treatment? And if so, what benefit do you feel comes from doing a treatment before starting the script?
Absolutely. I couldn’t imagine going right to script at this stage of my career—I’ve made too many mistakes to ever want to go back. Yeah, outlining is painful and boring but when you work out your story problems before sitting down to write 120 pages of script, you’ll generally thank yourself in the end. I’m a big structure guy, so I feel that if your structure is sound and rock-solid going into the script, then you’ve already solved the biggest problem most writers have—that is, writing a structureless script that someone will want to gut when you’re done with it.
I’m still in the evaluation stage on this theory of mine, of course, but I will tell you that of The Film Department’s notes on my spec draft, there was not one single structural issue.
You are using the sequencing method as I understand it to plot out your scripts first? Can you let people know what the sequence method is for those who have never worked with it? And can you talk about how it helps you plan what to write?
Sequencing is gold. I hesitate to even talk about it, lest all of your readers go out and become overnight successes and put me out of work. I jest, but this approach really is that good. And there’s no magic to it, it’s just good, common sense. That’s what’s so brilliant about it.
Essentially, you want to look at your script as eight 12–15 page sequences. Act 1 and Act 3 each get 2 sequences and Act 2 gets 4. Each sequence should have a mini-goal for the protagonist (some more defined than others) and a beginning, middle and end just like your script does. That way, you end up with a sequenced script that builds on itself and creates those wonderful "peaks and valleys" that create tension/release, tension/release all throughout your story. Each sequence has a goal—what is or isn’t accomplished at the end of it—and a first, second and third act just like your script. The first act of the sequence is the setup (2 or 3 pages), then the main body is the conflict (5–9 pages) and then the resolution (1–3 pages). Each sequence has to do with the greater goal of your story, each one building on the last and raising the stakes and conflict until the story and conflict is eventually resolved at the end of the script.
The best feature of sequencing is that it makes your script digestible. Especially the second act. When you go in to outline your script, instead of having 120 pages of scary infinity, you have 8 clear sequences you need to design and create that fill out this larger structure.
It’s simple brilliance and something every writer should be doing. Beyond having a killer concept, structure is king. Sequencing will eventually lead you to bullet-proof structure. And structure will get you respect and structure will win you jobs in the room, just like I have. Bad structure means bad screenplays, even if you have great dialogue and characters (which you should also have, of course—like I said, this shit is competitive!)
Any method or path that you typically follow when approaching rewrites?
This is where my advertising background comes in handy—I look at the notes clinically and from a "client service" perspective. I try to identify the underlying issues that led to a particular note and then I try to diagnose them within the script. I take a bunch of notes myself and try to get a good picture of what the next draft is going to look like and how to accomplish everything that the client (studio/producer/reps) is asking for in the best way possible. I then execute the work while constantly going back to my notes—Am I doing everything they asked? Is this making the script better? Am I solving the issues creatively and within the context of the story and world I’ve created?
What things do you feel more writers need to recognize about themselves and/or the industry?
This place is extremely competitive. Most people will never earn a dime screenwriting. If you really want this—and I mean really want this—you need to be willing to put in the work. That means working at night, working on the weekends, reading books, reading scripts, analyzing movies, watching movies, and writing, writing, writing.
To put things in perspective, there are about 2,000 working film writers in any given year. This means that there are 2,000 people that make a real living at this.
For reference, the National Football League employs just shy of 2,000 players every year. While their median salary is a little higher than ours, it makes a sobering point—screenwriting is insanely competitive. And only the strongest will survive.
Do you think Michael Strahan was able to sustain a 15-year-long NFL career by just playing football when he felt like it?
Screenwriting is not a hobby. It is not something you can "just do on the side." It, like any hugely competitive pursuit, involves a shitload of hard and thankless work. But if it is worth it to you—if you really want this—it won’t matter because the love of the work and the promise of a future making a living at it will keep you going.
Finally, what are some things you know now that you wish you’d known when you were first starting out? Any dos and don’ts?
Please don’t ever, ever pay anyone to read your work. Find writers you trust, find contacts, find anyone. But don’t pay for it.
While I’m wishing, I’ll wish I knew about the sequencing approach. I also wish I had placed a greater focus on incredible structure and the supreme importance of concept. I feel that these three things together, when embraced early on, will save a talented writer a lot of time on his way down the yellow-brick road.
Best of luck. I know I’ll be seeing some of you inside the Emerald City before long.