Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Discussing July/August With Andrew Shearer, Part 2

When I first read Wesley Rowe’s column “Hitting the Boards” in the July/August edition of Script magazine, it pissed me off. I was thinking, do burgeoning screenwriters really need advice on how to “up their quota” and figure out the best way to produce unoriginal work by having their own “twist on a classic” in their back pocket? Just last month, the subject of my blog was on the common concern voiced in Script about the lack of support for the unique voice in Hollywood. Shouldn’t we be encouraging screenwriters that if you’re focused on the money, you’re probably not going to make it in the first place?

Then I remembered, I’m fucking broke! My screenwriting partner and I have two projects in development that haven’t been set up yet and thus we haven’t been paid yet. We just finished a spec our manger and agent plan on packaging with actors, and we’re writing another spec for a very reputable company who has a good track record for getting movies made. Three of the projects are original, and one is a loose adaptation of a very unique book, which ultimately places it in the mini-studio market. We’re very close, but we’ve been “very close” for years now. And very broke for years now. You don’t get all this writing done by having full time jobs, right?

This brings me back to Wesley Rowe. What if he’s right? What if one of our “original” projects goes through, but the other three don’t happen? If we follow Wesley’s advice, perhaps we get really lucky, and we secure a financial future that allows more creative freedom to pursue our original work for as long as we want. Let the cynics say what they will, but I know for my writing partner and I, we’re not in it for the money, and a big paycheck will go a long way for us. Give me good food, daycare for my kid, good beer, and … HD? Not necessarily in that order.

And then there’s the re-writing gigs Wesley suggests. My partner and I had the chance to pitch for two re-write gigs thus far, neither of which we got, neither of which we were right for really. Both scripts were, shall I say politely, in really bad shape. Christopher McQuarrie of Usual Suspects fame once called re-writing a “soulless act” but also noted one can make up to a hundred G’s for a week’s worth of work. I thought to myself, I could live off that an entire year and write original work for 51 weeks -- or 40 and vacation 11. Anyway, I re-read Wesley’s column a few times, and it reminded me I’m constantly torn between remaining true to why I started writing screenplays in the first place and facing the reality that original work may not financially support an entire career. What do you think? Is Wesley’s advice right on or not?


A redneck from Small Town, North Carolina (population 8,000, high school drop-out rate 40%), one day decided to tackle the film industry. Andrew’s film-school short, Son Up, based off his experience teaching at a juvenile hall, ended up winning seven festival awards and made the regionals for the Student Academy Awards. Andrew’s feature script version of Son Up, co-written with Nick Sherman, went on to win first prize at Cinequest. Then one day, the screenwriting gods shined their rarely shown light down from the Heavens and awarded the Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowship to Andrew and Nick for their feature script, Holy Irresistible. The duo is now repped by Endeavor and Brillstein Entertainment. They have two projects in development and are lucky enough to be co-writing a spec with another writer they’ve admired for years.


  1. I don't think a work has to be completely original in order to be a rewarding endeavor. Most ideas are basically variations of other ideas anyway. Even when we're writing an original script, we're stealing a ton of material from films that have inspired us, books we've read, and a number of other media. So the idea of taking a classic novel and turning it on its head actually sounds pretty creative to me. Of course, the amount of creativity depends on the person doing the writing. There will always be those who choose the easiest, most direct route by simply changing the location and character names.

    Rewriting other peoples' scripts might be a little more frustrating. While I have not yet had the honor, I was contracted to cowrite a script with someone I had never met before. Ultimately I think the finished product didn't meet either of our expectations.

  2. For those who think re-writing someone else's crappy script, ghost writing, or pitching a spin on a book is uncreative, unfulfilling work, trade in your pen (or keyboad) for a shovel and spend a day digging a ditch, then ask yourself again.

  3. A-men! Nothing wrong with not being broke, especially if "not being broke" leads to "writing and fighting for the script of my dreams."

  4. Wouldn't it be great if one could go to a movie and never hear the "F" word? It's even in your "Discussing July/August" commentary. Isn't there any other phrase that can get your point across?
    Is "F-ing broke" any different than just plain broke?

  5. If you have any sort of ego and a need for self-respect, writing for Hollywood will kill you. And even if you just like writing and have no ego, the process is punishment. I had a friend who did very well in the early days of TV grinding out script after script. Inbetween he managed to write two or three books which sold fairly well. One day he woke up and said to himself, "I'm spending more time in meetings with idiots that I can't stand than doing what I enjoy (writing)" His agent suggested he write 2-3 more books and then he'd never have to work again. So he moved up the coast and turned his back on Hollywood. Of course, writing had never been work to him, so he continued doing what he enjoyed without having to meet with the idiots.


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