Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dwayne Alexander Smith: Screenwriting is Hard

Disclaimer: explicit language

I have a dear friend who, one day, called me up and asked me the most outrageous and absurd question that I have ever been asked about my screenwriting career. When he first asked me this question it sounded innocent, just a typical question that any aspiring screenwriter would ask a working professional about the business. But the more I thought about his question the clearer it became that this dear friend had just insulted me.

“How long does it take to get paid once you sell a screenplay?” That was it. That was his question. See what I mean? Doesn’t that sound innocent?

So I answered him … “It depends on who you sell it to. Some studios take longer to pay than others. Smaller companies can take forever. It just depends.”

My friend frowned. Not satisfied with my answer he decided to push further. “Does it take weeks? Months? What’s the average?”

“From the time I make the sale about a month,” I said. I also added a few more details like the payments came in steps connected to rewrites and not in one lump sum.

“And what’s the average amount a script could sell for?,” he then asked eagerly. “One hundred thousand? Two hundred grand? What?”

Okay, it was at this point in our conversation that I began to suspect that this was more than just an innocent inquiry about my pay schedule. “Why?,” I finally asked. “Why do you want to know this?”

My dear, dear pal looked at me with the most sincere expression ever and said oh so matter-of-factly … "Oh, I need to make some quick money so I figured I’d just write a horror film or a comedy or something and sell it real quick.”

I must have just stared at this motherfucker for two minutes straight. No words, just an astounded stare. Like I said earlier everything he asked sounded innocent … but this asshole had just spit in my face and in the face of the craft that I love so dearly.

You need to know a little more about this sucker to understand the scope of his insult.

He graduated from an Ivy League university. He teaches part time at another Ivy League school. He’s a decent screenwriter but all of his specs are artsy high-minded dramas that in my opinion are unsellable. Now are you beginning to see it? Here’s a translation of what this asshole was really saying to me:

“If Dwayne, a college dropout, can sell so many horror and comedy screenplays, then me, an Ivy Leaguer, can easily do the exact same thing any time I want. All I have to do is lower myself to his level and I’m in the money.”

See, he’s under the same delusion that a lot of wanna-bee screenwriters are also under. Screenwriting is easy. It must be easy. Look at all the stupid movies that get made. Anybody can write that crap. Would my friend be asking me that dumb shit if I was a brain surgeon, or a composer, or even a plumber? NO!

Here’s a tip: If you’re writing screenplays because you think it’s an easy way to get paid … YOU’RE AN IDIOT.

Yes, yes, yes … anybody can write a screenplay but not just anybody can write a good screenplay. Not just anybody can write a screenplay that can sell. Want to know why?

Because good screenwriting is a craft that takes years to learn and even longer to master … and even then you still might not sell shit if you don’t get lucky.

So, finally I stopped staring at my dear friend and calmly said: “If you need quick money you better get yourself another plan because …


Three months later my dear friend sold a horror spec for 750K and got signed to write Spielberg’s next movie. And if you believe that I have an artsy high-minded drama spec collecting dust in my desk drawer that I’m willing to sell you cheap.
Dwayne Alexander Smith is a professional screenwriter represented by Circle of Confusion. He's sold four spec screenplays and been hired by studios for numerous rewrites. In 2008 he was hired to adapt Jim Croce’s classic song “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” into an action comedy. Most recently he created a hidden camera show called True Colors for Sony Television’s website


  1. ummm, i dont get it. So how much for a screen play again ?

  2. Loved the post. You wouldn't believe how ignorant some people are. I've had friends that know I've been a screenwriter for sometime just come up to me and ask "So, when are you gonna sell a screenplay...". Oh, I don't know, let me get my handy black book of "Buy my Sh*t now" and I'll get back to you. hahaha...

  3. Love the story. If only it was that easy.

  4. Great story. Thanks for posting.

  5. Wow...sounds like an annoying friend to have. It's also a bit annoying that he kind of won in the end. Not the ending I was hoping for, but that's life. Haha.

  6. I guess ignorance really is bliss.

  7. I'm a little curious. You said that this friend called you up which means this conversation took place on the phone. Yet you say he looked at you with a sincere expression (how did you know what he looked like over the phone) and that at one point you stared at him for two minutes (how do you stare at someone on the phone and how do you have a silence on the phone for two minutes).

    I'm also a little curious. People who are decent writers who write artsy high minded dramas sell their screenplays all the time. What was so unsellable about your friend's?
    And if you don't write artsy high minded dramas, then what sort of screenplays do you write?

    Finally, I'm still a little uncertain as to what the moral of the story is. Is it that writers should have a more realistic view of writing or that you shouldn't write artsy high minded dramas?

  8. Great story, with a great ending. I think you just cleaned up the streets for screenwriters around the world.

  9. Do you have a videophone, otherwise how did you know his expression over the phone and how did you stare at him for two minutes and how do you have a silence on the phone for two minutes?

  10. Yeah, the one point of telephone and staring is inconsistant.

    "If writing was easy, anyone could do it and we wouldn't be having this conversation." - Roger Corman to me.


  11. Mister Smith has a few good points. But the truth is that a LOT of bad material is paid for because of "Hollywood insider" crap and plenty of great scripts never get bought. In fact I know for a FACT that several of Mister Smith's scripts TOWERED over other material....and were passed over, simply because he didn't know the right people, wasn't the right height or whatever. But he shouldn't worry....I'm soon to save his ass!

  12. BY virtue of the fact he stared ... On the telephone? I think this piece was written 'tongue in cheek.'

    You can't fool us on 'this side of the pond.' (UK)

  13. So how often DOES it happen like in Adaptation? The one brother, the professional screenwriter, struggles with his draft. The less intellectual brother does a paint-by-numbers job, finishes it, and has it sold while the other brother continues to struggle.

  14. You people need to get to church, because that's what's called a "preacher story."

  15. Great post. Loved the ending. I'm currently working on developing my screenwriting skills so I can at least have some chance of selling a script.


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