My biggest fear used to be that I wouldn’t make it in Hollywood because I didn’t have the right connections.
Being the screenwriter that I am, I used to play the tragic scene out in my mind: me on my deathbed, grasping my genius unread script in my shriveled hands, making my grandchild promise me they’ll find someone in Hollywood to read it.
While this scene has probably occurred in real life (seriously, I’ve had writers submit a script on behalf of a deceased loved one), the truth is getting your script read by Hollywood should be the least of your concerns.
Is it hard to get your foot in the door? Yes. It’s extremely difficult for a new writer to attract the attention of an exec or producer. This is why there are so many pitching and networking workshops. It’s undeniable that your personality plays a big role in your career path.
But do you know what’s even harder than getting your foot in the door? Keeping that door open. And that is mostly dependent on the quality of your writing.
When somebody finally gives you a chance and decides to read what you’ve got, it’s up to your writing to keep them engaged—not you. You can’t be there as they scroll through the pages of the script, whispering in their ear how a joke is supposed to land or how the ending is a poignant metaphor for a childhood tragedy. Your work has to speak for itself.
At the end of the day, we’re writers, not talk show hosts. Being likeable isn’t enough.
Well, duh. That’s obvious, you might be thinking. Of course you need a good script.
Unfortunately, I don’t think this is obvious. I don’t think emerging writers realize that while networking is an important part of the process, it’s not the whole process. From what I see online (and in real life), there seems to be this idea that networking is the end-all be-all key to succeeding in the industry.
Let me give you an example:
During my first semester of my MFA screenwriting program, my cohorts and I were put into groups and tasked with creating short films. The professors called these shorts our “weekend projects” because he expected us to take a full weekend to complete them. They were meant to be a way for us to practice our filmmaking skills in a low-pressure environment, so that when we went into production later in the semester, we’d feel prepared.
On the Saturday morning I met up with my group to film, someone suggested, “Let’s hurry up and get everything filmed today so we have time to network at the bar later.”
The line was so appalling to me, I think it’s left a permanent imprint in my brain (I think about it more often than I probably should). I just couldn’t understand the mindset of choosing to pay thousands of dollars to attend grad school only to rush through all the exercises meant to help us improve our craft.
What was even harder for me to understand was the logic of networking with folks who wanted to put in more hours at the bar than behind the camera. How quality could your new contacts be if they’re willing to throw away a day of filmmaking?
In a group of five or six people, only one other person and I were against this line of thinking—and I have to be honest, I’m not even sure if I fully voiced my opinion. While I definitely felt some strong emotions about it, I wasn’t confident I was right. I had no industry experience back then, and worried that maybe I was the ignorant one.
Now that I’ve worked as a development exec for a few years, I can confidently say that I was right. Networking can’t make up for poor writing.
It’s hard to see this as a writer. You don’t know why someone says no to you or why you’ve getting non-responses. You think, Maybe my bio isn’t impressive enough. Maybe my writing wasn’t the right fit for them. Hell, maybe that person just doesn’t like me!
You can conjecture all you want, but you never really know.
But I know exactly why I’ve passed on scripts. Nine times out of ten, it’s because I don’t think the writing is strong enough yet.
Very rarely do I care about a writer’s personality, and here’s why: if I’m doing contest judging, I literally have no idea who the writer is or what personality they have. If I’m reading a script from a writer friend or Twitter/X contact, then obviously I like them, and so any “no” would be related to their craft—which has happened.
I’ve passed on scripts from people I like because, at the end of the day, the scripts I forward to my boss reflect my tastes as a development exec. If I am constantly sending scripts that are half-baked, my reputation as a reader goes down. I like doing favors for people, but not at the expense of my own career.
That’s how every reader, exec, manager, and agent feels—they don’t want to attach their name to something that’s not good. Being likeable can get someone to read your script or want to keep in touch with you for the long term, but no one’s going to bat for a project they don’t believe in, no matter how cool you are. It's bad business.
Also, keep in mind that if someone already likes you and thinks you’re a nice person, becoming an even nicer person isn’t going to make a difference—but becoming a better writer will.
If you reread my earlier line on why I pass on scripts, you’ll see I wrote I don’t think the writing is strong enough yet.
I can think of a handful of writers over the years who had a decent script, but not at a level we could send out to industry. When they came back with an amazing script just a year or two later, you can bet we sent it out.
It wasn’t their personalities that got better, it was their writing.
Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. We all know that one person who landed themselves an enviable career because they were just so damn likeable. But why would you want to be that exception? Why would you want a writing career solely off the strength of your networking? Hopefully, you don’t.
One last thought ...
Pursuing screenwriting can be an emotionally draining journey. There are rejections and bad breaks around every corner, but there’s nothing more heart wrenching than reading the last five scripts you wrote and realizing your craft hasn’t improved.
Rejection is inevitable. Even if you’re the smoothest-talking networker in the world, you’re going to get some doors shut in your face. In those tough times, you need something to cling to—and knowing you’re becoming a better writer every day is the best lifeboat you can ask for.
*Feature image by Jorm Sangsorn (Adobe)