NOW IS THE TIME?
I started my screenwriting journey back in around 2010, but many years before I put digital pen to paper, I used to throw ideas for films around with my best friend for shits and giggles. I always enjoyed creative writing at school and my wonderful teacher, Miss Hartman, praised me on my imaginative storytelling ability. Sadly, it wasn’t something I pursued after leaving school, although I did resit my GCSE at night school to gain a better grade, but I digress. My love of writing lay dormant for many years, waiting for the right moment to awaken from its slumber.
So anyway, 2010, I started work on my first feature screenplay. It was a London based gangster tale Ala Guy Ritchie. I had the story planned out and thought it worked and was excited to be writing it. But…and this is a Kim Kardashian sized but… I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing. I knew it had to have a beginning, middle and end, a hero, a villain, or possibly, villains, but that was about it. Oh, and something had to happen to kick it all off, the inciting incident.
I cracked on with my future Oscar-winning epic and by the time I got to page 40 I said to myself “Shit, this is getting a bit fucking serious now!”. The beast had awoken. A fire was lit inside me, I was hungry. I knew from this moment I wanted to be a professional screenwriter. I started researching the business and looked at agents and the kind of salaries screenwriters were making. Joe Eszterhas and Shane Black became my idols.
It took me maybe a year or so to finish my first screenplay. After I had typed FADE OUT, I had a feeling of accomplishment that I had never experienced before. I printed it off, all 120 pages of it (sorry Greenpeace) and read it all back several times. I printed off two more copies (sorry again, Greenpeace) and gave them to two of my friends. They loved it, but they weren’t industry people, just movie lovers. I had no idea what to do next, so what did I do? I wrote another script.
America’s Most Wanted was my guaranteed entry into the IMDB top 250 films list. I loved every minute of writing this script and felt confident to enter it into the Final Draft Big Break contest of 2012. I eagerly waited for the results and when the email popped up on my phone I swear I nearly had a heart attack. But that heart attack soon turned to heartbreak when I saw my name wasn’t on the list. After I had got through a full box of Kleenex and half a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, I did what I always do, I started writing again. Fast forward 12 months and I had a couple more scripts and several more contest rejections under my belt. And then it happened.
In March 2013 I attended a weekend screenwriting course. The big draw for me was actually meeting some other writers. I knew no-one and had no contacts. I wasn’t a member of any Facebook groups or social clubs back then. I felt like Tom Hanks in Cast Away and I had no Wilson to talk to. I met some wonderful writers on this course but one of them I’ll never forget. Dee Chilton, an ex-navy badass turned badass writer. She recommended I look into the London Screenwriter’s festival. That very night I googled it and was seduced in seconds. The lineup was amazing and then there was the pitch fest. I was sold. Now I had the chance to see my idol Joe Eszterhas AND pitch my projects. I bought my ticket that same night.
For anyone that isn’t familiar with the London Screenwriter’s Festival pitch fest, it’s basically speed dating for writers. You get 5 minutes to pitch to agents and producers then you move on to the next person. It’s a very nerve-racking experience but it’s a bit of fun. You have to book your 90-minute session when the system goes live the weekend before the festival. It’s a case of fastest internet first and the sessions book up quick. On this occasion, I was on my deathbed suffering from terminal man flu. I missed out on booking up the session I wanted but got one so all was not lost. The week leading up to the festival is filled with supplementary training days and I attended “Hollywood Tuesday”, a session about the ins and outs of working in Hollywood. The session was run by a producer called Luke Ryan. He was one of the producers of Hot Tub Time Machine, a guilty pleasure of mine. After the session, they had an agent from The Gersh Agency do a talk and Luke came and sat behind me. I reached back, shook his hand and told him I owe him a beer, he was surprised, he said: “What for?” I replied: “For bringing Hot Tub Time Machine to the world.” He was genuinely thrilled I liked the film and we hit it off straight away. He ended up taking a group of us to the bar and bought us all a drink. I told him I was gutted I couldn’t book a pitch slot that he was in and he said: “What about now?” My heart sank. I’d never been put on the spot like that before and hadn’t prepared at all. I’d never even pitched to my mirror, let alone a real human that works for Disruption Entertainment and has a first look deal with Paramount. No pressure at all. So naturally, I said, “Cool, where shall we do this?”. We went to a quiet corner of the bar. I gave him my logline, a brief synopsis and told him the stakes. I was totally winging it, but it worked, he asked to read the script. But there was a problem. I’d only written 50 pages of it. I told him the situation and he said he couldn’t do anything with half a script, but he would read it when it was ready. My sunken heart hit me hard in the chin on its way back up. I was on cloud nine the rest of the week, even more so when I pitched the same project to the agent at Gersh during the pitch fest and she requested it as well. But my elation didn’t last long (insert crying emoji here).
“This is your year, dude. I feel it”
I returned to work and going back to reality hit me hard. I hated my job and really really wanted to be a full-time professional writer. It was my passion and my reason for getting out of bed every day. Going back to work felt like I was walking away from my dream. It was crazy. I had an amazing opportunity that doesn’t happen to guys like me from where I live. I didn’t want to blow it and the pressure to succeed became unbearable. I found I wanted to write less and less even though I had to get it done. I plowed on and finished the screenplay but Luke had moved on from Disruption and the agent at Gersh had joined another company. I had reached my All is Lost moment in life. I had fucked it all up by delaying it so long. And this was a real lesson I learned.
So what has this got to do with anything you may wonder? I’ll tell you.
I WASN’T FUCKING READY
It’s as simple as that. As much as I wanted this to be my career back then, I wasn’t ready for it. If Luke had called me into his office to pitch to Mary Parent or any of the senior execs at Paramount, I’d have probably crumbled and wet myself. I’d have been tongue-tied and stuttered and it would have been a nightmare. If I had signed with Gersh and they set me up a bunch of meetings, I’m 100% sure I’d have fluffed them all and gone home with my tail between my legs. I’d have been Apollo Creed fighting Ivan Drago. Woefully unprepared. And that’s just my ability to come alive in the room. I’m not even talking about my writing ability back then. I stand by the script I wrote and I think it’s decent, but it was 2013 I pitched it and I finished it around 2014/15. That’s roughly four years ago, give or take. This is four more years I’ve had to hone my craft, learn about the business and make more contacts.
NOW I’M FUCKING READY
This is it. I’m ready to take it all on. I’m ready to fly to LA for meetings. I’m ready to pitch my original ideas and prepare my take of someone else’s idea. If I could give my slightly younger self some advice it would be to get the fucking work done in a timely manner, or use the pitch sessions as practice for feedback and not to get my hopes up. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with holding back on sending your material out. I’ve missed lots of screenwriting contest deadlines because I didn’t feel the script I was planning on entering was ready yet. And those contests aren’t cheap, and they quickly mount up. People always say as writers you need to get your material out there, but you really don’t have to. Yet. Send it out when it’s ready, not before. Pitch it when it’s ready, or pitch it for feedback. They say you only get one chance to make a good impression, so why waste it sending out mediocre writing? I’m guilty of this, so I can speak from experience. I’ve made my mistakes and probably will make a few more, but I’m wiser and more knowledgeable now and I’m hungry, in fact, I’m fucking starving. I’m ready to eat from the proverbial plate of blueberry muffins at the SVP of production at Sony Pictures, Tom Rothman’s office and drink from the water cooler while discussing how awesome Chernobyl is with Craig Mazin at HBO Headquarters.
I AM FUCKING READY