Hustle: Applying yourself on the Marketing & Business side of Screenwriting
Does the quality of a script matter? Absolutely, it does. But once you reach a certain level of craft, there’s an even playing field, where other factors are the determining ones. Hustle is one of those factors.
Let’s take two writers, and place their careers side by side. One of them is a WARPED GENIUS. The other one is a SOLID WRITER. The Warped Genius writes brilliant, compelling material. He’s not the next Aaron Sorkin, but he’s good. The Solid Writer writes meat-and-potatoes, base hit material. He’ll get the job done, but he’s not flashy.
Now take an average year in the lives of both writers. Warped Genius writes his material with no consideration whatsoever for any market factors. He doesn’t query it. He might enter contests, but only one or two (Nicholl, Austin, the top ones). He has acquired a great manager because of his skill, and lets the manager do his thing. He’s just off writing, and the business side can take care of itself.
Solid Writer makes sure he puts himself into his work, he’s writing in commercial genres, but always careful to insert a personal element. He’s funneling his interests into a commercial shape. The scripts are solid, not great, not bad, just solid. He has limited natural skill, but great work ethic.
This writer enters EVERY CONTEST HE CAN THINK OF. He has lunch or drinks with someone 2-3 times a week. He’ll meet anyone. The third assistant to a junior agent at CAA? Great, let’s hang out! He doesn’t care, he’s just hustling.
This writer has a solid manager, and while he absolutely lets the manager work, he also knows that he can’t be completely hands off on his own career. He’s always querying. Always writing new stuff. Always touching base with producers he’s met or who have read his material, picking their brains, keeping his name in their minds. Maybe he makes his own micro-budget movie, or short, or writes a novel, or a comic book, just so long as he’s generating some tangible content of his own regardless of what’s happening with his screenplays.
Now let’s catch up with these two writers at the end of the year. Warped Genius? He was a finalist in the Nicholl, but his script was so damn weird that no one knew how to make it, so he just got a ton of great meetings out of it. But he didn’t follow up, so those personal relationships withered. His manager loves his material, but isn’t sure who would buy it, so he just has a lot of great samples. He goes up for a job, and his manager thinks he’s got a great chance to get it.
But he DOESN’T get it? Why not? Because the Solid Writer, who isn’t as good, got the job. He didn’t get it because his scripts are better. He got it because the executive knows him personally. They met a couple years ago, when he was the third assistant to a junior agent at CAA, and have been friends since. He trusts him, and wants to spend more time working with him. He knows he’ll deliver. He knows he’s personable and can handle the note process. He knows him.
Sometimes being the better writer doesn’t mean everything. Apply yourself just as much on the marketing/business side of your career, and you can potentially succeed even beyond your talent, by sheer force of will.
How do you hustle your scripts?