It’s not every day when you get the chance to rewrite a major Hollywood screenwriter — so I’ll try to tread lightly. Recently screenwriter John August posted an impromptu Q&A video on his website. Here’s one of his exchanges:
“Stranger than Fiction writes in to ask, ‘As a married mother of three whose husband is very established and has an immovable career in the middle of nowhere I have no chance of ever move to Cali –ever, ever ever. Am I wasting all my spare time writing? Do I ever have a prayer of having a screenwriting career from –dare I say –Utah?’
Screenwriting is probably not your best bet. Honestly, it’s very hard to have a career from Utah because so much of the job of screenwriting isn’t just the pushing 12-point Courier font around on the page. It’s all of the meetings and all of the dealings with people who are making films. That’s really rough to do from Utah. Fiction is a much better choice and people can write books anywhere. You can write the next Twilight from Utah. So I’d say look for some other form of writing you like because it’s going to work a lot better for you in Utah.”
Here is my rewrite for John (written from John’s perspective);
Utah, huh? That’s a great state full of natural beauty like Arches National Park. They have the wonderful Utah Shakespeare Festival in St. George complete with a close replica of the Globe Theatre (where Shakespeare’s play were originally performed). And of course, there is that place up in the mountains where Robert Redford established that little film festival called Sundance where every year in the middle of winter they somehow attract some of Hollywood’s biggest names. (That would be a good place to bump into film people in Utah.)
You didn’t exactly say where in the middle-of-nowhere Utah you were from but let me say that as a Hollywood A-List screenwriter myself that having a screenwriting career is hard even if you live in Los Angeles. Even though I did my undergraduate work at that fine school in Iowa, Drake University, and got an MFA from USC film school and have written hit movies such as Big Fish, Charlie’s Angels; Full Throttle and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (and some other hits I’ve been an uncredited writer on) I still find it a difficult business.
Heck, I stuck my neck out a couple years ago and wrote and directed The Nines which only made $63,000. at the box office. (Yes, $63,000, not $63 million.) So it’s tough for anyone to have a Hollywood career, not to mention being a mom stuck in Utah. Having a screenwriting career in Hollywood is on par with playing basketball in the NBA. The list is actually pretty small.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t pursue screenwriting. If that’s your passion, then by all means write away. But pursuing a Hollywood screenwriting career may not be the best fit for you. There are other options. Since your husband is “very established” as you mentioned perhaps you two can put up the money to have one of your screenplays made into a film. Perhaps start with a short film.
Let me tell you about a young fellow and his wife who did just that a few years ago. First the young man shot a short film in two days while a student at BYU in Utah. That nine -minute 16mm black and white film (Peluca) was made for $500. and shown at Sundance in 2003 and was so well received that it helped him raise $400,000. to make a feature. The young man and his wife wrote the feature script and hired some local actors and shot most of the film in Preston, Idaho — a middle-of-nowhere town on the Idaho-Utah border.
That little 97-minute film actually made it to the 2004 Sundance Film Festival where it was nominated for the Grand Jury Award. (That alone made it a wild success.) But it found a distributor and not only got released but found an audience to the tune of $46 million dollars. You may have heard of the film that Jered & Jerusha Hess made — Napoleon Dynamite.
Let me also point you to a website that I think is very helpful to writers living outside L.A. —Screenwriting from Iowa. The guy who writes it lives in the middle-of-nowhere Iowa but he seems pretty plugged in. He actually posts everyday (apparently there is no traffic in Iowa) and some of it you may find inspirational like this famous screenwriter quote from a post called Screenwriting & the Little Fat Girl from Ohio:
“If you write a script anywhere and send it to an agent in Chicago or Detroit or Cleveland or wherever…and if that agent sends it to an agent in Hollywood who loves it…you can sell your script. You don’t need to have any connections, you don’t need to have an agent, you don’t need to live in L.A. All you have to do is send your finished script to an agent anywhere. That agent will know another agent in Hollywood and you’ll be in business.”
Best wishes in your writing, Stranger than Fiction.
Lots of Big Love — John
* Back to me as Scott W. Smith*
In closing, let me say that re-writing a Hollywood screenwriter is not as exciting as it sounds and the pay is terrible. But I hope this answer finds its way to Stranger than Fiction in Utah. And that it is helpful. John’s probably correct that to have a lasting career in Hollywood it’s best to live in L.A., but it’s important to also point out that in recent years some Minneapolis screenwriters have launched careers while living and writing scripts in the Twin Cities. And both films each made over $100 million at the box office. So Diablo Cody (Juno) and Nick Schenk & Dave Johannson (Gran Torino) prove a career can at least be started outside L.A.
And John is also correct that you can write novels from anywhere and when I last heard there were over 500,000 book titles published last year. As opposed to what, maybe 200 Hollywood films? Stay in Utah (or wherever you live outside L.A.), enjoy your family, and keep writing. But Don’t Waste Your Life just writing screenplays.
Make that little $500. film because you never know where it will lead you.
Scott W. Smith
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