“The sale gave me street cred. I was no longer some schmuck from Canada with a script and a dream. I was Mr. Professional Writer with a studio deal.”
Screenwriter James V. Simpson (Armored) on his first sale
Have you ever taken a script you’ve just finished and tossed it in the washing machine? And then put it in the clothes dryer? Yeah, me neither.
But that’s what the last week has felt like since finishing the script Shadows in Dark that I co-wrote. I’ve had hours of conversations going over my script with people turning the story inside out to make sure it can stand on its own. It is a little like watching your clothes tumble over and over in the dryer. Now I have to take it out and work on a new draft gathered with some of the notes. Someone asked me if I was worried about getting too many conflicting ideas. My short answer is, “no.”
I think the job of the writer is to act a filter with the notes you get and the story you are writing. If I had done it before the script was completed it would have been way too confusing. But I’m already on a new script so holding things loosely with the old script. (Even if it’s just two weeks old.) It helps that at this point in the game that everyone who has commented on the script wants Shadows in the Dark to be the best it can be. So I’m grateful that they’ve taken the their time to give me their two cents. (Actually, not even two cents since I haven’t paid anybody even one cent.)
Also, it’s been an interesting week to learn the Cedar Falls, Iowa area where I live is connected to a major movie star, an established producer with decades of hits, and an assistant with one of the major agencies in Los Angeles. On top of Mark Steines, the host of Entertainment Tonight having ties to Cedar Falls. Of course, that doesn’t mean the script has sold (or will even be read by those people) but interesting nonetheless.
But since this week I did write about marketing your script I thought it would be fun to find a quote from someone just after they sold their first script and what that experience was like. Adam Levenberg pointed me in the direction of the blog The Inside Pitch which as far as I know is the only blog written by someone inside one of the top agencies in L.A.—Christopher Lockhart who is the Story Editor with WME (formerly William Morris Endeavor). On his about me section of his blog it says his job is to look “for potential film projects for a small roster of “A” list clients including Denzel Washington and Steve Martin.”
That’s a nice gig. If you’re wondering how you get that kind of set-up, in Lockhart’s case he has an MFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and spent nine years at ICM where his duties included running the story department. He co-produced the feature film The Collector and was producer/writer on the recently released doc Most Valuable Players which was acquired by Oprah Winfrey. Lockhart has also taught at UCLA and given lectures around the country. He doesn’t blog on a regular basis, but he started back in 2006 so there is a wealth of information there.
Back on Novemeber 06 of 2006 Lockhart had a post where screenwriter James V. Simpson wrote about about selling his script Armored (which was released in theaters in 2009). Here is a highlight from the post My First Script:
After the calls from my manager and lawyer congratulating me were finished, I told my wife. She cried and laughed and I told her to start looking for a car because it had been my promise to her that I would buy her a car with the money from my first sale to thank her for her support and tolerating me all these years.
Then I called my mother. She wept when I told her about the sale. For the first time in my life, my mother was proud of me. I don’t care how much money you get, there is nothing more important than your family and sharing this moment with them.
Since my deal had been done without an agent, I immediately had a lot of requests for meetings from agents as well as producers.
This is the victory lap and you have to take it if you want to start a career, so be prepared to be in LA for at least a week to begin with and for longer periods as your career develops.
So he went from writing for no money to writing for money. It reminded me of Stepehen King when his agent told him the paperback right to his first book sold for $400,000. In On Writing, king writes, “On that Mother’s Day in May of 1973 I was completely speechless. I stood there is the doorway, casting the same shadow as always, but I couldn’t talk.” Keep in mind that he was living in a an apartment in Bangor, Maine working as a school teacher making $4,000. a year. So it was a big moment.
How did King celebrate? He writes, “I suddenly felt that I had to buy Tabby (his wife) a Mother’s Day present, something wild and extravagant. I tried, but here’s one of life’s true facts: there’s nothing really wild and extravagant for sale at LaVerdiere’s (a drug store in Bangor). I did the best I could, I got her a hair dryer.” When he gave it too her along with the news she cried. You gotta love those moments. A hair dryer—if he made that up I never want to know.
In those times when you pull your script out of the dryer and it’s all crumpled and torn, it’s important to know that those breakthrough moments that happened to Simpson and King—though rare— do happen.