“I knew that I wanted to make movies but I kinda didn’t know what you do.”
Chris Terrio (Talking about after graduating from college)
Screenwriter Chris Terrio is now Oscar-winning screenwriter Chris Terrio. His script for Argo was not only a winner for him but the movie also took home the Oscar for best film.
His career path took a few years—heck, even his Argo script which everyone loved took five years to get made. But the path Terrio took is also a familiar one; born in New York City, private Catholic schools, undergraduate work at Harvard, a year graduate study in England, MFA at USC, Sundance, Oscar-winner. But those impressive credentials gloss over the lean years and the dedication to writing of the now relatively wealthy and well-known 36-year-old screenwriter.
“When you’re not in the [WGA] you’re just grateful for anything that’ll you give you a month of rent or a couple months of rent. My first couple of jobs were New York independent things. And for really smart interesting producers trying to do smart interesting things. But of course there wasn’t a lot of money for an untested writer. So if somebody had read some things you’d written, or a play you’d written, or a script you’d written on spec then sometimes you’d get paid 5,000 bucks, if you’re lucky, on a good day maybe 10,000 bucks. Or just here’s lunch if you’ll let me be the guy to take your screenplay around, and you’re grateful for that. One of the things I’m not sure you’re always prepared for is the loneliness of it. You really have to get to a mental place where every single day you can be prepared to be alone for long periods of time.
December 2012 interview with David Poland on The DP/30 Channel
P.S. For what it’s worth, the Harvard and USC education costs about $400,000. in today’s dollars. The Catholic schools Terrio attended in Staten Island are probably worth another $50,000—100,000. It’s often hard to pay back any college loan, much less when you’re making $5,000 or $10,000 on an occasional script sale. (In fact, on the above interview Terrio says he got himself into “crippling, crippling debt which I literally paid off two months ago.”) Nobody’s sugar-coating things here. A friend of my is producing a documentary called Broken, Busted, & Disgusted about the true cost of a college education. On their website they say 2/3 of college graduates have loan debts, averaging $25,000. It’s an important topic that I’ll write more about more in detail later. You can also learn more about the film on their Facebook page.
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