“Anyone who buys the idea that great athletes are dim should have a close look at an NFL playbook.”
David Foster Wallace
By far the most read post on this blog is How Much Do Screenwriters Make? In fact, I just Googled that phrase and out of the 1,070,000 results, my 2009 post was on the first page. In that post I contrasted working screenwriters and NFL football players and made this observation:
“While reading over the WGAw report I made another connection between screenwriting & the NFL. On the film side there were 1,553 male writers employed in the last year of the report. That’s about 150 less writers than players in the NFL any given year.”
Perhaps someone else made the connection before, but I’d never read or heard it if they did. And perhaps the reason I did make that connection is before I went to film school I played 11 years of organized football. Didn’t come close to making the pros, but have more than a casual understanding of the game. (I’ll write an extended post script if you’re interested in me unpacking how I may of had the shortest career of any University of Miami football player.)
Now 6 years after my original post John August and Craig Mazin picked up that football verses screenwriting on their Scriptnotes podcast (Episode 215) and ran with it some. They added some insights and based some of their thoughts on a photo about the odds of making it in the NFL. No matter how you tweak the metrics, the odds of a player making it to the NFL are small.
The shorthand facts are there are a million high school football players any given year and only 6.5% of those will play NCAA college football, and only 1.6% of college football players will ever play pro football. And of those that make it that far, only 150 will have careers that reach the four year mark. And while the 2014 league minimum of $420,000 makes a nice salary for anyone (especially when you’re in your early 20s), that chart estimated after taxes that’s a take home pay around $252,000. Still good money if you don’t squander it—which many pro athletes are famous for doing.
Quarterback Tom Brady is one of the best players in the NFL and let’s call his contract $9 million a year (the actual number is higher but getting into the structure of his contract is complicated, so let’s just stay with $9 million). Brady’s teammate Malcolm Butler was the hero of the Super Bowl last year when his interception in the end zone sealed the New England Patriots Super Bowl win. Last year Butler made the league minimum salary with no signing bonus—$420,000.
I don’t see it as self-defeating to talk in terms of the odds in making in as a pro football player or as a high paid screenwriter. Just shows you how high the bar is to make it. A few years ago I wrote the post How to Be a Successful Screenwriter where I unpacked screenwriter Michael Arndt‘s journey to becoming an Oscar-winning screenwriter. (Basically he wrote ten screenplays before selling one. And that one took five years to get made.) The 99% Focus Rule has another great quote by Arndt for aspiring screenwriters.
The other thing is even if you fail in your dreams others opportunities come out of those ashes. Every once in a while the consolation gig is superior to the original dream. When I was at Miami the back-up quarterback to Jim Kelly was Mark Richt who never had pro career, but he’s now the head coach at the University of Georgia. (I bet the number is pretty small of athletes his age who had NFL careers and can match his million dollar plus annual salary these days.) David Chase never became the feature screenwriter he wanted to be, but he did okay with a little show called The Sopranos. (Not sure his net worth would be in the $80 million range if he’d been a feature film screenwriter.)
You might still get work in other aspects of film, TV, or Internet productions. And there are many other opportunities in theater, education, churches, non-profit organizations, and in the corporate world where you can earn a living off of your talent and creativity. And, of course, there is no expiration date on writing screenplays. Arndt made the decision before his success that he was going to be a screenwriter for life. If you still have ideas, desire, and passion to write—then write.
Just don’t forget to have a life.
P.S. (A longer than average postscript for those really interested in football.)
On Friday night I did something I hadn’t done in 20 years— I went to a football game where I used to play high school football. While years ago they tore down the old Lake Howell High School buildings and rebuilt new ones, the football stadium is essentially the same from the day it was built back in the ’70s.
While the game wasn’t very good, it was fun to take in the atmosphere and watch the various cliques in stands like a live version of a John Hughes film. On the field, sidelines, and surrounding track I found the players, coaches, cheerleaders remarkably similar to when I was in high school. The two schools bands as much as anything stirred my sense I was back in high school. And after the game I met Coach Ken Kroog who was my receiver coach in high school when I scored three touchdowns one game.
They also had six or seven posters displayed of Lake Howell players who had made it to the NFL including Chuck Scott who played for the L.A. Rams and the Dallas Cowboys. Chuck and I were the two starting receivers when I was a senior year and he was a junior.
His senior year he became an all state player, and a few years later while playing at Vanderbilt became an All American tight end. Currently, his son Calab Scott plays receiver at Vanderbilt and his son Chad Scott plays football at Furman. Smart and talented family. And Chuck’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. (And I actually was working at Yary Photo in Southern California and took the rookie photo of him below when the Rams were based out of Anaheim.)
Perhaps the greatest football player to come out of Lake Howell is Brandon Marshall who scored the game-winning touchdown yesterday for the New York Jets. He’s a five time pro bowl player and this is his tenth year in the league. Actor Scott Porter (Friday Night Lights) also played football at Lake Howell, and screenwriter Jamie Linden who wrote the football centered film We Are Marshall also graduated from Lake Howell.
Here’s my entire football career summarized in three photos. An all-conference photo, a letter from Miami’s head coach Howard Schellenberger, and an article on being injured. It really wasn’t career ending injury, but after I had surgery on my shoulder I decided to focus on school in L.A. since that’s where people seemed to head after they graduated. The reason I say I may of had the shortest career of any Miami player is I was injured the week after dressing for only one game. A game in which I played exactly zero plays. Not exactly going out in a blaze of glory.
But I do have one fond memory of playing at Miami. When you’re a walk-on you are mainly on the scout team (when not standing around) meaning whatever team the varsity is playing, you are running that teams’ plays. There was one particular practice where I caught a lot of passes and Stanely Shakespeare (who was a freshman then, but would later start at wide receiver on Miami’s first National Championship team, and play one season in the NFL) said to the JV coach, “You gotta start Scott, he catches everything.” That was validation that I at least belonged there. But at 5’9″ 160 pounds—even before my injury— I realized my shelf life was limited.
The Perfect Ending (One of the reason I went to Miami was the film program.)
Postcard #24 (Coral Gables)
Tinker Field: A Love Letter
‘If you want to write, write’—Guillermo del Toro
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously) John Logan spent 10 years working in a library and writing plays, but eventually found screenplay success co-writing the football-centered movie Any Given Sunday with Oliver Stone.