Today rounds out the nine part series with screenwriter, and author of Bring the Funny: The Essential Companion for the Comedy Screenwriter, Greg DePaul.
Scott W. Smith: What do you tell the writer who’s been in L.A. for ten years who’s had some success, maybe writing on a TV show, and/or some indie films made, but financially they’re not where they thought they’d be at this stage of their life. They’re wondering if they’re ever going to get married, or have kids, or have a life. What’s the average house in L.A. now, in the $500,000 range? And what if they’re still paying on student loans? How does that play into a different kind of reality?
Greg DePaul: Are you asking me to talk to me ten years ago?
Greg: I’m a pretty good writer and I got to L.A. at 29 and that was old. The first manager that ever took me to lunch pulled out a contract and said “sign this contract so I can take 15% of what you make and I’m going to get you connections and help you.” He had heard about me through a friend in a writing group. That’s how I made a reputation. And someone had sent him a script of mine without me knowing, and he liked it. So I’m looking at this contract and he said to me, “How old are you by the way?” I was 29 but I told him I was 27, and he said from now on you’re 25. In other words, I lied and then he lied on top of it. I didn’t end up signing with him, but my point is I was only 29. I’m not saying you shouldn’t go out there at 29, you can make it at any age, but it’s hard. Once you have kids it’s a totally different world. I love my kids, so they’re the priority, but it’s a totally different universe. But it was hard to go there at 29, that was old. When I was trying to get a job as a writer’s assistant, and I had some connections, but nobody would hire me. Because they thought I was too old. They wanted somebody who was 22.
But I did it, I’m one of those people who broke into Hollywood, but I made a choice to leave L.A. I’m not crying about it. There’s just other things than Hollywood in my life. Even when I was in L.A. I sometimes lamented that I wasn’t doing enough playwriting. My way of looking screenwriting was I did it for the money, because screenwriters sell the copyright. They sell it outright. You don’t own anything you write as a screenwriter. Playwrights don’t do that. Mark Stein once told me — If you have a really deep personal story, write a play. So you can control it. You’re not going to make any money on it but you’ll feel better. If you have a story that you think will make money and will entertain people and you can watch while eating popcorn that’s a movie. That’s the way that someone who’s a screenwriter and a playwright might think. It’s not the way a filmmaker thinks.
Scott: Author Seth Godin was asked what advice he’d give a start-up company today and he said, “Don’t push the wheelbarrow uphill.” What he was saying was the success of a new business start-up is so small that you don’t want to start with an idea your pushing uphill. When I heard that I thought that transferred real easy to the world of screenwriting. So many people start out with a concept that they’re pushing uphill. Is that something that Writer’s groups ideally should prevent?
Greg: If you’re writing a spec there’s a point where you need people to give you feedback on before you show it to the industry.
Scott: Some people don’t want to show it to anyone because they don’t want the criticism.
Greg: Yeah, that person’s not going to succeed. That’s why you need other writers, other people, that you show stuff to even if they’re not giving you good notes. Because when you start taking meeting you’re going to start hearing lots of bad notes anyway. You have to get used to that process.
Scott: Bride Wars was directed by the late Gary Winick, [Scott note: Winick also directed Pieces of April, which is one of my personal indie favorites] and you said you didn’t go on the shoot, but did you ever talk with Winick?
Greg: No. This is Hollywood. You think he ever called me and said, “Hey, I like your script?” No, he didn’t. I’m sure he was a really nice guy, just overworked like everyone in Hollywood. That’s the whole thing that people don’t get. People want to believe that there’s some artistic journey to independent films because there’s less money involved. Then when you’re in Hollywood everyone is cynical. It’s cynical from the top to the bottom. Everyone’s got to be selfish that’s part of surviving in Hollywood. It’s better to be more realistic about it. I’ve had three films produced and only got to be on the set for one of them. On the other two I was banned.
Scott: The yellow brick road isn’t paved with gold?
Greg: When they made Bride Wars in China they never called me to say they were making it because they didn’t want me to bill them. I had to discovery it and send them a bill. Even though they were under contract to pay me. They wouldn’t have paid me if I hadn’t said, “you owe me this money.” And even to do that I had to pay a lawyer 5% of what I made to do it, which was fine with me. He deserved it.
To me there’s the writing life and a business life. And you have to distinguish between the two. My way of dealing with it is if I wanna write something that’s very personal, I write a play. I get a catchy, marketable concept idea and I write a screenplay.
Greg teaches screenwriting at NYU and The New School, wrote the book Bring the Funny, and blogs at bringthefunny.com. His writing group is Stillwaterwriters.com.
Screenwriter Greg DePaul Q&A (Part 1)
Screenwriter Greg DePaul Q&A (Part 2)
Screenwriter Greg DePaul Q&A (Part 3)
Screenwriter Greg DePaul Q&A (Part 4)
Screenwriter Greg DePaul Q&A (Part 5)
Screenwriter Greg DePaul Q&A (Part 6)
Screenwriter Greg DePaul Q&A (Part 7)
Screenwriter Greg DePaul Q&A (Part 8)
Scott W. Smith
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