Social Aspects Of WritingWriters who are just entering the field may look at the storylines in current films and think, “Hey, I can do that just as well.” The mistake in this line of thinking is assumption that the ability to write a good story is the only talent a successful writer needs. It’s not. Successful writers need a laundry list of qualities in order to ensure success in the film business. Let’s look at that list:

Talent as creativity – Most writers mistake this as the ONLY necessary skill for success. Creative talent largely stems from a writer’s inborn ability, his intuitive and unique way of seeing and expressing the world. Although it is possible to enhance one’s innate talent by choosing a particular environment, working with collaborators, or exploring resources and research, the creative aspect of a writer’s skillset generally falls into the category of “either you’ve got it, or you don’t.”

Talent as craft – This side of talent must be learned and practiced. The world is full of creative writers who never make it past the stage of keeping a personal journal, because they never exercise the discipline needed to hone their craft.

Time management skills – A good writer must balance his schedule carefully. Most professional writers – both in the film and print industries – know to structure their daily schedules around a strict timetable that conforms to their most creative times of day. For example, writers who do their best work in the morning will usually turn off their phones and work uninterrupted from 9am to noon.

Then they spend their afternoons in meetings, answering correspondence, and browsing through sources for inspiration (other films, the internet, art galleries, etc). In addition to this daily time structuring, a good writer also learns to recognize what the appropriate amount of time to spend on a project is. He doesn’t waste too much time on a project that isn’t going anywhere, and the time he does spend on projects gets structured in a meaningful way.

Amicability – It is always important to know how to deal with people in a polite manner. After all, even if a writer suffers through a flop, the people he worked for will still be willing to give him another shot if he was a pleasure to collaborate with. While many writers entering the field believe that their creative and crafted talent will be their ticket to success, veteran writers know that personality and the ability to form relationships is the true key to success. If word gets out that a writer is difficult to work with, the black mark on his reputation can destroy his career.

Therefore, it is critical that a new writer learns how to establish positive relationships with others in the field, people who will likely be around for the entirety of the writer’s own career. In addition, a writer should fight the urge to be an independent artist. This field thrives on collaboration, both in the sharing of ideas and accepting the critique of an authority figure. The faster a writer learns not to take criticism and advice personally, the faster he will find himself embraced by the film community.

Luck – The final skill needed for success in writing is, unfortunately, entirely out of the writer’s control. Even if a writer creates the perfect script, a host of other factors will affect the success of the film.

For example, the financial success of the film will rely on the circumstances surrounding the release, the extent of a distributor’s investment in the film, the timing of the release, the reactions of the film’s critics, and other elements that could affect audience attendance on opening weekend (such as competition from other films and weather conditions). Although all of this is out of the writer’s control, the resulting box office numbers that result from the film’s release will reflect directly upon the writer’s reputation. This is why amicability is truly the most important skill that a writer can have. It is the only weapon that can combat a reputation built largely upon luck.

Methods of Improving One’s Amicability

Since one’s reputation and subsequent ability to be rehired relies so heavily upon one’s ability to get along with others, it’s worth reviewing a few of the major attitude pitfalls that have swallowed up many a writer in the film industry.

Clarification – Before a writer even starts to create a script, he should discuss and ensure that he understands what the producer’s vision of the film is. This is especially the case when screenwriting books or writing an adaptation. Ask the producer what he wants to be the focus from the source material, and ask what he envisions for this film.  For example, what other existing film has a similar feel?

Who is in an ideal cast? What kind of market will the film bedirected toward? In the case of working on an adaptation, the writer should clarify what about the original story attracted the producer. This way, the writer ensures that he doesn’t accidentally cut out a part that the producer considered integral to the film. Overall, taking the time to clarify what a producer wants before writing begins helps to avoid later misunderstanding and unnecessary rewrites. After all, there will be enough rewrites happening even without this type of miscommunication.

Notes – Getting notes on a script is a difficult necessity in the filmmaking business. Regardless of your personal feelings about the type of comments that a producer or other note-giver is relaying to you, never demonstrate a negative reaction. Avoid getting defensive.

If you disagree with, or are even offended by, a note, don’t immediately respond to it. Instead, take it home, mull it over, and try to find a better solution that will make the note-giver happy. Overall, remember that notes are not a personal attack on your skill as a writer; they are an attempt to collaborate to make this script the best possible product. 

New Writers – The toughest news a writer can receive is that s/he is being replaced. Since the process of writing is intrinsically a personal experience, the news that one’s script is not up to par can be difficult to swallow. Nevertheless, the professional writer knows that sometimes a script simply needs a different kind of voice, and that this need for a replacement is not necessarily an indictment of his or her skill as a writer. The best way to handle being replaced is to do the following:

  • Ask what the producer’s reasons are for replacing you, in a non-defensive manner. Does the script simply need a dialogue polish? Does it need more comedy? Is there a problem with the characterization?
  • Find out what the experience and seniority of the new writer is. You may discover that this new writer can ultimately benefit your reputation by working on your script.
  • Confirm that you will remain the lead writer and will still get the credit.
  • Maintain a close relationship with the producer and director, who may very well be making a business decision rather than a personal one. This helps to ensure future collaboration possibilities.