Carter Blanchard is a great example of talent meeting persistence. His first writing credit is a short film he directed in 1989. Since that time, he has landed numerous writing assignments and sold multiple spec scripts including “Virus” (1994), “Frigid & Impotent” (1995), ”Bedbugs” aka “Dead Asleep” (2004), and “Near Death” (2007). For anyone working in the entertainment industry, that is a long stretch of time. However it is with his most recent spec script “Glimmer” that Carter’s fortunes took a quantum leap, the script selling in a bidding war and making the 2012 Black List and Hit List.
Today in Part 4, Carter talks about persisting through lean years and the necessity of “stupid arrogance.”
Scott: Let’s follow‑up with even some more good news. What was your reaction when you found out the script made the 2012 blacklist?
Carter: Oh, that was great. It was a nice way to end a really good year.
Scott: Safe to say that 2012 was a hell of a year for you?
Carter: Yeah. Kind of a life changing. Life saving in some ways. As a writer, it’s the kind of year you dream about.
Scott: That leads me to another question. You’ve been working in the business for about 20 years, and obviously anybody who works in Hollywood, you have ups and downs in terms of employment. What are some of those keys you found in being able to sustain a career as a writer?
Carter: Well, luckily I did have that IRA money to keep myself going in 2011. I sold my first big spec script in 1994. I’ve been able to make a living at it ever since. That’s been one thing I didn’t have to monkey around with too much, was find other employment to keep things going. Psychologically it’s a different story. There were a few things that hit pretty big and then dissolved.
One was a spec called “Frigid & Impotent.” In 1995 I sold that to New Line and Drew Barrymore was attached to star. It was a pitch black comedy… very of the ’90s tonally, just whacked out. It got a lot of attention, a lot of press. It put my name on the map. Marty Bowen was my agent at the time. He did a lot for me but I didn’t know how sustain the success. First, that script was something I worked on extensively for two years. I did the student film, then did a draft, then had a writing partner on it for a year and took it out pre-Marty with a boutique agent. Got a lot of positive reads and meetings, but no sale. I took it back, sat on it for about four years before I came back to it and rewrote it on my own. Then I sold it, but only because I’d worked so hard, done so many drafts.
When you’re starting out, you’ve got to put in the hours, you’ve got to put in the time. Part of sustaining a career is sheer persistence. Just writing and writing and writing and not giving up. I always had that fire in my belly back then to keep working through times when I think other people might have dropped out. It was just stupid arrogance on my part, I think, which I’m glad I had, but my ambition at the time was completely unrealistic. [laughs] Because once I got out there with this sample everyone liked, I couldn’t follow‑up. A couple of jobs I got, they were expecting a draft delivered in 8 to 12 weeks and I didn’t have the chops to do that yet. I had good ideas. I was a decent storyteller. But I was still in the process of learning the craft of writing. It was a trial by fire.
I skipped along, got some jobs. Then I got a big assignment, “Marian and Robin,” at Disney. That somehow made the front page of the Hollywood Reporter when it was announced, or Variety, one of them. Another burst of attention after a cold spell. But it wasn’t a script I did a very good job on. One reason was that was the wrong script for me to be writing, which is another thing you have to pay attention to. You should only go for stories you really love. Stories that you feel confident that you can tell.
A couple years later I was going broke when I sold a spec called “Bedbugs” to New Line. That was a similar situation to “Glimmer” in that it sold in a day. It was the most money I’d ever made and kept me going for the next several years. But my mistake in following up that time was that I pitched everything that was thrown at me and got overwhelmed. I was going up for too many things, so I couldn’t give my full attention to any one thing. I burned myself out pitching a lot of shit and didn’t land a single job in the wake of that sale. I got ice cold again before selling a spec called “Near Death” to Searchlight in 2007. That wasn’t as big a sale, but it led to a few assignments. Then nothing got made and suddenly it was 2011 and I’m running out of money again. But that time it was worse because I was older and the spec market had contracted. That’s when I started thinking, it was a good run, but I’ve reached the end. Milked it dry.
I knew there were still some good scripts left in me and I was going to keep writing, but I was going to find a job teaching or work in reality TV where I knew some people. I could make a living doing that. I didn’t know what was going to happen at that point. Then this story just came to me.
Scott: What I’m hearing there is persistence, hard work. I think that phrase you said, was it “stupid arrogance” or something?
Carter: Yes. A fool’s confidence. I just thought I was brilliant back then. I don’t think I’m brilliant now. I think I’m lucky and hard-working. But before I used to think, “Oh, I’m so talented, I’m so brilliant, and anything I come up with is going to be amazing.” That’s just so funny when I look back at what I was writing then… what an idiot I was. But I had to feel that way or I would have quit. Any rational person would have thought, “What am I doing? This is stupid. I’m going to ruin my life pursuing this.”
Carter has parlayed his success with that script into a high profile writing assignment, adapting the best-selling video game “Spy Hunter” into a movie for Warner Bros.
For Part 1, go here.
For Part 2, go here.
For Part 3, go here.
Tomorrow in Part 5, Carter shares his thoughts about some aspects of the screenwriting craft.
Please stop by comments to thank Carter and ask any questions you may have.
Carter is repped by Paradigm and Madhouse Entertainment.
You can follow Carter on Twitter: @CartBlanch.