Last week, the Black List hit New York for a series of events one of which was a screenwriter panel. From Indiewire:
The panelists—Chris Sparling (Cannes 2015 entry “Sea of Trees,” directed by Gus Van Sant), Shari Springer Berman (“American Splendor,” “The Nanny Diaries,” “Ten Thousand Saints”), Michael Zam (“Best Actress”) and Lara Shapiro (“The Americans”)—joined moderator Franklin Leonard, creator of The Black List, to discuss everything from finding the right agent to when it’s time to quit your day job.
Among the issues they discussed, the panelists tackled 5 questions I think would be of interest to most GITS readers.
1. Do I have to live in L.A. to have a career as a working writer?
2. How do I find the right agent?
3. I just got an agent. What can I expect?
4. When can I quit my day job?
5. How long does it take to see your first success?
Some highlights excerpted from the article:
When interviewing with agents, the panelists stressed the importance of gauging their interest in your work. “See if agents ask you the right questions,” said Zam. “Hopefully they’ll ask you about your dream job. And you should ask them what they see for you in the future. There has to be an agreement of vision.” Shapiro agreed: “I haven’t always had people representing me that I felt understood my work or cared about what I wanted to be doing. That should be your number one priority.” Furthermore, Berman emphasized the importance of a personal relationship with an agent. “Make sure you get someone you like and trust, because they will be a big part of your life,” she said.
The overwhelming consensus was that persistence begets success. “I wrote six or seven scripts before I saw success,” said Sparling. “It was a glacial path. At least 10 years, if not more.” In the interim, he kept himself motivated by continuing to write despite repeated failure. “I don’t buy into writer’s block,” he said. “Idea block, sure. But once you’ve outlined and you’re ready to go and you’re writing, there’s no such thing. That’s bullshit. It just comes down to the fear of writing poorly.”
Zam, too, said that fear was inhibitive. “It is the fear of being terrible that stops you,” he said. “Sometimes you have to let yourself write shit so you get to the good stuff. Sit down and do it regardless. Deadlines are the greatest breaker of writer’s block.” After Shapiro had a short at Sundance, she was recruited for the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab. “I wouldn’t have written anything if it weren’t for the Lab,” she said. “Deadlines are everything.”
The panelists agreed that continuing to write is the best antidote to moments of doubt or inertia in a writing career. “I had a lot of near-successes and I was on the periphery for a long time,” said Zam. “I went through a period where I got an agent and things were happening, and then suddenly it was dead. I went into a complete depression for several years and stopped writing. Getting a script out was the thing that broke it for me personally and professionally.”
By all accounts, a terrific and informative Black List session. Later today, I’ll provide a first-hand report about another Black List event that took place this weekend: The inaugural NYC screenwriting mini-lab.
For the rest of the Indiewire article, go here.