Justin Ross

You're telling you're friends you're a screenwriter. But can you really call yourself one?

A guy I know who was struggling with this very thing was asked the pointed question by Beau Willimon, the creator of the American "House of Cards." My friend hemmed and hawed. Willimon stopped him and said gently: “Well have you written a script…even one?”

“Yes” my buddy sheepishly replied.

“Then you are a SCREENWRITER!” 

I'm sure you have all read or heard the phrase “Jack of all trades…master of none.” A fella I know created a very good show out of the last part of the quote, but I digress. What then does it mean to be a master of your craft, fellow screenwriter?

Is it knowing proper formatting or having the ability to create compelling characters and clever, layered dialogue and richly exciting plots? It is all of those, yes.

But there is more to it. Much more.

I want to challenge you to know the business that you are part of; to add a well-rounded business mind to your artist heart. That means watching films and shows with a questioning attitude: Why is this appealing or why isn’t it? What might the network or studio or director, etc. have seen in this material that got them excited to make it? What is trending now?

It means reading. Not just blogs like this or Twitter feeds...but actual novels.

It means having at least a basic understanding of what a lit manager does…what a lit agent does and the differences between the two. It means having at least a basic understanding of what a producer does and looks for.

In addition to some of the suggestions above, make sure to educate yourself on what's selling, who's buying what & what projects talent are attaching themselves to. And definitely subscribe to something like "Deadline" and read headlines as they appear in real time. Bottom line: Stay informed.

If possible, talk to producers & reps and ask them smart questions about budgets, content, what is hot and what isn’t in the marketplace. Here, I'm not suggesting to purely write for the marketplace. But there is an importance to shaping the story to what people crave and what is appealing. And how will you know what that is if you aren’t paying attention? Don’t make the mistake I ee so often of folks writing inside a vacuum and creating things that have little to no likelihood of seeing screen time.

We are fortunate to work in a field that does not necessarily require a master’s degree from a university, but the most successful of us have more than an elementary understanding of the business they are in.

So, if you're calling yourself a screenwriter, make sure you honor the calling. 

About The Author

Justin Ross is the EVP of Development & Production for Bohemia Group Originals. He also writes, connecting his two passions: Good people and great stories.

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