Hollywood is mostly noise.
The noise I am talking about is not the perpetual drone of the 6 million vehicles that pack LA County freeways or the 10 million people who take up residence here. I am talking about the noise that comes from the aspirations of a city swollen with “starving artists”. If you could take that noise and slow the babel down to hear each articulated pronunciation, you would hear one simple message: Look at me.
Each year roughly 50,000 screenplays are registered with the Writer’s Guild of America. Hollywood studios release around 150 films a year. If you include the independent films that get limited releases (some very limited) there may be as many as 600 films released a year. Some basic math will reveal that the work of an aspiring screenwriter has a 0.003% chance of getting made into a feature film by a Hollywood studio and a 0.012% chance that the screenplay will get made at all. Furthermore, those 50,000 unproduced screenplays don’t go away at the end of the year. They are deposited into an ocean of existing screenplays that float around with scripts from the year before, and the year before that, and the year before that…
To be honest, a large percentage of those 50,000 unproduced screenplays are poorly written and do not warrant consideration to be made into a feature film. However, I assure you that not one of the writers would say their screenplay is not good enough to be made into movie. This is why Hollywood is so noisy. The supply obnoxiously exceeds the demand. So you have a city full of dreamers clamoring, “Look at me! Look at me!”
Aside: While I cannot speak for my actor friends – whom I personally think have tougher go of it than us writers – I believe the odds are similarly stacked against them. The same goes for musicians and other performing artists.
When people say they got their “break” they mean they broke through the noise. They said “look at me” and someone with influence paid attention.
One of the ways a screenwriter can rise above the noise is to have his or her work place in a screenwriting contest. The Nicholl Fellowship is an annual screenwriting competition hosted by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (the same Academy that presents the Oscars). It is a well respected competition and while winning the competition can change your life, you don’t need to win. Simply placing as a semi-finalist or quarter-finalist can make a difference. It means your script was scored higher than 95% of the scripts entered. It gives you legitimacy and a chance to rise above the noise. Your name gets on the list.
I received my gently worded letter from the Nicholl Fellowship this week. I was informed that my script, The Resurrection of Dennis Munson, did not place in the top 5%. The letter went on to say that it missed placing by the “thinnest of margins, only a point or two.” In fact, it placed in the top 6%. But, like placing 4th in the Olympics, that is not good enough to get on the list.
So for now, I remain in the ranks of the noise, but I raise my glass for being among the best of the noise.
A WRITER KEEPING THE FAITH IN LOS ANGELES