Wednesday, June 16, 2021


“If Hollywood were a meritocracy, you’d simply need to be the best at your craft to win! But the best talent doesn’t always get the gig; the best story isn’t necessarily the one funded, produced and celebrated. It often boils down to who has the best relationships. But the dirty secret most don’t know is how easy it is to form valuable, targeted relationships. Like most, they’re looking in the wrong direction. The name on the door. The ones who seem unattainable. But no one is unreachable. Nobody! You just need to know what most don’t. Where to look and how to make yourself welcomed.”

Rewind to the beginning of May and an email drops into my Inbox with an invitation… ‘let’s get together for a chat.’ The unexpected but very welcome email was from legendary Hollywood producer Gary W. Goldstein - Pretty Woman (1990), Under Siege (1992) and a couple of weeks later we managed to arrange a get together via Zoom for a wonderful and informative chat about the business of a successful writing career. 

I’ve always felt that as writers we fall short in how we conduct ourselves with regards to our careers. The business of a successful writing career is usually something that isn’t taught by screenwriting courses and a thing new writers very rarely give much thought to. I cringe every time I see a new writer declaring they’ve just finished their first screenplay in a screenwriting group and then asking their peers for contact details of producers to send it to. They expect it to be that easy to get their screenplay produced and then wonder why no one replies to their query letters.

As writers, we’re often too busy focusing on every minute detail of our screenplays that we forget or are ignorant of the need to work just as hard in other areas to create our successes. So the first thing I wanted to know from Gary was what he thought helped writers succeed and what they did that was different to writers that don’t?

“Well, to begin, successful writers don't hide themselves from the very people who are best positioned to help champion their future. It’s not that they're unafraid. It’s that their mission, commitment, mindset and self-promise to do whatever it takes to live their dream is bigger and stronger than the fears or stories that might otherwise stop them from taking action. The choice to take action in the face of modest or momentary discomfort not only quiets the fear, but delivers experiences and results that quickly replace fear with enthusiasm, surprise, and self-pride.”

What common mistakes did he think writers continually make that prevent them from succeeding?

The fundamental yet deeply flawed tool most every writer is taught and relies on is the blind query letter. By emailing loglines and project descriptions with a request to submit, the writer can check the box, feel good when they go to sleep that night, thinking ‘I've done my bit. I've handled the business side of my business.’ Yet the reality is the vast majority of queries go unanswered. Almost all. The constant refrain is, ‘I'm so frustrated! I've sent out hundreds of queries, only to be met with silence or, once in a while, a pass.’ Doing the same thing over and over without reward is deflating, exhausting and, over time, begins to create an unnecessary, unwanted, negative story.”

We’ve all been guilty of this, me included, sending out mass query letters/emails in the hope that someone will read our screenplay, see our obvious genius and sign us up. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. Why then, do we as writers place so much optimism and hope in those blind query letters/emails?

Writers can often be somewhat introverted and/or socially isolated and, like so many people, they're not innately entrepreneurial, nor have they been taught effective tactics or given the right toolkit. So they’re left to mimic what their teachers teach and peers practice. It’s a perfect storm of circumstances that prevents a writer from seeing over the hedgerow, seeing the bigger picture or opportunity right in front of them. And, truth be told, it feels safe. Sending out emails keeps them at arms length from the rejection they fear. Ironically, it’s that very distance - the length of your arm - that invites or causes that very rejection. It’s deceptively risky to insist on comfort; to quash your desires in an effort to avoid risk, awkwardness or growth. But since a writer’s only doing what everyone else does or advocates, it’s reasonable. Or is it?  What’s persistently proven itself a failed strategy is the very thing that can waste years and bury countless amazing stories and projects.

For most of my life, when I haven’t been writing, I’ve worked in various sales and service industry roles. You would think then, I’d be used to selling myself, to phoning up people and making connections as I did when I worked in telesales? But no, I’m still scared of picking up the phone and talking to a real, live person.

I can’t speak to why other writers are scared of putting themselves out there, but the reason I find it so hard is I’m terrified of rejection. To me, it always feels personal even though logically I know it isn’t. The funny thing is though, if I don’t make that call I will have already failed anyway, so what do I have to lose by taking a chance? Fear is a stupid thing and it’s ridiculous how much of a hold over me it has at times.

If this is you too, the best advice I can give is to accept the fear and do it anyway. It’s only by doing something repeatedly that we become used to it. If you hide from it you are going nowhere fast and your fear will prevent you from moving forward.

Your significant investment of soul equity and years of honing your craft - a formidable and admirable commitment - deserves to be supported with effort designed to make you stand out, be known, welcomed, acknowledged, appreciated… and read! A reluctance to engage with the world, to announce yourself as artist, writer, creator, in favor of avoiding the very people who desire and need to know you (not just your latest script) is not a recipe for success. What most writers fail to recognize is their essential value, which is a perfect blend of their personal story (aka personality and history) and their stories (scripts). The writer and his or her fresh stories - the stuff everyone’s in search of, the very job definition of most who work in film or tv. What a writer has to offer is a unique perspective and projects that are desperately needed. The artist matters. Their stories matter. The irony is that, most often, the one who doesn’t recognize this reality is the writer.”

And Gary’s right. It’s not enough to have a great screenplay, you also have to put yourself out there, regardless of how uncomfortable it makes you feel. The groundwork you lay will determine the level of success you reach and getting to know others, and more importantly, letting them get to know you, is how you’re going to succeed.

I understand and empathise because sending a quick email is the far easier option, less terrifying but ultimately also the laziest way of connecting with people there is. And it isn’t an effective tool as I’ve only had minimal success from this tactic. My greater successes have been from direct contact with people, building relationships with them and letting them come to me rather than me begging them to read/make my work. It’s worth noting that all but one of my commissions are a direct result of my networking. And if I’m really honest, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

So how do you put yourself out there? How do you get yourself noticed in a scrum of competing writers from around the world?

“Taking small actions on a consistent basis, intentionally targeting the very people you most want to know you and your body of work, building bridges and creating rapport, being curious and other-focused - these are the anchors of success. It’s about you, the writer. And despite stories to the contrary, most are extremely welcoming. Especially when not asked in a first exchange by a total stranger to spend a couple of hours reading a script. But rather being genuinely greeted. It’s the simple math of our humanity. And after a handful or two of initial awkward introductions, you discover it’s shockingly easy. It’s ok to be vulnerable and truthful (even if that means admitting to another that you’re nervous). This is an entirely different level of play than an agent submitting your projects on your behalf. One is about a short-term result that is decidedly unpredictable; the other is building rapport-turned-friendship that endures for the whole of your career - where results inevitably follow. This is an order of magnitude more personal and thus powerful than, say, being active on social media."

So get out there and don’t be afraid to be yourself. Be nice! Be kind! Be generous! Don’t push! Don’t pester! Show genuine enthusiasm for your contact’s work and only get in touch with them if you have something to say, an update on how you are progressing as a writer for example.

The Zoom chat with Gary zoomed by (excuse the pun) and he had plenty more insightful things to say about making your writing career successful, so stay tuned for further blogs as, for now, we’ve only just scratched the surface.

Happy writing!

Gary W. Goldstein has produced some of Hollywood’s biggest box-office hits, generating well over a billion dollars in worldwide revenue, receiving multiple Academy Award nominations, People’s Choice Awards, a Golden Globe and various other awards.

Gary’s novel, Conquering Hollywood; The Screenwriter’s Blueprint For Career Success, is available from all good booksellers.

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