I met another one. A screenwriter wannabe, that is. Probably in his early thirties. Anyway, he saw me working on a script at a Starbucks. He kept looking over at me. He finally said, “You working on a script?” I told him, “Yeah, I’m just doing a rewrite.” Then he went on to tell me how he’s been working on some ideas of his own. So we kinda got to talking about the whole screenwriting thing. This is pretty much how our conversation went:
HIM: How long have you been writing?
ME: Professionally, since about the early nineties. But I’ve been writing stuff since I was a kid. Most of that was sketch comedy…
HIM: Cool. So you’re a professional writer?
ME: Well, that’s what my tax returns say.
ME: What about you? How long have you been writing?
HIM: Well, I haven’t actually written anything yet. I’ve just been thinking up some ideas. I have a couple of good ones.
ME: Great. So what do you do when you’re not writing?
HIM: Construction sometimes. The money’s pretty good. But I really want to get into the movie industry. I’d be so stoked if I could write a blockbuster.
ME: Well, that ain’t easy. Does it have to be a blockbuster?
HIM: I hear the money’s good if you can write something like War of the Worlds…
ME: Sure, but those are assignment jobs. You’d pretty much have to be an established writer to get a gig like that.
HIM: Oh. Well, I don’t want to waste my time writing that low-budget art house sh*t.
ME: So, you’re basically interested in all this for the money…and not the writing, not the art?
[He just sorta grinned at this.]
ME: Well, good luck to ya.
HIM: Do you know any agents?
ME: Uh, yeah. A few.
HIM: Can you hook me up?
ME: Nope. Sorry.
HIM: I hear you need an agent to sell your scripts.
ME: Not always. But you have to have scripts first. You told me you just have ideas. Agents don’t want your ideas, they want your scripts.
HIM: I’ll have a script soon. By summer. I just need some more time to work out details.
HIM: The script I’ve been thinking about is sort of like X-Men. Loads of action…
ME: Action is great, but do you have a story?
HIM: That’s what I’ve been working on. I have my heroes, I only need to figure out what each of them do.
ME: Like superpowers, that sort of thing?
HIM: Yeah. So listen to this: I have this one character who –
ME: Stop! I’d rather you didn’t tell me. If I write a script that’s similar, you’ll come back and sue me.
HIM: I wouldn’t do that.
[Yes, I knew it would never happen, but I had to do something to keep him from telling me his story idea. If I had a dollar for every story idea I’ve heard…Ugh.]
HIM: So why won’t you hook me up with an agent?
ME: I told you…you need scripts. You don’t have any scripts!
HIM: You’ll see, I’ll be a big-time screenwriter one day…
ME: Well, when that day comes, give me a call and I’ll take you to lunch.
HIM: Seriously, can you hook me up?
[Now I’m just laughing at this guy.]
HIM: I hear CAA is a big agency. Do you know anyone at CAA?
ME: Um, nope.
HIM: Who’s your agent?
ME: Ronald Hartung over at United Agency. They’re in Hollywood, on Sunset Boulevard. [Of course, this is a completely bogus name, company, and location.]
HIM: Can I call him?
ME: Sure, go ahead. They’re in the phone book. But he won’t talk to you.
ME: I told you.
HIM: Well, when I get my scripts written.
ME: OK, then, but only when you get your scripts written.
HIM: What’s your name?
ME: Sturges. Preston Sturges.
HIM: I’ll have my script written by June or July.
ME: Then you'd better get crackin'. But hey, good luck. By the way…how long have you wanted to be a writer?
HIM: I got into it about two years ago.
ME: And you haven’t written anything yet?
HIM: Hey, man, I’ve been trying to. I gotta work, pay those bills. I’m paying for a [he mentioned some very pricey utility vehicle].
ME: You can’t write in your off hours?
HIM: It’s hard, man. My girlfriend and I do stuff. She’s a DJ at a club and sometimes I help out. Man, the girls I meet at these clubs! Sh*t, if I wasn’t engaged to my girlfriend…
ME: Well, look, you need to find time to write, even if it’s half an hour a day, every day. It’s the only way you’ll get it done.
HIM: I’ll get it done. You’ll be seein’ my name on the big screen one day.
ME: I hope so. Well, I gotta get going. What’s your name, by the way?
ME: Good meetin’ you, Ed. Good luck with everything.
HIM: You too, Pete.
ME: Preston. Preston Sturges.
Then I was out the door. I glanced back and poor Ed was just sitting there, sipping his latte and watching people walk by. I know I gave him a hard time, and I truly felt bad about giving him the wrong name and agent information, but what else could I do? Sure, I could’ve just told him, “Sorry I don’t reveal my name and agent info.” But I think that really would’ve upset him. Besides, he’ll never try to call that phony agent. Never. I’ll go back to that same Starbucks (luckily I rarely ever go in there) and he’ll be sitting there, drinking his latte, watching the world walk by. I’ve met too many people like this. They talk about writing screenplays, but they never actually do anything about it. Look, if you truly want to be a screenwriter, you need to do the work. You need to produce product. You need to deal with reality. So, get your head out of the clouds, get your mind off the money you may potentially make, do your homework, set aside some time to write…and GET TO WORK.