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Eight things I learned about freelance writing from people who make movies

In a long ago and faraway time (2010) I went to a Q&A session hosted by Women-in-Communications Detroit Chapter, featuring three panelists active in Michigan’s movie-making

I realize “Michigan’s movie-making industry” sounds like an oxymoron. But for a few years, we tried to plump our sagging economy by luring film makers to Michigan. In the form of tax credits that covered nearly half their production costs. Said financial expert, Pam.

The panelists included screenwriter Harvey Ovshinsky, movie production manager Marguerite Parise, and talent agent Olga Denysenko, all creative folks from Michigan who had survived, and at times thrived, in the tough business of movie making.

I took notes (because I have a talent for note-taking) and even though their observations were specific to movie-making, let me go out on a limb here and say they universally apply to the sad, lonely field of freelance writing. Not that I’m sad and lonely.

Assuming you are interested in notes that are three years old, here’s what they had to say. With my comments in parentheses.

1. “Writing changes nothing; yet it changes everything.” It’s tough to break through the uber-competitive field of screenwriting (maybe that’s the nothing). But if you persevere, it has the power to influence and open minds (the everything).

2. If you want to be a successful screenwriter, satisfy an emotional need. People want to feel like what’s happening in the story is happening to them, therefore making it easier to feel invested. (Make your readers feel something.)  Important if you want your script to get noticed by an agent, or an actor with the power to get it made into a movie. (I’m looking at you, George Clooney.)

3. When you don’t know what you don’t know, you’re free to make it up as you go along (hey, they stole my child-rearing philosophy). This, from the production person transitioning into movie-making from commercials.

4. How do you want to suffer? By doing the work? Or not doing the work? You can whine all you want about how unfair the business is, but that doesn’t get the job done and move you forward. (Must be a lot of whiners in the movie-making biz. This mindset applies to all lines of freelance work.)

5. You can copyright your own work, but since there are only 13 stories in the universe, someone will steal it anyway. (So let’s not dither over things we can’t control.) Interestingly, you can also protect treatments and synopses. (Who knew? Certainly not moi.)

6. With movie production, you may have to work for free to build credits for a resume, which you need to break into the business. No one has to know you worked for free. (Unless you tell them. So don’t.)

7. No such thing as a steady paid job. (That’s why we always have to network.)

8. Success depends on relationships: who you know and how they feel about you. Develop solid relationships with people who can help you. (Oh, this is true, especially how they feel about you.)

What specific types of behaviors have helped you in your freelance writing career?

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November 3, 2013 - 11:27 pm

Jo-Anne - What a great post, so much helpful advice for people who would love to become screenwriters

November 4, 2013 - 1:04 am

pamhoughton - Thanks, loyal reader Jo-Anne!

November 5, 2013 - 12:05 am

Beverly Diehl - I’m not free-lancing (except if you’re a novelist, you kinda are) but these are all still great tips.

RE: #4: Yes, occasionally there is such a thing as an “overnight success,” somebody with a terrific success on the first screenplay, or first novel, just as there are people who win the Super-Lotto. But the average bear, even somebody like JK Rowlings, got to the top of the mountain one step at a time, after a LOT of hard work.

November 6, 2013 - 4:12 am

Natalie - The Cat Lady Sings - Needed to read this tonight…thanks for the tips! I’m not in screenwriting, but freelancing in general is like this.

November 6, 2013 - 12:58 pm

pamhoughton - Glad it helped. Thanks for your comment.

November 7, 2013 - 2:29 am

pamhoughton - Right. Definitely takes a lot of hard work. It’s a long, slow climb to the middle! Thanks for the comment, Beverly.

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