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In 12 Years: What I Learned About Screenwriting

Chris Wehner is a published author, journalist, critic and professional screenwriter. He has worked in the field for over 10 years. He was recently Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Screenwriter's Monthly and VP of Development for MoviePartners. Currently his screenplay, EL CAMINO, is in development with Golden Light Films in Los Angeles and is scheduled to go into production early next year. He recently (09/2005) optioned his latest script, THREESOME, to producer Ted Melfi and is scheduled to go into pre-production this year. His book, Screenwriting on the Internet: Researching, Writing & Selling Your Script on the Web was a Top Seller at The Writer's Store and his latest book "Who Wrote That Movie?" has received praise as well.

Screenwriting 101 - Top rated class by Chris Wehner
(Well, I’m not an expert so lets start with that gutless disclaimer first.)

12 years of screenwriting has taught me some things that I want to share. I’ve made money as a screenwriter, columnist, and non-fiction writer. When I started all those years ago on the Internet as this “Schmuck with a keyboard” I never thought I would get as far as I did; though I still really never made it all the way….yet. So I feel like I am the perfect one to give you some advice. I am still one of you to an extent and still on the fringes trying to fight my way in.

1) PATIENCE – there is no way to overstate this important trait that you MUST develop if you ever wish to make money (as I have) as a screenwriter or any kind of writer, period. It took me 4 years to get an agent; another 2 years to lose the agent; 5 years to make money as a writer; 6 years to get my first option; 7 years to quit my day job; 10 years to get my first assignment; 10 years to make good money (once) as a writer; 12 years to realize that what I know is really not much.

2) CHARACTER – and I am not talking about the ones you create at midnight in the throws of a creative convergence. I’m talking about YOU! Your character as a person and your psyche. You have to learn to live with yourself no matter what ends up happening. On no less than 3 occasions I was convinced that I was going to have my movie made. Had funding & contract (if it weren’t for that cast approval thingy); had Deal Memos on 2 occasions and it all added up to only more frustrations. I gave up twice only to realize I love to write.

3) TALENT – Ok, I put this third as we all know there are a lot of marginally talented folks making lots of money in Hollywood. I think talent is right there with:

3a) CONTACTS – It’s a WHO you KNOW business. What was it I read recently? Oh yeah, only about 4 or 5 percent of Hollywood’s screenwriters get the top screenwriting gigs. They are the ones making all the money because they are the ones who have the contacts. Are you serious about making it as a writer? Well, you can start with the online stuff, independent route, and that can get your foot in the door. But ultimately, you have to go THERE…

4) BE A STUDENT – not in the take classes continually sense (though I do teach online at and taking 1 or 2 can help :). But as you develop your craft you must always be reading, writing, and watching. Improve your craft (art) by always being on the KNOW. Watch movies, read screenplays and books, read those Hollywood insider mags and websites, and always be writing. (ABW).

5) COMMITMENT – This goes with Patience and Character, but we all know there have been lots of folks who succeeded without a lot of heart or commitment. But for us, you and me, we gotta have the heart to go on every stinking day.

6) THICK SKIN – I have had some of my writing literally thrown away in front of me. I have had my ability as a writer questioned (and maybe rightfully so). You have to be able to take constructive criticism, that’s a no-brainier. It’s that egomaniac, bug-eyed, red-faced producer who froths at the mouth when they don’t get what they want though they can’t communicate what it is they really do want. And when they start spitting trying to sputter out their contempt for you…. Ah, Joy.

7) USE THE INTERNET WISELY – there’s a lot out here that can help you, use it. It can be your foot in the door. But don’t let it become your crutch. Sometimes, a lot of times, just reach under that desk and pull the plug. Grab a notebook and a pencil and go outside and:

8) LIVE LIFE – you will become a better screenwriter if you get out of that apartment, duplex, condo, whatever, and go out and smell the flowers or the dogshit. You need to experience life in order to fill that well of knowledge, emotions, and experiences that you can tap into and use in your writing. It takes more than creativity or imagination to be a writer. It requires that you hurt a little, bleed some, and heal over time. It requires that you live a little…

9) YOUR CHARACTERS – Ok I have to mention the actual craft and art that is screenwriting. What I have learned? Well, it’s not so much about gimmicks or hooks, though they are important in certain respects, but at the end of the day can you write great characters? Can you write the kind of characters that rapture your audience (reader) and make them forget what is around them? Craft them well, make them real; not too real as they are after all supposed to be a little better (or worse) than the rest of us.

10) GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO GIVE UP – so long as it is only temporary.

I hope as we reach the New Year this short list can be of some use.



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