Hindsight is 20/20

June 30, 2014

 

 

It's that time!  Former students are headed to college and wondering what to do...

 

1.

Ms. Flanagan:   I saw your post about your success as a playwright! I was happy to see this, especially since I'm seriously considering studying and pursuing either screenwriting or play-writing.  Might you have any tips or nuggets of advice regarding that area of work?

 

Dear X:

 

I came to playwriting rather late in the game, only after I threw in the towel RE: acting, so the advice I have is more from what I've seen rather than what I've done. 

 

Playwriting: it's pretty much impossible to make a living as a playwright, so be prepared to supplement your income by teaching or something else.  Some lucky playwrights also write for TV - not an easy gig to land but one that is well paid.  Most teach.  Others live off grants and fellowships (that means living really cheaply and being prepared to move a lot as to where the grant takes you - which is great for the young and/or nomadic.)   The advantages of writing for the stage vs. screen are that it's easier to get produced on stage and the writer is King; you have control over the script.  Also (personally), I think it's more artistically fulfilling.

 

Screenwriting:  it's much, much harder to sell a script and even harder than that to actually have it produced but if you DO, the pay can be really great.  A bonus these days is that, with digital media, you can self produce your stuff and at least create a reel and body of work without having to get past the gatekeepers in Hollywood.  Plus, if you manage to create a webseries or indie film that garners attention, Hollywood will come to you.  Or not.  It is SUCH a crapshoot, so make sure you really love doing it for the sake of doing it - that way any outcome is win/win.  If you are lucky enough to land a high paying gig, you (as the writer) are NOT in control.  You are the hired help and you'll have to take notes from everyone:  the Studio Exec, the Producer, the Star, the Director, the Person Currently Sleeping With the Director, The Guy who Drives the Food Truck, etc.  Most of these notes will be vague, counter productive, and/or blindingly stupid, but He Who Doth Pay the Bills Doth Call the Shots.

 

As far as a course of study, I'd say pursue both if you can (I believe most schools allow for this in undergrad.)  If you had to pick one, I'd probably go with playwriting as playwrights have a certain cache in Hollywood, I think plays are more pleasurable to read than screenplays (and you'll be reading a lot of 'em), and there is more freedom in the form (screenwriting tends to be very formulaic.) 

 

If, upon graduation, you decide to be a full fledged playwright, first apply to the Playwright's Bureau for your license :), then consider grad school.  While an MFA from a heavy hitting Theater school like Yale, the Iowa Writer's workshop, NYU (etc.)  is not necessary by any means, in hindsight, I've observed that the connections made in these top tier MFA programs seem to be directly correlated to which playwrights break into the top tier of producing venues.  (If I could go back in time, that's what I would have done, but I'm not about to uproot my life and pursue an MFA now.  As a side note, if you EVER have a chance to study with Paula Vogel, DO IT. She is the BEST writer/teacher I've ever had the pleasure of meeting and I've been lucky to meet quite a few with the various fellowships I've landed.)  

 

While an MFA in screenwriting can be helpful too, again, mostly for connections (UCLA, USC being the top choices),  it seems less crucial in that I see/hear about people breaking through in a myriad of ways.  Screenwriting is more competitive as the $ reward is greater, but also more "open" in that the Theater world is still coated in this slight veneer of academic snobbery (thus the MFA benefit) whereas Hollywood will take on anyone *if* they think they can make money off you. 

 

Ultimately, do what you love.  Yes, you want to think strategically up to a point but the world is such that your career may change a million times over the course of your life, and certain careers become obsolete (i.e. print journalism), but if you love what you do, or at least LIKE it, you're going to be able to adapt and you'll be happy regardless.

 

 

2. 

Ms. F:   I seriously want to pursue something in the performing arts/writing field, but I also want to something I can eat with! Last summer I interned for a casting company and learned first-hand how tricky the business can be, especially in terms of the success (or lack of success!) of an actor, or playwright.  I would become a playwright, or a performer in a heartbeat, but there's so much uncertainty! I guess that's where the passion comes in, though.  How much does one's connections play a role in landing gigs?

 

Dear Y: 

 

I firmly believe that you will live to regret NOT pursuing what you want to do much more than you will regret pursuing it and then switching to something else if the $ doesn't come.  

 

Really.  

 

Yes, I wish my career as an actor had taken off but at least I'm not like so many of my peers who are now middle aged and kicking themselves that they never gave it a shot.  As far as how much connections count: A LOT.   In writing, in acting, in everything, really, but especially in the Arts. 

 

Yes, you have to have the goods to back it up, otherwise you're fired, but as far as getting a job, as far as getting an opportunity, connections count OVER pretty much ANYTHING ELSE so make as many as you can and use all of them to the fullest (in a kind, non-mercenary, and reciprocal way.)  I didn't have an "in" when I started and, having always been a "Do it myself!" type of person, I didn't fully exploit the connections I did make, which, in retrospect, I realize greatly hampered my progress.

 

Your Turn - Agree or Disagree?  Should I have said "Are you crazy?!  Go to law school!"  instead?

 

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