At the grand old age of 29, I went back to school — specifically film school. I had just returned from a decade of travelling, had no contacts or experience in the film industry, and had never set foot on a film set.
I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I wasn’t sure what sort of a writer. I’d dabbled in travel writing, creative non-fiction and had a couple of unfinished novels. My mother enrolled me in a screenwriting course — most likely as a way to keep me in the country. I’d studied film 10 years earlier, but I didn’t know yet that I would fall in love with screenwriting.
After graduating, I took a few months off to polish my screenplay. And then I reached the inevitable question: WHAT DO I DO NOW?
At film school, no one gave us very helpful advice about what to do with a finished screenplay — because no one really has the answer. There are no straightforward paths to becoming a screenwriter. No one ever told us we could make a film ourselves.
Our teacher mentioned pitching to producers (whoever they are) and submitting to screenplay contests (along with literal thousands of other screenplays). He had been shopping the same screenplay to producers for 20 years.
I felt like I was already a decade behind my peers, because of the time I spent travelling. I couldn’t fathom spending the next 20 years trying to convince someone else to turn my screenplay into a film. But a screenplay that is not a film simply doesn’t exist. Unlike a novel, it is not an end product in and of itself.
Not knowing any producers, I didn’t have a clue where to even start pitching my screenplay. I also didn’t have a clue how to start making a movie. But at least if I did it myself, I could guarantee a completed film — and in much less than 20 years.
The point is, if I can do it then anyone can. Knowing nothing about filmmaking myself, I had to find other people who did. All the rest is project management — and a whole lot of chucking your dignity out the window and unashamedly begging for favours. Friends and family rallied around me to offer locations, props, labour, moral support, and the occasional shoulder to cry on (it’s okay to cry, just don’t do it in front of your cast and crew).
I had unrealistic expectations for my film — in exchange for the three years of my life I gave to making it (and another two to writing the screenplay), I wanted it to take me all the way to Hollywood. Spoiler: it didn’t.
But here’s what happened. I no longer have a finished screenplay, I have a film. I got a foot in door of the industry, tons of experience, and a feature on my iMDB profile. Being an Australian indie, it didn’t get seen by a whole lot of people, but it did get seen by the right person: a film producer.
A year after finishing Zelos, I got my first paid screenwriting contract for a feature film. So, in the end, even if it didn’t go to Sundance, it did exactly what I hoped it would do.
And remember, your first film is only a stepping stone to the next thing. Your masterpiece still awaits.
So stop pitching your screenplay and just make the damn movie.