The Screen Writer Question

When I went to Borders this past weekend, I was specifically looking for any magazines with info on The X-Files: I Want to Believe that’s coming out next week. Amazingly, the pre-release publicity was quite thin. Unlike all the summer superhero movies with multiple magazine cover stories, I could only find two: Creative Screenwriting and TV Guide.

I was somewhat reluctant to get Creative Screenwriting since the top tag line read “Ka-Ching! Spec Screenplays Are Selling Again” for an article about the multi-million dollar prices that some scripts are fetching. When people find out that I’m a writer, they almost always ask if I write screenplays. My answer is always no, which puzzles some people.

Why not write for fabulous money? Two reasons: the odds and Hollywood.

If I was to go into screenwriting, I will be competing with every waiter in Hollywood who wasn’t trying to break into the business as an actor. I think I have better odds of being a fiction writer who builds a long-term career than chasing $50,000 USD per script that disappears like a mirage.

My current plan is to write a novel per year for the next five years, and whatever shorter pieces that comes to mind during that time. That gives me a one-in-five chance of having a breakout novel. I supposed a screenwriter would have to write two or three scripts per year for five years to have similar success. Either way, being a writer means traveling unforgiving roads at times. Some roads are easier than others, and the less traveled road is often more rewarding.

As for Hollywood: Doh! Born and raised in Silicon Valley. Enough said.

Or more precisely, Silicon Valley is not only where I live but it’s also my writing niche. I know the history of the landscape, worked in many of the top Fortune 500 companies (including eight crazy months at Google), and have a good understanding of the human dynamics that makes this place tick. I’m not aware of any other writer making a career out of Silicon Valley fiction. (There are plenty of writers for Silicon Valley non-fiction, most of whom I had read over the years.) Besides, whenever a Silicon Valley fiction book gets written, it’s usually featured in the San Jose Mercury News as a big deal. Being a fiction writer these days mean having an identifiable niche to launch your career.

What niche would I have in Hollywood? Nothing.

I recently watched Hooper on DVD with Burt Reynolds playing an aging stunt man on his last movie. There’s one scene where the writer comes storming of the director’s trailer, throwing the script up into the air, getting his into his car and backing up over the director’s chair, and burning rubber to get the hell out of there. That part of being a screenwriter I could probably do quite well.

As for the magazines, they both covered The X-Files without overlapping each other too much. Creative Screenwriting (July/August 2008) has two articles on writing for the X-Files, both the movie and the TV series. TV Guide (July 14-20, 2008) has two articles and a side bar on the characters and why the second movie almost didn’t happen. I expect more magazine cover stories after the movie is release. The Los Angeles Times has fresher material, including David Duchovny’s comment that The X-Files is equal to God in the fan community.

If you’re a hardcore Silicon Valley fan, pick up the current issue of Mad Magazine (August 2008). Not only are the summer superhero movies covered, but they do a rip on the old Calvin & Hobbes comic with a Calvin & Jobs feature. Yes, that’s Calvin with a design-savvy Steve Jobs doll. Apple really needs to come out with a Steve Jobs doll for the MacWorld Expo next year for up-and-coming egomaniacs like myself.

NOTE: This blog post was first published on Once Upon An Albatross… blog.