– By Christina Mercaldo –
“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”
The year after graduating with my MBA was probably the toughest of my life. It’s true that life after graduation is no joke, regardless of your major. But for writers, it’s even more of a challenge, because we continually are up against creative roadblocks like comparison, rejection, and steep competition.
But the deepest threat to our creativity is doubt: doubt can shroud the bright spark of your creativity sometimes before it even has a chance to burn, so staying inspired and fired up about your dream to be a screenwriter is crucial. Here are my best 8 tips to help you stay motivated, inspired, and to stay the course on the upward climb towards achieving your dreams even when you want to give up.
1. Write and shoot a short film in one room, on no budget.
If you can tell a story without audio, that can often help with execution and budget. This will boost your confidence in yourself as a filmmaker, and give you the momentum you need to keep creating, even if they are small projects.
2. Create an account on FilmFreeway.com
..And submit that film you just made! You can search festivals by genre, price, if they are academy-qualifying and much more. You just upload your project and then can submit to as many as you like. You can upload scripts, trailers and music videos to enter competitions too! There are festivals that have very low or no submission fee, and you can filter for those results.
3. Learn to persevere despite rejection.
Embrace it. Love it. Develop a healthy relationship with it. Every rejection is one step closer to your dreams. I received more rejections than acceptances, but because of that, my work has finally been accepted, and that is all that matters! Rejection is like the air we breathe in the film industry.
Rejection once or twice or twenty times is sort of like water off a duck’s back; but after 200 rejections, the discouragement gets real. I have experienced this. I’ve given up at least 100 times. But through the process of giving up, and then giving up on giving up, I am learning that rejection is a gift. It sifts away dishonest intentions. It forces you to deepen your relationship with your work, and cut out the work that isn’t meaningful to you. It perfects your love for your craft. You nurtured your work through the desert of doubt and wasteland of impossibility. So don’t let rejection discourage you – try to eliminate your creative insecurities and get in the habit of continuing to create regardless of how your work is received.
4. Write for 5 minutes a day.
If you can’t make a short film or are too busy with a day job, set a timer for just five minutes and write nonstop. Everyone has five minutes. That adds up to almost half an hour of pure writing a week which can be more fruitful than writing an hour a day that isn’t focused. As showrunner Shonda Rhimes said, it costs money to make a film, but writing is free (which is great when you don’t have money).
5. Get a manager (then agent).
A studio executive from Paramount told our class, that in order to get an agent, you usually first need a manager. Focus on polishing and perfecting three scripts in the same genre but different that you can show to potential managers. For example, in the drama genre, write a western, period drama and a thriller. (I am working on this stage and am almost done with my third script! *fingers crossed*).
You can download a screenwriter managers list here, as well as tips on querying managers. Don’t give up until you have done this. The hardest part of all of it is writing something polished, tight and entertaining. You will be noticed if it’s professional and good.
6. Don’t be afraid to aim high.
If you have had a project you know will be an award-winner, rally all of your creative energy and make it, even if it takes you a year, and submit it to Cannes Film Festival. *Note: If you are a JPCatholic student, I have set up JPCatholic as an approved university and you can submit to Cannes as a student! Go for it!
7. Read as many scripts and stories as you can.
“If you want to be a screenwriter—a successful screenwriter—here’s the secret…This is what you have to do, it’s great—don’t tell anyone. You have to read Hamlet, and you have to read it again, and you have to read it until you understand every word. And then you move onto King Lear. And then maybe treat yourself to Troilus and Cressida. And then you know what? Then you’re going to go back and read Aristotle’s Poetics until you can quote it. And then you’re going to read Sophocles, and then you’re going to read Ibsen, and then you’re going to read Tony Kushner, and then you’re going to read Chekhov. You’re going to understand the continuum of what it is to be a dramatist, so you have respect for the form in which you are trying to function. So you understand what comes before you. Then, if you chose, watch a couple of movies.” – John Logan, three time Oscar nominated writer of Gladiator, Hugo, The Last Samurai, Rango, Spectre, Skyfall, The Aviator, Star Trek: Nemisis, Pennydreaful
8. Find a good support system.
It makes me want to cry just thinking about all of the beautiful support of my friends, family and classmates that cracked through the despair I felt during my first year of life after graduation. Surround yourself with people who also believe in you and are willing to lend emotional, spiritual, or financial support in your times of greatest need. Keep your friends close, and help each other.
I will leave you with the best bit of advice that my brother-in-law told me: “Your success is not dependent on anyone else’s failure.” It can be hard when you see people around you breezing through life and checking off their accomplishments effortlessly, as though all they needed was a pen to do it. Film school prepares you for the industry because both are rife with competition. Get used to the fact that there is always a struggle, but that you don’t need to play dirty to get to the top. You love your craft, you won’t give up on it, and it won’t fail you. One day, you will be that person people will look at and say “how did they do it?” Then you’ll achieve the true reward of being able to turn around and help others climb the steep mountain, too.
About the Author
Christina Mercaldo was born in Northern California and raised in Washington State. She graduated from JPCatholic in 2015 with her MBA in Film Producing. She is currently working in multimedia for a Veteran nonprofit organization in San Diego and producing her own projects on the side. She plans to polish her third and final comedy script and begin querying managers this year.