What it feels like…to be a working screenwriter.

By Guy Fee, London.

I’ve been writing scripts for 10 years since my wife bought me a two-day screenwriting course with Hollywood script guru Robert McKee in London.

I remember Roland Gift, the frontman for the Fine Young Cannibals (a popular British band in the late 80s) took the course the same day. Caught in a trap pretty much describes the process of writing scripts because it’s more of an illness than an occupation. You’re addicted to ideas. As you finish one script, another idea presents itself and you have to get it out of your head. So off you go again, fleshing it out, having no idea where you’re headed. And, like a bite from a blue- ringed octopus, there’s no cure.

When you embrace the idea of becoming a screenwriter, you go through a range of emotions. It’s similar to the five stages of grief – Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.

Denial. First drafts of any script are terrible. But when you begin as a writer, you think they’re fantastic, hell, they’re the shooting script! This realisation only comes once you start working on the story in more depth with a director/producer, developing characters, beats of the story, etc. It is then you discover that your first draft is merely the block of stone from which (hopefully) you’ll chip your Venus de Milo.

Anger. Why will no one read my scripts? When you start, no one cares who you are. As a screenwriter, your only stock is ‘what have they written and how much did it make at the box office’. This can be tricky as, when you start out, you haven’t written anything. Some production companies have their favoured writers. Studios develop in-house or receive scripts from agents they trust. It can seem like there’s no way in. This can be frustrating for a new writer because they wonder how they will ever get their work read, let alone sold. I would recommend Tales From the Script http://www.talesfromthescript.com/

It’s a documentary that interviews top screenwriters and gets their take on the business. It’s excellent and keeps you sane, grounding you in the business of film and making you realise it’s the same process for everyone to find a way in. You are not alone.

Bargaining. You try to negotiate a compromise for your lack of progression early in your career. You ask yourself, ‘What can I do to change things to succeed?’ The truth is success is down to you and your hunger and there’s no easy way of bargaining the sale of your work. You have to have a thick skin, learn to love rejection, master your craft, get out there and network (attending the Cannes Film Festival is a great way to understand the mechanics of the film business), and be lucky. The film industry is a tough place and you will experience tons of disappointment along the way, which brings us neatly to stage four…

Depression. Once you have struggled for a while, there is a tendency to lose hope. You had a plan, it didn’t work, now what do you do? The irony is that it is at the point most people give up that they are closest to success. So don’t be depressed. It’s just part of the game. Embrace your failure and move on to your last man standing which is…

Acceptance. Accept that life is not fair. But it does reflect your attitude. Put in the work, get better not bitter, devote time to your craft, and you’ll be fine. If you knock on enough doors, eventually one will open. And when it does…what does it feel like? As my producer friends in LA say, “totally awesome!”.


Guy Fee is a Scottish screenwriter who’s sold his last 10 scripts to international production companies.

He has two features filming next year, supernatural thriller The Ghost Writer and sci-fi thriller Evo .You can follow Guy on twitter: @screenwriterUK