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When you’re a screenwriter living outside of Los Angeles, you’re going to need extra hustle in your step. But living in L.A. doesn’t always make breaking in easier—you need to separate yourself from every barista who has a screenplay to pimp.
Success is an illusion, with Hollywood being the ultimate palace of smoke and mirrors.
Even if you have an agent, you still need to be a self-promoter. Sure, maybe Aaron Sorkin doesn’t have to hustle anymore, but trust me, 99 percent of screenwriters inside the velvet ropes still do. The industry has its favorite handful of writers, and they aren’t going to open their tree fort to just anyone.
To set yourself apart, you need to hone your hustle.
How Does One Develop Their Hustle?
Have you ever seen a true hustler in action? They all have predominant traits in common with successful screenwriters and directors—confidence, passion, and the tenacity to be the last person standing. They don’t want to win … they need to win. Losing isn’t an option, period.
Just like when I learned to “do the hustle” (yes, I did indeed take disco lessons), there are steps required to survive the dance of pursuing a screenwriting career, especially from outside of L.A.
Write with Confidence.
Pick daring stories only you can write, and write the hell out of them. Don’t hold back. Write something that scares you—an idea that literally gives you goosebumps.
The story has to matter to you on a profound level for your passion and talent to show. It has to be personal. Rip open your wounds and bleed onto the page. Those are the scripts that get you noticed. When you’re passionate about something, your writing voice will shine, and you’ll create an incredible writing sample.
Be open to other opinions, but not so open that you lose faith in your own.
Sometimes the exec across the table is giving you notes just to hear himself talk. Your job is to smile, thank them, and then digest the feedback to discover “the note behind the note.” After hearing the feedback in full, you’ll be able to decide what’s important and what isn’t.
Above all, don’t be stubborn. Be grateful. The people offering you insights wouldn’t give you notes if they didn’t want to see you succeed. If you succeed, they succeed.
Bottom line, a hustler believes in their own vision, but puts that vision aside if someone else comes up with a better idea. Be confident enough to stand up for your work, but be able to pivot and right the ship, if necessary.
Keep Your Friends Close and Your Enemies Closer.
Everyone has gotten burned in this industry, and I do mean everyone. You will not avoid that reality, but you can lower your odds by creating an inner circle of people you trust. If you’ve watched any of the Ocean’s Eleven movies, you know the power of a trusted pack when it comes to hustling.
People worthy of your trust are happy to earn it. Everyone in my inner circle never once expected me to trust them blindly, nor did I expect them to trust me. We demonstrated our worthiness by consistently being loyal and dependable. Actions matter. Words matter. Loyalty matters.
Humility is one of the most attractive qualities a person can have. No one wants to help someone who is arrogant or defensive.
When People Help You, Work Twice as Hard to Make Them Feel It Was Worth Their Time.
Always put yourself in your mentor’s shoes. Don’t waste their time. See “shut up and listen” below.
Having a pro on your side increases your odds of getting noticed. There’s nothing like a seasoned writer hustling your name as a “writer to watch” among their own network to get you a leg up.
Pitch as if the Exec Needs You Instead of You Needing Them.
You’re asking someone who doesn’t know you to spend millions of dollars on your vision. If you expect them to scream, “Sold!” you have to have delusional confidence.
Would you walk into a bank and ask for a loan unshowered, wearing sweatpants, and begging for money? If you did, they’d worry you could never pay the loan back. You have to act like you don’t need a loan. Walk with the air of success—strong body language, calm demeanor, and sense of humor. When you command the pitch room, they’ll have the faith to give you the reins. Just like the bank needs people to take out loans to make money, execs need writers with great concepts to make the studios money. They need you. Never forget that.
Remember, you’re also interviewing them. Are they the type of producer, network, agent, manager, etc. you want to work with? If you see a red flag, trust your gut! You’d be better off getting your own hustle on without representation.
But having representation makes a big difference. Don’t go after the big names when you’re starting out. Find the new agents and managers who are hungry and want to discover a fresh voice to take the city by storm. Once they get you a gig, don’t drop them. Be loyal to the people who gave you your break.
Shut Up and Listen.
Listen more than you talk. Think of it as gathering intel. No one learns anything about their opponent when they’re busy talking about themselves. They learn by listening, observing, and noticing the things left unsaid. Pay attention to what’s said in between the lines.
Of course, you have to speak, too. When I’m pitching, we always start with small talk. Often a commonality is found. The exec might talk about something totally unrelated to writing—college, kids, cars, etc. If it’s something you have expertise in, chime in. They’ll appreciate and remember you.
Feel free to ask them questions, too. You have them in the room; take advantage of it. Find out what they’re looking for. One of your other projects might be in their wheelhouse.
Leave Them Wanting More.
If they asked to read the script, shake their hand and get out before you talk yourself into a no! You accomplished what you came in for—don’t blow it. An exec will have more confidence in you when you know how to close a deal.
Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable.
Like it or not, you have to pitch in the room at some point in your career, or you’ll never sell anything.
The more you do anything terrifying, the less scary it gets. Face your fears and get comfortable being uncomfortable. I promise you: Whatever it is that makes you tremble will become second nature faster than you think.
Above All, Be True to Yourself.
Authenticity is attractive. This is your career, and you have to approach it with honesty. Respect yourself and fight for what you want—if you don’t, no one else will. Great hustlers are always respected. That’s how they get as far as they do.
Writing well is only part of the equation. Being a hardworking, decent human being is the other part. You don’t need to sell your soul to succeed. Trust that you are enough by being a person someone wants to work with. Be a person you would want to work with. WD