When you start out as a screenwriter, you know it’s going to be difficult but your brain holds on to that twig of optimism that once you finish your first screenplay, you’ll get an agent and bosh, your career can begin in earnest.
If only it was this simple.
As a professional screenwriter, and as most readers of this blog will know, one script will not a career make. Completing that first full feature screenplay will be hard work and feel like a real breakthrough. From this, there’ll be hope that the tough slog of getting it done will be enough to earn you notice and applauds. However, in the gruff and gravel tone of the immortal Clint Eastwood in Million Dollar Baby: “Girlie, tough ain’t enough.”
If you’ve created the desire and momentum of The Push, it’s time now to elevate your game and increase your effort. It’s time to write more scripts. In other words: “what else have you got?”
This is the question that awaits you, more than any, from readers/editors/execs and agents. Yes, they’ll read your first script with interest and take a note of your careful craft, the emotional development of the characters and the overall discerning story arc of the screenplay, but it is rare for the powerful peeps to commit themselves to a new writer without seeing more than one script. They want to see more. They want to see your portfolio.
Having a portfolio of work doesn’t necessarily mean a whole range of scripts, outlines and treatments but it should be at least one other document that shows off your chops as a writer. A screenplay and a treatment. Two scripts. Three. A pilot and series bible for a new TV series. A book and an outline. Whatever. But it should be something that displays your current body of work and demonstrates that you’re more committed to writing than the 20,000 people in the queue who think, “yeah scriptwriting, I’ll give that a go, no problem, big money too”.
Flicking through my ‘portfolio’ this morning after the laziness of the Easter weekend, I noticed a folder marked ‘Put Aside Projects’. Sometimes my brain forgets the very filing system I’ve created for myself so with some curiosity, I clicked on the folder to see what was inside. Eight projects. Three full scripts. Five outlines. And about half a dozen pitches and one pagers. Some of which aren’t bad so I don’t know why I ‘put them aside’.
In my main folder, I’ve got fifteen projects at varying stages of development that I hope will bear some fruit at some stage. Four of these are feature scripts and the remainder a combination of outlines and TV work. So a broad snapshot of my portfolio would be: seven screenplays, seven outlines and six TV projects. Eight of these are in the ‘put aside projects’ so that should give a good indication that not all hard work can pay off or lead you to where you expected to be.
On my chalk board I’ve got nine projects written up that I’m currently working on. Some will hit, some will stick, some will miss. The point is to keep working. Don’t sit back and wait. The best way to wait for a reaction to a script is to start another. That way when the inevitable question comes at you - “what else you got?” - you can rally and reel with passion about the next exciting project you’ve just finished.
A screenwriter’s portfolio should be ever-changing, morphing and expanding. It’s sometimes easy to latch on to a favoured project and be unwilling to let it go, or get fatigued by rejection and lose that creative energy. The challenge and effort is to put all doubt and denials aside and just focus on getting more work completed. From this, opportunity will knock and when it does, you will be ready to kick down the door in order to let good fortune step inside.