Read as Jamie Livingston aka Jamie Lee Scott talks about her career as a Screenwriter. Find her at www.jamieleescott.com and on her Twitter feed in the sidebar of this interview.
What do you do for a living?
I’m a screenwriter and a novelist, but I also own a restaurant with my husband.
How would you describe what you do?
I think a lot, plot complicated stories in my head, and then I put the words on paper and hope someone wants to buy it.
What does your work entail?
As I writer, I spend a lot of time in my head. When I’m driving, grocery shopping, doing laundry, or “listening” to people talk, I’m always working, mulling a story in my head. When I get enough of a solid story worked out, I spend anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months outlining, plotting and revising. When I have the characters worked out and the story mapped out in the outline form, I begin writing.
What’s a typical work week like?
Restaurant interruptions aside, I try to write 7 days a week. I usually have 3 projects going at once: one project in the outline stage, another that I’m writing, and still another that’s undergoing revisions.
I don’t have a set work week, as I can work any days or hours, but I’m most productive in the late evening. I ruminate on my stories throughout the day, then usually around 7pm I sit down to write. Sometimes I’ll write for a few hours, other times (when it’s flowing really well) I’ll write until the wee hours of the morning. My work week isn’t just about writing screenplays; it’s also lots of networking, branding, social networking, and learning the business side of screenwriting. This alone is a full-time job.
How did you get started?
As I mentioned above, I own a restaurant with my husband, and it’s stressful. I started writing as a way to escape the real world and build worlds where I have complete control. I love the structure and form of screenwriting, and pithy dialogue, so even though I started as a journalist, I fell in love with screenwriting.
What do you like about what you do?
I love having building worlds, making up people, knowing in my thrillers that there will be due justice, and that the boy and girl will live happily ever after if I want them to. I also love the flexibility of hours, and the ability to be creative.
Networking. I love meeting other writers, traveling to conferences, or just meeting up with a few writer friends and talking about movies, the industry and writing. It’s something an outsider/non-writer could never understand.
What do you dislike?
The toughest part of writing is the need to constantly market yourself. And rejection is even worse. Believe me, there is so much rejection in writing. You have to have very thick skin, and not let the constant negative comments stop you. I remind myself, with every “no,” I’m that much closer to a yes.
I shopped a script I’d written in 2010 for more than 2 years, with lots of “we like it, but it’s not for us” and even worse, no response at all, then this May it was picked up, and filming starts in August. Two years of regular rejections to get to a yes!
How do you make money/or how are you compensated?
Screenwriters are compensated by selling a script. Feature scripts are purchased by production companies. Every deal is a bit different, but once you’ve sold a script you can become a member of the WGA, which is a union for writers, and they have compensation rules. You can find out more about compensation at their website www.wga.org.
How much money do screenwriters make?
The answer to this question varies. There are screenwriters who will never make a dime, because they don’t sell anything, and there are screenwriters who make millions. The majority of screenwriters don’t make enough money from writing for it to be their sole income. Again, go to www.wga.org to see more on this subject.
How much money did/do you make starting out?
As a journalist I was making $1 a word for feature articles, but as a screenwriter I was making zero. My first produced screenplay didn’t make me any money, but it got me exposure, which is what a writer needs in order to get an agent or a manager. Once a writer has representation in the industry, there is a better likelihood they will make money.
What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?
There are many universities that have film and screenwriting classes, but this is a skill that is easily self-taught. So much information is available on the Internet, but a good place to start is www.scriptchat.com, a screenwriting community I started on Twitter with several other screenwriters.
What is most challenging about what you do?
The most challenging part of writing is sitting your butt in the chair everyday and writing. Making it an everyday habit, just like going to a job at a factory. It’s amazing how interesting housework becomes when you have a screenplay that needs editing, or a second act to write.
What is most rewarding?
The most rewarding part of screenwriting is being acknowledged for your writing, regardless of the money. When I sent my short script, and my TV spec script of Cougar Town, to a friend who’d had a blockbuster hit the previous summer, and he liked my writing, I felt like I was on the right track.
What advice would you offer someone considering this career?
The best advice I can give is to READ SCRIPTS, read as many as you can get your eyes on, and learn from them. Buy a few books on the craft. Save the Cat by Blake Snyder is a great place to start, and learn the craft of screenwriting. Once you’ve read 100 scripts and written at least 5, then learn the business side of screenwriting. Remember it’s called the movie “business.”
How much time off do you get/take?
I can take as much time off as I like, but if I’m not writing, I’m not going to make money. I never know when or if the next project will sell, so the more I have written, the better chances I can have food on the table.
What is a common misconception people have about what you do?
The most common misconception is that people think you have to live in Los Angeles. Now, if you want to write for TV, this is true, but as a feature writer, you just have to be able to get to Los Angeles for meetings, and be flexible.
What are your goals/dreams for the future?
My goal at this point is to move away from writing features and focus on TV. I’m currently adapting my novel series into a TV pilot.
What else would you like people to know about your job/career?
The one thing I think people should know is that it’s not just about being a good writer. There is no such thing as “write it and they will come.” Along with writing great screenplays, you have to brand yourself, network, and show people that you are a team player. Once the script sells, it’s not yours anymore, but if you are easy to work with, the producer/company/studio may keep you on to do rewrites. If you are difficult, you’ll be fired and they’ll hire someone else to rewrite your work. It’s the nature of the business.