The Small-Time Professional Screenwriter (STPS)

The Small-Time Professional Screenwriter (STPS#1)

When most people dream about becoming professional screenwriters, they dream about the “big time” – selling a script for a million dollars or getting staffed on a TV show, and going on to a lucrative career laden with Oscars and/or Emmys.

In reality, the vast majority of wannabe screenwriters never make a dime from screenwriting.

So are those the only two options?  Massive success or miserable failure?

No, actually.

You can also become a small-time professional screenwriter.

Making Money

I’m definitely small-time:  I’ve never sold a script, and you’ve never seen my name in the credits.

But for more than 10 years, I’ve been making money from screenwriting — with repeat business from happy clients.

It’s not enough that I can afford to quit my day job as a lawyer, but it’s a good enough side hustle that I’m no longer eligible for the Nicholl screenwriting competition, and it pays for trips to places like Sundance and the Austin Film Festival.

Most importantly, I’m getting paid to do what I love most – and I can do it from anywhere in the world, including my back porch overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem.

Here are some of the gigs I’ve had along the way:

  • For Amazon Studios, I did a rewrite of the feature Zombies vs. Gladiators.
  • With Shimon Gershon, the former captain of Israel’s national soccer team, I co-wrote a screenplay adaptation of his best-selling children’s books and consulted on several other projects.
  • For The Paz Brothers, I did a page-one rewrite for the feature Mars Camp, I wrote a treatment for JeruZalem 2, and I wrote treatments for two series.
  • For The Hive Studio, I developed a treatment for an animated feature. I also wrote a treatment for a web series and the script for a short.
  • For Jam Productions, I wrote the script for The Castle in the Forest, an animated short.
  • For 7Flying Fish Productions, I did a rewrite for Shoeshine Boy.
  • For private clients, I wrote three features and one pilot and did several rewrites.
  • I just finished a scriptment for a production company in Ghana, and I’ll be starting the screenplay on that project soon.

Of course, I’d love to be a BIG-time professional screenwriter, but that’s really hard, as I discuss here.

Does the world really need another screenwriting book?

Probably not, but I feel like blogging one anyway.

There are more than 3,000 screenwriting books on, and I’ve read a fair number of them. A lot of them are good, and I recommend them. But many do have some issues:

They offer to sell you the “secret” of screenwriting success.

This is bullshit.

There is no “secret,” and very few people become good screenwriters – let alone successful ones — no matter how many books they buy.

There’s also no “one size fits all” screenwriting method that works for everyone.

They’re vague about the business end of screenwriting, and even make inane statements like “If your work is truly great, buyers will come to YOU!”

This is also bullshit.

To make either small-time or big-time money as a screenwriter, you need to be out there hustling.

They don’t talk about how to pursue small-time screenwriting gigs.

Why is this book different from all other screenwriting books?

So what’s different about this book?

It’s free.

It doesn’t claim to have the one “secret.” It suggests lots of different tools and methods people can try to learn screenwriting and get better at it.

It’s realistic about the terrible odds of ever becoming a big-time professional screenwriter.

It provides detailed guidance on how to try to make money doing small-time screenwriting gigs.

I’ll be writing this book a blog at a time. This is a work in progress. If you find it useful (or not), please let me know.

Charley Parkhurst Finally Gets Her New York Times Obituary

I was excited to see that Charley Parkhurst, the heroine of my script The Bushwhacker, finally got a proper New York Times obituary.

Here’s an excerpt:

Charley Parkhurst was a legendary driver of six-horse stagecoaches during California’s Gold Rush — the “best whip in California,” by one account.

The job was treacherous and not for the faint of heart — pulling cargos of gold over tight mountain passes and open desert, at constant peril from rattlesnakes and desperadoes — but Parkhurst had the makeup for it: “short and stocky,” a whiskey drinker, cigar smoker and tobacco chewer who wore a black eyepatch after being kicked in the left eye by a horse.

And there was one other attribute, this one carefully hidden from the outside world. When Parkhurst died in 1879 at age 67, near Watsonville, Calif., of cancer of the tongue, a doctor discovered that the famous stagecoach driver was biologically a woman. Charley, it turned out, had been short for Charlotte.

My Wonderful Week at the Black List Feature Lab

I’m spending the last few weeks of the year updating my neglected website and blog.

I’ve added a bunch of new articles and interviews.

I’ve also added a list of what I think are the best screenwriting contests, labs, and fellowships.

One of the best things to happen to me since my last update was the week I spent at the Black List Feature Lab in LA.

Here’s a blog I wrote about it, and here’s an except:

Screenwriters don’t often get pampered. They don’t often get spoiled. They usually don’t even get valued.

But during one week in October, 2016, seven of us were pampered, spoiled rotten, and valued.

Home base was a West Hollywood Airbnb straight out of Architectural Digest. There were mirrors on things I didn’t know you could put mirrors on. There was a dedicated appliance just for making margaritas.

It’s the Talmud — with zombies! — in new Israeli horror film

An article I wrote for the Times of Israel about the talented Paz Brothers. I’m excited to be doing a rewrite for their next film!

Update:  here’s a sample of the rewrote for Mars Camp.

An Israeli documentary about disabled children was rejected by a Norwegian film festival because it “failed” to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At the same time, Israeli horror movies, such as the hot new English-language “JeruZalem” by Yoav and Doron Paz, are winning awards and drawing sell-out crowds at film festivals all over the world.

Go figure.

Don’t Be Good At Anything Else: The Dowdle Brothers on No Escape


My latest article in Creative Screenwriting:

Going to an all-boys, military Catholic high school turns out to have been excellent preparation for a career in filmmaking. Or at least, that’s the background of the brothers John and Drew Dowdle, and their latest film No Escape, starring Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, and Pierce Brosnan, has so far earned over $54 million worldwideon an estimated budget of $10 million.

The film was co-written by John and Drew, directed by John, and produced by Drew. Creative Screenwriting chatted with them about their film, its inspiration, and the challenges they faced in getting it made.