Famous Screenwriters Divulge Hollywood’s Dirty Little Secrets

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Being the dreamer who dreams of having a screenplay produced by Hollywood, people ask me a lot of questions about screen writing.

Most moviegoers are unaware of how truly hard it really is to get a script sold in Hollywood.

We buy the tickets, load up on popcorn, candy and soda, grab a seat and wait for the lights to go down and the coming attractions to appear on the big screen.

We are oblivious to the odds that are stacked up against screenwriters whose goal it is to get their scripts green lighted.

I didn’t know the full gravity of this until my sister suggested I watch the documentary Tales From The Script. This film interviews screenwriters who have successfully scaled the seemingly impenetrable walls of Hollywood and had their screenplays sold.

As an unsold screenwriter, I wanted to focus on these two parts of the film: the misnomer that anybody can write a script and that nobody wants your work because if they do, they are taking a huge risk thereby putting their own job in jeopardy.

Those of you thinking of selling your screenplay should know:

  • It will test your mettle
  • Plan on leaving your ego at the door
  • This is not for the faint of heart


Bruce Joel Rubin (Ghost) tells of the time he met with studio executives in the commissary (studio lunch room) to discuss his script. As the meeting was coming to a conclusion, one of the executives told him that “Ghost” was the best script they had ever read.

A few months later, he was in the commissary and overhead those same studio executives tell another screenwriter that his script was the best they had ever read!

Adam Rifkin (Underdog) states,

“If you’re a purist and you don’t want your words touched, you should be either a playwright or an author because if you’re going to be a screenplay writer and expect your words to be treated like gold, that’s just not reality.”

Are you feeling discouraged yet?

Dennis Palumbo (My Favorite Year)

“…part of the surrealistic experience in Hollywood is the originator of the material from the moment everyone claims to love it is the subject of an attempt to remove them from the material as much as possible.”


James L. White (Ray)

“The long drought until you get to be a real screenwriter…people keep asking me what else do you do? How do you pay your bills? That’s the reality of it!”

Frank Darabont (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein) told the viewers that he had been writing professionally for nine years before selling his first script. During that time, he continued to develop and hone his skills.

“Don’t expect your first script will sell for a million dollars. I got news for you, it ain’t!”

Getting ready to throw the towel in?

Marc Fergus’ (Iron Man) opinion is that a screenwriter whose waiting for the right opportunity, like it’s going to be a bulls-eye, sends out his/her script. Great people reject it. Smart people reject it. One guy stumbles on it and says this is just what I’ve been looking for.

William Goldman (Princess Bride, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid)

“If you want to write movies, you can’t stop after you get pissed on and rejected because you will get pissed on and rejected, because no one wants your stuff. Once you basically become someone they will read your work. No one wants to give someone their first shot.”

Dennis Palumbo sums it up best when he talks about those who hold the power, i.e. studio heads, producers, directors, agents, etc. . . :

“They’re not in trouble if they say no. Nothing bad can happen. The moment they say yes, the trouble begins. If you’re an agent, you now have to find work for your client, studio execs have to sell all this to their compatriots and producers need to go and get some studio interested to actually make the movie. If you say no, you can just go to lunch.”

Bruce Joel Rubin

“Screenwriters are truly an abused entity. They get so little participation in the work they create.”

The most important message I took away from this film was despite the obstacles and mountains they needed to climb, these screenwriters faced these challenges head on and successfully sold their screenplays.

Buy Tales from the Script: 50 Hollywood Screenwriters Share Their Stories [Paperback]One must be fearless and tenacious when pursuing their dreams.

If you don’t, regret will be your reward.

What will you do if faced with these obstacles?

Is your dream important enough to fight for?

Tell me, is it?

  • “I have to be honest, getting an agent is very difficult. Even the pros in Hollywood are constantly trying to sell their work and many, secure an agent. Screenwriting and literary agents are two distinctly different things, and the business works much differently. Agents usually acquire their clients through referrals, and in all honesty you need to learn proper form for writing treatments if you ever hope to get anywhere, and probably go to screenwriting classes. This is not for the faint of heart as no studio will even bother to look at your work, as they have stables full of writers, many of whom are not working continuously. You can send an agent your screenplay (there are lists of them on the Web and in other publications) but don’t be surprised if you never hear anything from them. Also, your first sentence is totally incorrect, as you never begin a sentence with OK.; I hope you wrote your screenplay with the utmost professionalism and followed the strict rules that apply.”

  • Remy G

    Jeffs advice – awesome! I think it applies to everyone fighting to get seen creatively.

    I am now on a strong mission of creating supportive, creative environments for people to learn photography. The world has too many (photogaphers, writers, business owners) who already “know everything about everything” – I’m goin in at the ground level, to make a difference for those who know they dont know – and wanna learn.

    Just try and stop me, lady!



  • Toni Schram


    I love that quote “Put your ass in the chair and bleed on the page…”

    I’m also fond of Anne Jordan’s quote: “If you want to succeed as a writer, you have to make your own opportunities by using a little imagination and a lot of butt glue.”

    I really appreciate those quotes Mariska!


  • Mariska Smith

    This is a quote from fiction author Gary Braunbeck (a great writer, get his work):

    “Put your ass in the chair and bleed on the page…”

    “…there may very well come a time when you’ll find yourself unable to write as much as you’d like to (if you can do it at all), and you will deeply regret every second of precious writing time that you wasted…”

  • Jeff

    I advise budding screenwriters to go out and experience LIFE – see how ACTUAL PEOPLE do things and say things, and then remember what you learned when you are following the rules and writing the movie.

    And don’t think of it as “writing a screenplay” – think of it as “writing a movie.” If you do that, and make sure you “see a movie” as you read it, the others who have to read it will too. I cannot stress how important this is.

    Go out and get a cheap camera and take pictures and learn to SEE a picture so you know it when you see it in front of you. Go out and shoot 500 pictures. Rather than read a “how to write your screenplay that sells” book, go read Henri Cartier-Bresson “On the decisive moment,” then go out and practice it, and then take your pictures and learn to describe them in words so people see what you saw.

    Don’t write the movie from the audience’s POV, write it as a map for the production team

    • Toni Schram

      Jeff~Wow, what great sound advice you have offered! I’m going to seek out Henri Cartier-Bresson for his wisdom.

      As a photographer, I’m excited to take on this exercise and really SEE my photos…

      Where can I read more of your advice? Do you have a blog or website.


  • Catherine, Site Admin

    This is how the newspaper and magazine business is too. Both are for the purpose of selling advertising space and your piece will get cut to make space for the ads, or to fit it on a certain page.

    And often you don’t have a say in what gets cut.

    This is where I learned to begin to let go of my writing – if I was going to put it out there. I also grew to love the editing process – someone else helping me to bring more to my writing.

    I am blown away by what Harrison Ford said to that one writer about not doing the speech. How did he not get pissed off?

    Obstacles are in the way of dreams to make sure you really want them and are deserving of the rewards at the end.

    Bring it on ;-)


  • Toni Schram

    Thanks for coming up with Mr. Palumba’s blog and Adam Rifkin’s twitter. I’ll get to hear solid advice from those in the know.

    And a bigger thank you for being our fearless and tenacious leader!

    8womendream RAWKS!

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  • Catherine, Site Admin

    Did you know that Dennis Palumbo has his own blog and allows comments: http://dennispalumbo.blogspot.com


    Adam Rifkin has a Twitter account: http://twitter.com/adamrifkin

    You should connect with them!

    I love these posts. I just never had any idea about what goes on behind the scenes in film making – so interesting!