Wishin’ and Hopin’ Is Not Enough – Drive Baby, Drive

I’ve just finished a ScriptMag.com article on “drive” for my column, Breaking & Entering, comparing how automotive engines work to propela car forward, to what it really takes to successfully propel yourself toward a career in screenwriting. Operating on four-wheel drive means constantly creating material, building craft, generating ideas, and studying the marketplace while preparing to market yourself.

Drive Baby, Drive!The article was sparked by several stories I’ve heard recently, from folks working to launch their careers and making progress.

And then there were check-ins from two of my former interns. For me, the comparison between these two fellows really drove home the concept of drive. One has relentless drive and determination. The other has wicked smarts and skills.

Former Intern Number One (FI#1) is a highly motivated young writer. He has been at this for a couple of years since graduating from a screenwriting program. He keeps me updated on his progress – from shooting a web series, to persuading a literary agent assistant to read and respond to his query, to seeking advice on how best to turn that contact into a meaningful business relationship.

When FI#1 asks – and his requests are specific – I offer up advice, help rework his query letters, and I have also written a glowing letter of recommendation for him.

Like all good relationships, this is a two-way street.

Whenever I need help at a screenwriting conference or speaking engagement, FI#1 steps up. And he makes the most out of the experience by sitting in on classes, networking, and using any free time with me to plot out his next career moves.

FI#1 does not contact me constantly or needlessly, but only when he has something worthwhile to pass along. Here’s a recent update:

I’m working with a writing partner now and we are hitting it off like nobody’s business. It’s a great partnership. She takes my big crazy ideas and helps ground them down into a workable story. We took the graphic novel idea I had over last summer and found an artist who is working on helping us bring it to life. It’s all pretty exciting.

We even managed to fashion the idea into a TV pilot script that we are ready to start pitching. And one of my contacts is very interested in the idea and wants to help shepherd it over to his studio executive contacts.

So now it’s moving forward in two markets. All good things, right?

Thank you so much for all your insight and helping me stay sharp and motivated!

Exerting his drive in multiple directions, as I suggest in my article, “Driven To Succeed,” is paying off faster than I can write this blog. Latest update:

Our pilot got a script request off a query letter, so I reached out to a manager contact for advice on when to bring in a manager. Not only did I get advice, but she asked to see the script, loved it, and by the end of the day was sending it out to a production company that she knows is looking for something like what we have. Just like that!

“Just like that,” my ass. Smartly played!

I want FI#1 to succeed. And he wants to make me proud of his accomplishments.

Former Intern Number Two (FI#2) is still in college, and eager to break into the industry. He’s not exactly sure what he wants to be when he grows up, but he still has time to figure that out. He’s smart to be laying a foundation while still in school. He is extremely bright, articulate about story, and has an astonishing film vocabulary – truly one of the best I have ever seen. I was grateful to have his help last summer, as he plowed through every task I handed off.

FI#2 has kept in touch with me sporadically, mostly about the weather. Not exactly newsworthy.

When another former intern told me that her program coordinator – from a prestigious private university – recommended they keep in touch with the people that they worked with over the summer by sending a Halloween card, I was horrified. If you want to be treated as a professional, then you need to act like one – even when you’re just starting out.

For FI#2, there’s no joy in this crazy process of breaking in and moving forward in the industry. It’s a chore, rather than a step forward in fulfilling his life’s ambition. In truth, it is rough going. You might as well buckle up and enjoy the wild ride.

He recently asked for help with the “arduous process of searching for and applying for internships” for the coming summer. Vague, right? Negative attitude too.

I turned it around to specifics and positives:

“Arduous” is a tough place to start from. Is it really that bad? There are tons of resources out there.

Start by asking me to write you a letter of recommendation.

Then figure out what area you are most interested in working in/learning about – Agency? Prod co? Studio?

I rattled off a list of where to search for internships online. He was shocked at the many resources at his fingertips. (Seriously?) He then took me up on the offer to write a letter of recommendation.

It took a month for that task to move up on my To Do list. In the interim, I forwarded internship listings that I thought would be a good fit for him. I sent him a draft of a solid letter of endorsement, asking him to take a look and let me know if there was anything he wanted me to change, before I sent him a final copy on letterhead.

It’s been two and a half weeks since I carved out time from my producing projects, my script consulting business, and my responsibilities for the children’s literacy nonprofit that I run, to pull together a recommendation letter. And months of sending leads his way.

Not

a

single

reply.

Lest you think me callous, FI#2 is not sickly or, heaven forbid… dead – I’ve seen him posting on Facebook.

I’m not griping – well, maybe a little – but here’s my point:

If we were to wager on which former intern will most likely succeed in a business that is challenging to get a toehold in – and even more difficult over the course of a career, who would you put your money on?

Drive and determination win out – even over brains and talent.

Please tell me that you see the significant difference in communication styles between these two young men – highlighted with my italics – and that you recognize the practical lesson here. I coach my interns on ways to effectively maintain their relationship with me, as well as how to interact with other people in the industry.

I could load you down with practical pointers on how to network successfully, build industry relationships and have a savvy, professional approach that makes you sound like you belong in the business. But I’m not convinced that “drive” can be taught.

It’s partly personality and outlook. I do believe it is an ability that can be encouraged, cultivated, and refined. Time and experience helps, but I think you have to have the right mindset from the start – or figure out how to get into it pretty damn quick.

There are those who yearn for a career in film, but don’t have what it takes to make their dream a reality. The brutal truth – it takes more than aptitude or talent. It takes prowess, initiative, and the sheer hunger to succeed.

Drive baby, drive!

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