Tell us who Sam is? Why screenwriting?
I started Any Possibility in January 2016 to explore how screenwriters were getting their first big break. It’s such a nonlinear path that I became really invested in discovering the different approaches. Because I had friends and acquaintances who were making their first giant career advancement in film and television, those interviews became great learning opportunities.
Any Possibility grew into a platform to talk and share about how the industry works. Because I’m still in the trenches, too. And it can be so frustrating, grueling, and challenging to figure it out on your own. I want people have access to information that I didn’t have when I first moved out to Los Angeles – things I wish were talked about more. Information is a great equalizer and tool to make smart, educated decisions about your writing career.
You took the leap after college and went to Hollywood, where you soon became an assistant. For those who aren’t clear on what an assistant is please clarify and what are the duties of an assistant. In addition, what was the most valuable lesson you learned during your 3 years as an assistant?
I had a really roundabout way of becoming an assistant. I interned after I graduated because I moved to Los Angeles without really knowing what to do. Going to school meant I knew how to use camera equipment and how to write, but it did very little in helping me figure out what to do once I graduated. I knew I wanted to write, but at no point had I been prepped on the real-world application of that. I wish I could say my experience is unique in that, but so many people have the same problem.
I feel like the resources that are available now weren’t around 5 or 6 years ago. In that respect, it’s a great time to be able to research and understand what you can do and what you need to be doing! For me, it was complete trial and error. I interned trying to get experience because a lot of entry-level jobs required it. I knew quickly that I really wanted to work in literary management, which was actually a bit of a problem because it was one of the hardest jobs to get. That led me to make a few beginner mistakes. I’ll explain…
Take any assistant job that you can get. An assistant job is basically working for an agent, producer, manager, or executive in Hollywood. You do administrative work, act as your bosses third arm, and multi-task like crazy. What it really becomes is an opportunity to learn firsthand how the industry works.
You’d be surprised how far understanding the etiquette, workflow, and language of the industry gets you. It was also an opportunity to network with other assistants. Maybe to put it into perspective, think of it as the assistants you meet now become executives in five years. The things about building up your early career and relationships is that none of it comes quickly. It takes years of establishing genuine relationships, helping others, asking for nothing, and working hard to show people what you can do. Time is a big factor. No one wants it to take so much time, but it does. We always hear the story of the overnight success and want that over route that takes a lot of persistence.
And really, being an assistant isn’t the only way to enter the industry, but it’s great start if you know no one and are choosing something to do on the side while you write.
How did you land the job of being an assistant? What was that process like?
It was unusually hard because I wasn’t flexible. I should have been, but I didn’t know any better. What I mean by that is, I really wanted to work in literary and that was the only interest I had. Because of that, it took me longer to find and interview for those jobs. Months. I turned down great opportunities that were at great companies because in my mind, I was like well I don’t want to be xyz, I want to be a writer.
If I would have just gotten any job, anywhere, I could have had a full year of assistant experience under my belt to finally get the job I wanted rather than holding out. After a certain point, I stopped holding out for what I wanted and took a job as a receptionist because A. I needed money to pay rent and B. I didn’t want to commit to a job that would keep me somewhere I didn’t want to be.
Again, I didn’t really understand the time factor. To me it was like, why would I take a job that I don’t even really want to do. There was so much hesitation on that point. So much. I think my point is that, it’s okay to take a job and learn the skill set and then plan for your transition. You will be required to stay at a desk for a year to a year and a half. In your early 20s, that may seem like FOREVER. It’s not. It’s what you do during that time that matters. You get in where you get in. Apply using Entertainment Careers. The UTA joblist. Word-of-mouth. Whatever is accessible. Then make that year about utilizing your position. Get networking drinks with all of your peers. Force yourself to write at night. Be great at your job. Because the assistant job is grueling and you can get lost really easily – you stop writing because you’re so tired after a 10-hour day of high pressure. It’s creatively unfulfilling. It can be so, so easy to lose your way, but you do it to make connections and gain a skill set that will be incredibly valuable throughout your career.
For a screenwriter who isn’t necessarily in Hollywood, what are five steps they can take to launch their screenwriting career in the right direction?
1. Number one would be to write. Writer’s seem to forget that. Don’t write one thing. Keep writing. I’ve seen people break in from out of state and they only had that one script, then they get their chance. They get agents, producers are interested. And then, guess what? They don’t have another script, so all this momentum has built around them, and they have nothing to follow it up with. Then your agents lose interest because they have nothing to sell. The industry forgets you and moves on. Some of those people have never recovered that immediate success. I’m not saying you shouldn’t perfect your script. Yes! Perfect everything. But keep writing new material too.
2. Another thing is contests. I read for contests. Competitions are a great way to get your foot in the door if you aren’t in Los Angeles because your script can speak for itself. Write something that really resonates universally, and it will do well. That really requires you to be the best at your craft. You can’t just be good. You have to be great.
3. Build up your network online. Talk to people. Interact with your favorite writers and showrunners on Twitter. Join the Reddit community. Find Facebook groups to connect to people. Don’t cross the stalker line, but build authentic interactions. Be real. Be yourself.
4. Make your scripts into short films, web series, and movies. Actually, become a creator. That has a lot of stock these days. Sometimes we can’t seem to get over the barrier of sucking. Your first short film might be a terrible piece of trash. That’s amazing! You made a short film. Get better. Keep getting better. I’ve seen crappy cartoonists, bad writers, and filmmakers who make real garbage their first go-around, but you know what? They don’t give up. You can usually see the seed of a good idea in what they are doing. And after a year or two, they get good. And then they get great. That’s why I love the Ira Glass speech on The Gap.
5. Be patient and persistent. Not complacent. Know that things can take time. If they don’t, then great! I love not having to wait. But a great portion of the people I know who write on TV shows and movies got their break in their 30s. Yes, their 30s. I know one major exception, who combined hard work with a mentorship from a showrunner right out of college. She’s built her career in TV and has sold shows and movies. Prepare for everything. Be prepared. Write.
Reading scripts subconsciously trains you in story structure, cadence, plot and character development. You start to understand the way a story works and how to push the rules. I suggest that you read three scripts in the tone and genre of what you’re working on right now. Pick one genre, or “brand.” Seriously anything. BUT don’t pick a script by an “auteur.” What I mean by that is that auteurs are not examples of standard scripting. Maybe you want to be an auteur or filmmaker. That’s perfectly fine. They often finance and make their own films rather than work inside the industry. There’s a difference. I would never advise anyone to read a Tarantino script and go, “well, he did it this way, so I can.” That’s probably not going to fly because it can be completely dependent on acting and directing, which a script on its own is not a sample of. It’s a writing sample, unless, again, you’re making it yourself (that always changes the rules).
What services do you offer screenwriters?
I offer a ton of free resources in my resource library on Any Possibility, like workbooks, checklists, prompts and more. I want to help people focus and treat themselves like their own business. You have to create a product, market it, sell yourself, and keep your own hours. It’s so much work!
I also recently launched a paid e-course called Crushing Competition Season to help people prep for contests using my insider knowledge as a script reader and experience sifting through the other side as a writer. In the future, I want to create more courses to focus on the beginning level steps of entering and even working in the industry.
What groups, or organization should a screenwriter be a part of?
Find your alumni network, JHRTS, Women in Film, Film Independent, etc… Also volunteer if you’re in Los Angeles. If you’re out of town, try a film festival or cool and reputable workshop. There is a lot out there.
What’s next for you?
Last year was the first time I put my writing out there; up until then, I was too terrified. I had a script make quarterfinals in three contests, and that gave me a little hope – a refuel maybe. Like, okay I can do this. And because I read so many scripts for work, I knew exactly why my screenplay advanced the way it did and how to move forward with my writing for next time. So, I’m working on new material and pushing forward.
Any Possibility helps motivate me, too. I love connecting with people and creating focus. So, I want to keep expanding the free and paid content I offer to help eliminate the struggle of starting out that a lot of people run into. It’s really hard to go after your dream. Most people give up. We’re afraid of failure. It’s so human. You’re not alone.
How do we keep in touch?