What Role Does Luck Really Play in Screenwriting Success?
by Angela Bourassa, co-founder of Write LA
With the major screenplay competition deadlines coming up, some aspiring screenwriters may be wondering how much of the judging process is really about skill and how much is about luck. The same question can be asked of the people who break through, find representation, and have successful careers as film and/or TV writers. Are they really that much better than the rest of us, or did they just get lucky?
This question isn’t as simple as it might seem, because the fact of the matter is that luck ABSOLUTELY plays a part in screenwriting success. But luck can only ever take you so far.
When talking about luck as it relates to screenwriting success, I think this old adage perfectly applies:
Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.
How Luck Plays into Screenwriting Success
1. What reader you get
Whether you’re sending a script to a management firm or a contest, you basically never have control over who lays eyes on your script first. You don’t know what their tastes are, what pisses them off, what they had for breakfast that morning… Some readers are better than others, and “taste” is subjective. Some of the best movies ever made divide critics. That’s just the way art is.
2. Where you live
If you happen to live somewhere with a film industry, that definitely gives you a leg up. If you’re able to go to school or get a job in Los Angeles, that’s really lucky. Not everyone has that option.
3. Who you know
Yes, everyone can network, but not everyone can have a studio chief as a close family relative. If you’re born into network connections, that’s absolutely a leg up.
4. Happy coincidences
You happen to finish a new rom com about fish owners on the same day that you get a job as an assistant to a hot young director who’s obsessed with fish. Ok, that example is absurd, but happy coincidences and good timing definitely play a role in what gets optioned, bought, and made.
Where Luck Falls Short
1. The quality of your work
You might get lucky and sneak into the finals of a top competition with a mediocre script. But that script isn’t going to carry you through a career. At some point, you’re going to need to show that you are capable of putting out professional quality content on a regular basis. And if your decent script gets into the hands of a rep and they like it enough to meet you, they’re going to ask what else you have – either already written or currently in progress. You need to do the hard work of mastering the craft in order to succeed in the long term – luck can’t help with that.
2. Your dedication
Screenwriting is 99 (or 1,000) nos leading up to that all important yes. And that yes has to be followed by another series of yeses in order for your script to sell or get made. Luck can get you one or two good reads, but it can’t give you the grit and determination needed to soldier through the rejection until you get “lucky” again.
So yes, luck can help, and luck DOES help. Every writer who has had something made has a story about how lucky they got with this or that part of the process. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll also hear about how that writer put in the work, rewrote and refined, and didn’t give up when their luck ran out.
You can’t control your luck, but you can control your preparedness. Keep writing, keep networking, and keep making opportunities for yourself!