10 Screenwriters to Watch: Veteran Scribes on How to Stay Afloat

Pros’ advice: Stay humble but believe in yourself

What should Variety’s 10 Screenwriters to Watch be wary of on their merry-go-round ride through the film business, as they reach for the brass ring of success and acclaim?

Ethan Hawke, star and co-writer of “Before Midnight,” finds a lesson in one of the great plays from perhaps the greatest of playwrights.

Hawke, who is appearing in “Macbeth” in New York, points out that the witches show up just after Macbeth has his first big military success, demonstrating “whenever people are starting to notice you, it’s a very scary time.” For that reason, “no matter what juncture you’re at in life, humility is your ticket to moving forward.”

It’s one of several nuggets writers who’ve experienced success offer to the new writers coming up behind them.

One theme is: “Keep writing, even if it’s not an assignment,” as Melisa Wallack (a former Screenwriter to Watch herself) advises. Her “Dallas Buyers Club” writing partner Craig Borten agrees: “If you can write seven days a week, do it. It only sharpens your tools.”

“Nebraska” scribe Bob Nelson, also a former Screenwriter to Watch, has seen the danger of coasting. “People write a particular screenplay that gets some buzz, a few meetings, and they sit on it. But there’s always a chance it won’t ever get made.” The hottest scribe must “be very disciplined … be a craftsman who gets up in the morning and works on something all the time.”

Jonas Cuaron, “Gravity” co-author, agrees that writers must move forward, but sees value in retrospection too. “I’m trying to take the opportunity to understand what I did and learn from it. I see what I did well, and what I could do better. ”

Ideas for handling success come in a rush from “Rush” scribe Peter Morgan. “Be prepared for it to disappear. For reasons no one can explain, people go in and out of good fortune,” he says. “Be patient, and accept the fact that success isn’t always an indicator of good work.”

Kelly Marcel was working on the “Saving Mr. Banks” set when Variety tapped her as a 2012 Screenwriter to Watch. She warns, “Don’t grab the brass ring just because you can. Only sign on to the stories you really know how to tell, that have a truth in them for you.”

As for living the creative life, Billy Ray of “The Hunger Games” and “Captain Phillips” offers the metaphor of a hot air balloon, whose canvas contains the scribe’s self-belief and ego while the basket’s filled with self-doubt. Those quantities determine whether one floats away or stays earthbound.

“The whole trick to surviving in the entertainment industry is the balance between the two. Enough self-belief so that when people knock you down, you get back up again. And enough humility so when people tell you your scripts need to get better, instead of complaining, you rewrite and make them better. That’s how you keep that balloon in the air.”

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  1. Disappointing article that doesn’t say much of anything.

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