Quit my job in tech to become a screenwriter

Hello all! Name’s Nathan. And yes, I did quit my well paying and job to try my hand at one of the world’s most difficult and fickle businesses.

Am I crazy? Quite possibly. Why do such a crazy thing? In short, I can no longer afford to ignore what makes me feel most alive. For too long, my soul has been buried under six feet mud. I truly believe it’s a life saving maneuver.

I suspect you all are the only one’s who can understand such a seemingly illogical decision.

So why am I here? Well, I‘m looking for a sense of community, a group of like-minded spelunkers, as I start on this wild adventure.

I’m immensely fortunate to have some money in savings so I can focus exclusively on learning the craft. Instead of going to film school, I’ve created a verty intense curriculum and a daily work schedule to become the best screenwriter I possibly can. I did this after spending many months researching the psychology and neuroscience of elite performers. Happy to share my findings if that would be of interest to anyone.

See you in the movies!
 

sfoster

Staff Member
Moderator
Hi Nathan!

Doesn't sound super crazy to me.. i know a guy that took a year off work to go travel around the world and climb mountains and everyone commended him for the decision. you would rather write a screenplay and people call you crazy. well that is on them! do what makes you happy, life is short.

Whats your favorite genre to write?
 

directorik

IndieTalk's Resident Guru
indiePRO
Welcome!

I think you're crazy. I'm looking forward to reading about your findings and your journey.
 
Welcome to Indietalk!

I am also hoping to be a writer-executive producer one day, but I'm keeping my career for now, to ensure I have financial security.
 
Hi Nathan!

Doesn't sound super crazy to me.. i know a guy that took a year off work to go travel around the world and climb mountains and everyone commended him for the decision. you would rather write a screenplay and people call you crazy. well that is on them! do what makes you happy, life is short.

Whats your favorite genre to write?
Life is indeed to short not to live it.

My favorite genre to write? That’s a tough one. I am still very much in learning the craft mode, and will be for quite some time. So I am not sticking to one genre at the moment, I am instead leaning from all genres, or at least many of them. I am taking the brilliant jazz saxophonist John Coltrane’s approach and studying all styles first so that one can take pieces from everywhere and combine them in a novel way.

My writer-director idol is Billy Wilder who, being in the studio system, mastered multiple genres. Ultimately, however, I want to use comedy to tell painful stories. PUNCH DRUNK LOVE and JOJO RABBIT are superb examples.
 
I'd love to hear more about your findings.
I’ve done my best to summarize below. Note that this research is not specific to screenwriting. I was not, in other words, interested in screenwriting-specific pedagogy. I was instead focused more broadly on how elite performers from a wide range of disciples have approached learning.

Summary
  • Break down the discipline into its fundamental components. First, master the most basic one. For screenwriting, I feel this is mastering beats - action and reaction (you may disagree, for I certainly can be wrong here). Then move on to the next most basic component - scenes, for example. And keep building one component on top of the other. In short, don’t jump right into writing full screenplays. A basketball player, for example, doesn‘t improve their game by playing full games. They start with layups, dribbling, etc. The really creative and original stuff only comes when the fundamentals are known so well that they move into the part of the brain that we call intuition.
  • Having identified the component to master, devise exercises that can be repeated over and over again until mastery occurs. For me, this isn’t about writing something original. Why? Because how are we to know when something is correct or not? We cannot. That‘s why we’re doing the exercises in the first place! So what I am doing is rewriting the components - say beats - from historically successful screenplays. This allows me to compare what I wrote to the original. This gives me the perfect opportunity to learn where I went wrong and why. This type of exercise is called “deliberate practice.” It’s literally how the nest athletes and musicians learn their craft.
  • Embrace the tedium. The above practices are most definitely repetitive. And they have to be. That’s literally how the brain learns at the neurological level. So one has to embrace the tedium of this necessary repetition. We can do that a number of ways, by, for example, inventing new exercises to practice the same component. We can also focus on the process, not the product. The goal isn’t to write well. It’s to identify our mistakes, repeat with that new learning.
That all said, I am writing a short screenplay every 3 months to apply what I have learned into something fun and original. The basketball player has to play games after all - it’s not just practice.

This is really only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. But it’s hopefully a helpful start for some. It’s clear it takes a long time and thousands if hours of work to reach mastery. So it takes commitment. Which is why I say fall in love with the process. I think it’s the only way to make it to mastery.

After all this research, I can say with confidence that the only thing stopping ourselves from mastery is ourselves. That doesn’t means it’s easy. Far from it. But it’s always helpful to be reminded that we can control becoming masters of our craft.

Books I Highly Recommend
  • MASTERY by Robert Greene
  • PEAK: SECRETS FROM THE NEW SCIENCE OF EXPERTISE by Anders Ericsson
  • GRIT by Angela Duckworth
  • DEEP WORK by Cal Newport
  • THE TALENT CODE by Daniel Coyle
  • MINDSET by Carol S. Dweck
Hopefully this helps!
 
Any thoughts on Preston Sturges?
Wrote and directed some excellent films. Hard to pick a fave. If forced, I’d prolly choose LADY EVE. I view him with the likes of Howard Hawkes as exemplars of the studio system. In my mind, Sturges wasn’t quite as wide ranging as Wilder. And that’s perfectly fine. What he did write and direct were of superb quality.
 
I did the same thing, left a lucrative career to become a full time creative. It's tough. Results may vary. Still, I get it, life's too short to be a drone forever.

As far as your methodology of study, I think you are dead on target. Learning how to learn is perhaps the greatest of all skills, and that fact that you went straight for that shows real intelligence.
 
Having identified the component to master, devise exercises that can be repeated over and over again until mastery occurs. For me, this isn’t about writing something original. Why? Because how are we to know when something is correct or not? We cannot. That‘s why we’re doing the exercises in the first place! So what I am doing is rewriting the components - say beats - from historically successful screenplays. This allows me to compare what I wrote to the original. This gives me the perfect opportunity to learn where I went wrong and why. This type of exercise is called “deliberate practice.” It’s literally how the nest athletes and musicians learn their craft.
I have embraced this idea using one specific exercise from "Save the Cat". In the book, Blake Snyder recommends that you spend a lot of time answering the question "What's it about?". Essentially, the logline. He talks about how people pick movies to watch (at the time of writing his book, he references reading the summary in the movie section of the newspaper, now I would suggest looking at summaries in Netflix). His point is, until you have a logline that grabs people's attention as they are skimming through a list to pick which movie they want to watch, you don't have a firm foundation for writing your screenplay. He has some rules around what's contained in a good logline. Once you nail the logline, it should be your north star in guiding your writing.

I've taken to writing loglines every few days as my practice. In one case, I have a short screenplay I'm already on my third rewrite on, and I will still rewrite the logline for it. It's interesting to me the different nuances and tones that emerge to guide my screenwriting as I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite that logline. It's been a good practice.
 
I see the same thing with people that love poker deciding on going pro, and it really comes down to what kind of money can you make to justify not having health insurance and a steady paycheck? I am all for the arts, but I would imagine it would take somewhere around at least at min 100K a year guaranteed income as a contractor to quit a full time job (any job with actual benefits), and I imagine the cost of decent health insurance would be heavy for contractor insurance. Don't know, haven't looked into it (a day in hospital is insane, around 5-10k out of pocket without)...I suppose if you are young then who cares, but if you are over 30 I would think it's not the greatest move. Then again, if you are over 30, people no longer consider you a genius if you make something that is genius (just kidding, kind of) Having full financial stability is a lot greater ease on the mind, which IMO gives you more of an ability to create artistically when you are not stressed about finances or possible unforeseen finances.

I personally think it is a tall order to quit any job to pursue arts, but again it all is determined by circumstances and what kind of savings/health situation/who can bail you out in money trouble etc etc.

Not to be negative and these are things I am sure you have considered, but I am just one of those dudes that doesn't believe in expectations.
 
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I went the opposite route and decided to keep my job while building my film career. I have people telling me it's unlikely I'll ever get anywhere until I make the move and focus my efforts full time on the film business. We'll see.

I have to say, it is quite challenging to put in a full day of work and then turn my attention to a script or shooting something or editing, but I've been doing it and I do feel like I'm making progress.

I also have the benefit that I went to film school and worked full time in film 20 years ago. Much of that knowledge is still helpful today. I chose to do it this way because I was not a very good starving artist when I was working full time in film. So, I applaud the OP for taking the chance. I've found that everyone takes a different path to a film career if they ever manage to get one.
 
Hello all! Name’s Nathan. And yes, I did quit my well paying and job to try my hand at one of the world’s most difficult and fickle businesses.

Am I crazy? Quite possibly. Why do such a crazy thing? In short, I can no longer afford to ignore what makes me feel most alive. For too long, my soul has been buried under six feet mud. I truly believe it’s a life saving maneuver.

I suspect you all are the only one’s who can understand such a seemingly illogical decision.

So why am I here? Well, I‘m looking for a sense of community, a group of like-minded spelunkers, as I start on this wild adventure.

I’m immensely fortunate to have some money in savings so I can focus exclusively on learning the craft. Instead of going to film school, I’ve created a verty intense curriculum and a daily work schedule to become the best screenwriter I possibly can. I did this after spending many months researching the psychology and neuroscience of elite performers. Happy to share my findings if that would be of interest to anyone.

See you in the movies!
WISH YOU NOTHING BUT LUCK.
 

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