IFNYC #006: Bob Saenz: A Career in Screenwriting
A Career in Screenwriting with Bob Saenz
It could be argued that no film would exist if a writer somewhere didn’t sit down and hammer out the screenplay to get it all started. To that end, I thought I would bring in a screenwriter who is actively writing scripts and getting films produced to talk about the process of getting something that’s just an idea in someone’s head all the way until it’s an actual movie that anyone can watch.
I had the good fortune of connecting with Bob Saenz through a Facebook screenwriting group. I noticed Bob because he would generously share his knowledge and experience with anyone who had legitimate questions about how the industry works. So, after doing some research on his work and reading his blog, I struck up a conversation and shared with him what I am trying to do with IndieFilmNYC.com Being that he likes to impart knowledge to up and coming filmmakers and screenwriters, Bob agreed to talk with me and to give his no nonsense views of the industry to the IndieFilmNYC audience.
There are many paths a filmmaker can take, and I typically like to keep the focus on Indie Films instead of talking about working in the studio system, but there is a lot of blurring of the lines when it comes to screenwriting because it’s the one thing that doesn’t change. Whether there is no budget at all or 200 Million Dollars behind a production, a feature film is still approximately 120 eight and a half by eleven pages of screenplay.
Bob’s story is both practical and inspirational, because he started by just writing films and taking the time to learn the craft, then took advantage of any opportunity to further his career. I feel that a lot of filmmakers, especially writer-directors, want to bust out of the gate with their first film as the next great auteur, and that’s a great place to aspire to if that’s the goal you set for yourself, but there’s something to be said for taking advantage of the opportunities in front of you and producing the best work you are capable of. A thread that weaves through all of Bob’s story is that of course you have to have a level of talent and professionalism, but the skill that will truly move you closer to where you want to be is the ability to build relationships that last.
A testament to that is that a couple weeks after my conversation with Bob, a film he wrote about eighteen years ago went into production with big named talent and should be hitting the screen in the next year. While neither of us are at liberty to disclose any details at this time, Bob does go into great detail about that script, how it got him attention for his writing and playing the long game.
A big lesson that we can all learn from Bob’s journey is that if you’re going to look at filmmaking as a sustainable career, getting value for your work starts with you. Sure, sometimes it’s in your best interest to work for free on small projects, but even then there should be some value in your services. For instance, when I was looking to bolster my directing reel and get into working on web series, I collaborated with a producer who needed a director, but had no budget to hire one. At the time, the experience and additional work to my reel was something I literally couldn’t pay for, because I didn’t have the budget to produce my own material at that time. Directing and producing that series with the other producer became a form of payment because it allowed me to showcase my skills and make connections with cast and crew members I would have never met if I didn’t do the series.
With screenwriting, you have to weigh what you have against who it’s helping more. As Bob explained, in general, writers do not make their name on short films. So, if a producer or director ask you to give them your script so they can make a short film or web series with the promise of credit and furthering your career, the benefits are heavily favored on their side. If the project gets attention then it will most likely be the director and producer who make a name for themselves.
This imbalance is one of the reasons I suggest that anyone who’s going to go the indie film route, diversify their skills. Learning what goes into producing is a great way to not only get your work out there, but to make a name for yourself as someone who creates content. A great resource I discovered, thanks to the recommendation of Jenna Edwards, is the book …. This book will walk you through the ins and outs of producing.
The great thing about producing is that it’s one of those positions that often benefit by having more than one producer on a project, so you don’t always have to go it alone.
LINKS AND INFORMATION MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE
Watch the trailer for Bob’s Film, Help for the Holidays with Summer Glau
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Here is another great video resource about screenwriting that you can find on the Film Courage YouTube page;
Notes To Screenwriters: Advancing Your Story, Screenplay, and Career