Jake Disch

Dear Screenwriter: Here’s How It Happened

If you follow me on any kind of social media, know me in any way, or have come within screaming distance of me this year, you probably already know about Saturday at the Starlight. The spec comedy feature I wrote with Nick Gligor was filmed this year to be released next year. It stars Abigail Breslin, Denise Richards, Michael Madsen, Booboo Stewart, Tony Cavalero, and a host of other very talented folks. But I’m not writing this today to pat myself, Nick, or our director Philip Clark Davis on the back. I’m writing in an effort to give any aspiring screenwriters out there a view into exactly how this thing came to be.

Everybody’s always looking for the secret key to “breaking in” to the film industry, but anyone who’s spent enough time around it knows that the real secret is, there is no secret. You just work until you catch the notice of someone who likes what you’re doing. Then you hope that that person has connections that also like what you’re doing, until enough people like what you’re doing to form a team and help get something you’ve been doing made into something everyone can enjoy.

“Yeah, but Jake,” you say, looking up at me with great big tear-filled orphan eyes, “How do I catch the notice of that first person?”

Again, there’s no secret to this other than being good at what you’re doing. The best thing you can do is to write every day, revise, get your work to a place that you’re more or less okay with, and start sharing it with people. Gauge their reactions, get their thoughts, revise, and go again. That’s the only single truth about the whole screenwriting thing: the only way to get better is by continuing to write and continuing to share. From there, there are tons of ways to get your work into the hands of people who can help you, but it’s up to you to maximize your own chances. Here’s how I planned on doing it:

  1. Get an internship at a solid production company with room to grow.
  2. Leverage that internship into either a position at said company or an entry-level position elsewhere.
  3. Once at said company for long enough and after presumably having done a good job, get my scripts into the hands of my bosses and/or any interested connections they might have.

And that’s exactly what happened. I interned at Black Label Media (Sicario, La La Land) in 2014, jumped from there to a boutique literary management company, and eventually convinced my boss to read one of my scripts. My boss, now also manager, read a script of mine and was sufficiently impressed to allow me to work with one of her director clients. The project we came up with is still in the works, so no more will be said on that, but it got the ball rolling. So how does all of this lead into Saturday at the Starlight?

Here’s the thing: it doesn’t. Nick and I wrote that goofy script all on our own and, upon realizing that the spec script market isn’t exactly crying out for tiny-budgeted, R-rated, semi-absurd 90’s comedies about teens and roller skating and illicit drug money, put it up on the Black List website. The Black List, for the uniniated, is a service that allows writers to post their scripts (for a fee) to an online database. Producers, directors, agents, and managers all have access to this database, and can use it to source new talent and find spec scripts.

Anyways, we slapped it up on the Black List, thinking we’d give it a month and see if we got any nibbles. The month came and went, we cancelled our posting so we didn’t incur another hefty charge, and three days later a producer from the digital outlet BRAT reached out to talk about our script. He’d downloaded it from the Black List before we deleted it, and his company was all about low-budget, nostalgia-minded teen comedy. They just happened to be looking to make their first feature film and thought Saturday at the Starlight might just be it.

See what I mean? Totally, completely random. I went through every step of my “plan,” and in the end it was a goofy idea written with a friend and posted online that got the ball rolling. Right place, right time. This story won’t exactly help you sell your own spec (it is, in fact, statistically all but impossible for this to happen and I’m still pretty amazed that it did), but it is illustrative of what you have to do: arm yourself with multiple scripts and multiple plans of attack to maximize your chances, then work hard to make the most of those chances when they arrive.

I know you probably want me to tell you all the juicy behind-the-scenes stories from development and production, but nah. I’m contractually obligated to keep my big mouth shut about all of that stuff. For now. Sorry.

Anyways, see Saturday at the Starlight, presumably coming to theaters or maybe Netflix or God forbid Crackle in 2018!