An Interview with an Unknown Screenwriter

Meet Lee S., aspiring playwright, screenwriter, and poet.

He is working on his second play, his fourth feature-length screenplay, and his first collection of poems. His five-year plan is to be involved in producing an independent film. So far, his work has been rejected “all over Hollywood and New York” (his words, not ours). Thankfully, he clearly has a sense of humor about it. We emailed Lee some questions and he sent us his insightful answers.

Q: If I may be so forthright, I guess the number one question would be: How do you do it? How do you keep going on?

A: I think the answer is another question: How could I not do it? Sure, the rejection is really discouraging. Some of it is even really really discouraging. But thankfully there’s plenty of it that is just plain ordinary discouraging, without any of the really’s in front of it. But I can’t imagine giving up. I can’t imagine a life without writing.

I was watching a movie the other evening about the life of J.D. Salinger. He faced a lot of rejection before he became a wildly famous and popular author. His writing teacher, Whit Burnett, the famous editor of Story Magazine, told him early on that he needed to decide if he would keep writing if he was never published. I ask myself that same question, and the answer is a resounding yes–both for Salinger and for myself.

Q: What is your favorite Salinger work?

A: The Banafish story is my favorite, but I like everything. I wish there was more.

Q: It’s interesting that you work in the dramatic forms but also the poetic. Have you submitted any of your poems to the little magazines?

A: I have. I have been rejected there, too! I haven’t submitted a ton, though. It can be a very tedious and depressing project.

Q: What is your biggest challenge as a poet?

A: Trying not to sound like Bukowski. I’m kidding, although the struggle is real. I really love poetry. When I’m having a tough time with the other writing, I usually go for a walk and write a poem about it. My collection is going to be called “Writer’s Block Poems.” I think I’m going to self-publish it as an eBook with a print-on-demand option for anybody who wants a physical copy of the book.

Q: What is the most encouraging rejection you’ve received so far?

A: An agent I’ve been sending my screenplays to since the very beginning sent me a really nice email after the last one. She said that I should keep going. She said (and I’m paraphrasing here): “You’re not quite there yet, but I think you might have the talent to get there.” I framed that one.

Q: Do you ever get depressed? What advice would you have for other aspiring authors who find themselves depressed?

A: Of course I do. I’m lucky to have a very supportive network of friends, and we are all kind of in the same boat. We look out for each other. I would say that if you’re going to try to make it as a writer, especially in Hollywood, it doesn’t hurt to talk to someone professional on a regular basis. You can do an internet search for help with depression near Los Angeles if you’re lucky enough to be located here where the action is. Or just search for your local area.

Q: Would you ever consider filming your own screenplay?

A: Absolutely. I have shot a few shorts I need to finish editing so I can upload them to YouTube. Unfortunately, between all the writing at night and working a day job to pay the rent, I find myself short on time to learn all the skills necessary for production–even with an iPhone. But it’s something I very much want to do. I’m looking for people on Craigslist with certain skill sets to help.

Q: Do you have any parting advice for our readers?

A: I’m not sure how much weight the advice from a complete unknown is, but I would say: Keep trying. And good luck to us all!