Pursuing a writing career is challenging due to the frequent rejection of your scripts, the time it takes to brainstorm ideas and invent a new story and breaking into the industry when nobody knows your name. Luckily, Vancouver Film School recently had an Industry Talk with Screenwriter and VFS Writing for Film, Television & Games alumnus Kraig Wenman (Bandit, Secret Obession) who gave insight about being a writer in Hollywood and how to break into the industry.
Kraig began his writing career like most artists – struggling, unable to afford heat, and using crumpled up newspaper as toilet paper. Despite writing for hours every day when he first began, his scripts were rejected, as he “said all the wrong things to all the right people.” He learned valuable lessons from these rejections, such as “never send your first draft”, never start an email with “this is a movie unlike any movie you have ever seen”, and “don’t be precious with your work.” Avoiding these common potholes will give the impression you’re knowledgeable and ready to enter the industry. He sold his first script one year later!
When asked if screenwriting competitions were beneficial to aspiring writers, Kraig advised some can advance your career, such as the Nicholl Fellowship, but others don’t have as big an impact (do your research!). He used InkTip, a platform where writers seeking representation and exposure can upload their scripts to be viewed by filmmakers and agents. The company’s aim is to assist writers with getting their scripts filmed, filmmakers with finding those scripts, and encourage general industry networking. Kraig mentioned InkTip as a helpful way to get your stories out into the world and connect with other creatives.
Recently, Kraig wrote the script for the film Bandit, starring Josh Duhamel and ranking #1 on iTunes. This film follows a newly escaped prisoner who moves to Canada with a new identity and begins robbing banks. The most interesting part is – it’s based on a true story! Hailing from Ottawa, Kraig was familiar with Gilbert Galvan – the “real life” bandit and in 2015, he read and bought the rights to the book that detailed Gilbert’s life. If that wasn’t research enough, Kraig got in contact with Gilbert himself and told him his plans for writing the film – the two chatted and even shared an Airbnb! Although the film was ultimately a success, every production company originally rejected the script, as it can be difficult to market strictly Canadian stories.
Kraig’s main pieces of advice for writers are to know your brand, make genuine industry connections (don’t be that person who shamelessly pitches their ideas at every party!), and ensure you have at least 2-3 scripts completed before you decide to move to any major city to pursue writing. Don’t be discouraged if your script isn’t immediately successful, as this is a learning opportunity for how to improve as a writer – we learn more from rejections than victories.
In terms of how to write a good story, Kraig says regardless of genre, to draw inspiration from your personal life experiences as that’s more captivating to an audience than a template (this is your chance to turn your awkward family Christmas into a bestseller!). Your main character should also have evolved in some form by the end of the script to how they were at the beginning.
All aspiring artists of any form must be dedicated and work hard, but Kraig emphasized the importance of keeping a work/life balance. It’s impossible to write about your personal experiences if you don’t have the energy to make any (this is your permission to book that ski weekend in Whistler).
Ultimately, to become a professional writer – you need to write. A lot. You need to write until you have no more ideas, then brainstorm and write some more. Kraig said, “a Writer’s currency is a finished script” so write your scripts, build your brand, and remember to have fun with the people you meet along the way.