Screenwriter shares tips to succeed

Pen Densham is a true Hollywood survivor.Having quit school at age 15, he spent his formative years doing everything he could to conjure himself a career in film and television. Since then, he has written, produced, consulted and directed movies and television shows for the last 20-plus years. He has worked with talents like Ron Howard, Robin Wright, Kevin Costner, Jeff Bridges, Morgan Freeman and his projects have received multiple Academy Award nominations. And just for irony, the high school dropout now teaches a course to graduating MFA students at USC's film school. So, how did a kid with relatively little education and nothing but a dream become one of the more successful auteurs working in the business today? He sums it up with one word: passion. "It seems like such a cliche," said Densham, author of "Riding the Alligator: Strategies for a Career in Screenplay Writing...and not getting Eaten." ( "I consider passion as the most powerful energizer for your journey as a creative professional. If you truly believe in your work, you will take more risks, bounce back from Hollywood's humiliating rejections more frequently, and fight harder and longer for your projects. "My greatest successes in the industry have been from thinking outside the Studio box. They are the result of ideas that despite being rejected when I pitched them, I went ahead and wrote anyway. Were it not for passion, I would have doubted myself out of my career today." Densham's chief tips for those engaging in the creative process include: Life Scripts -- I firmly believe that we are happiest and most productive when we are working from our true nature and not trying to fake what someone else wants. The stories that are written with a powerful sense of your inner vision are somehow more creative, complex and rich. I call these "life scripts." They contain something more profound that derives from your personal experiences, your unconscious, maybe even your DNA. You will instinctively fight harder to make them work. Actors see them as deeper and more significant. For me, "life scripts" seem to get produced more frequently than the scripts that are less personally inspired. Eliminating Writer's Block -- Perfectionism is the evil villain here. The biggest mistake writers make is mixing the creative process with the guilt of the critical process. They wind up worrying too much about how good or bad their writing is going to be and they freeze. In my research I found an acting coach, a writer and even a computer code creator all suggesting the same unique trick to free the mind. Bear with me here. They all said act or write crappy. Start out by telling yourself to write any old crap you can think of on your chosen subject. Urge any old crap to pour out. If it's crap your critic has no work to do. This lets your brain give itself to the creative process. And strangely, when you read your words later, you'll discover that most of it isn't crap at all. Rewrite -- Great writing is all about rewriting. I call a first draft a Lewis and Clark. No one should blame themselves for a couple of misssteps on a route through unknown territory. But once you uncritically laid out your completed story, it is easy to see what you have discovered. Now is the fun part. Put the freeway through. Make your story flow, cut out any unnecessary side trips and make sure your reader can't get lost on the way. "I have my share of unmade treasures sitting on the shelf, but remember, even if what you write doesn't sell, it was not an empty effort," Densham adds. "Most scripts don't sell just as most actors don't get jobs from every audition. But, frequently, something good comes to gift the effort. People may love the work and invite you to write for a project the envisage, or ask to read other scripts you have. And with each script you become a stronger story teller. Effort brings opportunity."

********** Published: January 13, 2011 - Volume 9 - Issue 39