My Life as a Screenwriter You’ve Never Heard Of

Well now you’ve heard of him: Justin Marks has written over 20 movie screenplays and seen his TV pilots greenlit — but as he explains, the life of a Hollywood scribe is far more lows than highs if your name isn’t Aaron Sorkin.

Screenwriter

Here’s a day in the life of a writer that you don’t always get to hear about.

It was 5 p.m., and I was playing Call of Duty. Why? Because I wanted to. The phone rang; it was a producer with whom I’d just spent the past two years laboring over a cable pilot, a time-travelly science fiction thing. We’d delivered the final cut to the network, and we were awaiting The Call — the one where you hear that your show, which tested well, is being picked up, that your life is about to change.

But the producer had That Voice. Any experienced writer knows That Voice. Because That Voice means one thing: The network passed. “Hey,” the producer said, “we fought for it till the end. We’ll find something else.” I agreed. And that was that.

Probably not three minutes had elapsed in my game of Call of Duty. Two more minutes to go upstairs and erase my now-dead pilot’s name off the list of projects on my dry-erase board. Two years of effort gone in five minutes.

As I wiped the board clean, I saw another project listed below. Kind of a back-burner thing — I was busy at the time — but I owed the producer a call. So I picked up the phone. Told him I was in. By the next morning, I was back at the keyboard, as if yesterday’s pilot had never happened.

And that, my friends, is what it means to be Just Another Working screenwriter.

During the past decade, I’ve been paid to write just shy of two dozen screenplays. Some scripts get made, but most don’t. My name has only remained on one. I’ve been lucky enough to write originals and adapt comic-book properties (Green Arrow) and popular toys (He-Man, Voltron). I make a decent living, but it’s not all glitz and glamour. My wife and I live in a comfortable house in Los Feliz. I drive a Prius, a car they might as well hand out with WGA cards.

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