Write Like No One’s Watching
by Bill True – Writer and Dept. Chair & Head of Dramatic Writing at the Scottsdale School of Film+Theatre


A couple weeks ago, I typed FADE OUT on an honest-to-goodness “fuck it script.”

If you’ve never heard this term, it started making the social media rounds a few years ago to reference a script that the writer wrote just for themself. Constraints of the market and produce ability be damned, they had to get it out, even if there was no chance in hell the thing would ever be produced. For a long time, I scoffed when folks would shout from the social media rooftop they’d finished their (I’ll spare you the full word from here on and simply call them) F-it scripts. At times, I questioned their sincerity. I rolled my eyes at their audacity to advertise such a thing. Announcing it felt like a cry for attention. “I wrote this thing I don’t care if anyone likes or buys, but I want the world to know about it because I actually desperately hope you like it or buy it!”

Secretly, though, I envied them.

I didn’t envy those who might lack sincerity or simply write an outlandish script for the subversive purpose of vying for industry attention. I did—and do envy the folks who really and truly said F-it and wrote what was in their hearts, no matter how crazy or messy or unproduceable the thing might be. From the depths of their souls, they conjured this cool or kooky movie or TV show they felt the world was missing, but probably didn’t even know it yet. Or they had something so deep and delicate and fragile to say, and they thought someone else might need to hear it, too. Moreover, they risked potential embarrassment and emotional devastation to get the thing out of their heads, onto the page, and into someone else’s hands.

I mean, we all know that’s what writing should be. We toss the platitude of “write from your heart” around ad nauseum. Yet, If you’re anything like me, you’re really good at giving that advice to others, but kinda lousy at taking it, yourself.

Much of the time, I find myself writing like EVERYONE is watching.

I write to market forces because I am trying to ride the wave of a popular genre or trend, or to capture the lighting of whatever’s in the zeitgeist in a bottle. Why? Because I want to sell something. Or at least, I want industry folks to see that I am a smart and informed person that pays attention to what’s happening in the industry.

I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s a recipe for disaster. I mean, already I’ve hemmed myself in because I’m trying to write what I think someone else wants me to write… I’m begging to be self-conscious as I (fool heartedly) attempt to be “creative,” but with caveats.

Even worse, I worry about what other people will think about this thing I write. Will it offend people? Will people misinterpret my intention? Think I’ve stepped into a zone that society may have (at least in my perception) deemed off limits to me? Will it get me cancelled? Then there is the worst one of all, at least for me. Will people think it’s dumb? And, by extension, think I am stupid or ridiculous? Will this set me back and cost me precious momentum in my writing career that I have fought so hard for over so many years?

I wish I was the kind of person that innately approached every new project like an F-it script. Sadly, I am not. I am a deeply emotional and sometimes very insecure person. I worry about stuff like the stuff I just talked about all the time. It’s something I have to overcome every time I sit down at my keyboard. Hell, it’s something I have to face every time I step out my front door!

As if the calculus wasn’t complicated enough, factor in the reality that, in this very cluttered IP landscape, we’re never, as Seal put it, “gonna survive, unless we are little crazy.” It’s increasingly harder to standout with each passing year, and the bar for new writers to pop in the industry is higher and higher. So it’s a double-edged sword. You gotta write crazy in order to get noticed. You have to risk looking ridiculous to have any chance of standing out.

So…write your F-it script because that’s what market forces are telling us to do. My brain glitches on that.

What I hold onto is some advice a good friend of mine that used to be a VP of Development at Fox gave me some time ago. It sticks with me to this day. “The reaction you’re hoping for from people,” he said, “is that they either love or hate the thing you write. Either one is great. The only death of a work is a tepid or middling response.”

Recently, I’ve been caring a lot more than usual about what I think the market wants or what the world will accept in terms of my writing. You know what that’s gotten me? A lot of tepid and middling responses. Why? Because I’m pulling my punches. I’m writing with my head instead of letting my heart lead me. I’m writing “nice” instead of misbehaving. It’s technically fine and structurally sound, but, quite frankly, it’s boring.

So what did I do to break out of that and find the courage to write my F-it script— which, by the way I friggin’ love! Even better, folks that have read it friggin’ love it, too.

I had to make a decision. Do I really care if this script sells, or do I just write it because I love the idea and I love writing? Do I care what other people think if it or me after they read it? Do I care more about having a “good” script or an f-ing fun one? It wasn’t easy, but I had to commit to the idea that I wasn’t gong to sell the thing, people might think I’m insane, and that the script, though fun, might turn out a hot mess. From there, I had to remind myself of that commitment every time I sat down at my keyboard. It became a mantra. In fact, I taped it to my monitor, so it was in my face every day. So that it held me to the promise to myself.

As an aside, I also had to trust I could finesse the thing in revision. That’s 90% of writing, anyway!

During the process of getting that first draft out, however, I had to just pour it all out on the page. Every day, I’d ask myself, “Is this as fun and heartfelt as it can possibly be?” Does it make me laugh or cry? If the answer was yes, I knew I was on the right track. Did I second guess myself? All the damn time. But when that happened, I told myself, “That’s my fear talking…and I should do exactly the OPPOSITE of what my fear tells me here.”

And that’s how I got my awesome F-it script.

I don’t know what happens from here with the thing. Most likely, it will be a cool writing sample because it’s a miracle when any spec script sells. Even my friend, Oscar winning screenwriter Tom Schulman (Dead Poets Society), says, “I start every new script thinking I am going to sell it, and I end the process realizing it’ll really just be a great writing sample.” So I am counting the knowledge that got it out of my head and had a super-fun time doing it as the win. And I get to own that honestly and authentically left if all on the field.

I wrote. Like no one was watching.

I wrote for the love of writing and storytelling. And I feel more vibrant and alive than I have in a long time.

I wish the same for you. For your career, of course. Bust mostly for your writer’s soul. I mean, fuck it…right?

Bill’s debut feature, Runaway, was hailed by critics as “Brilliant” and “Hitchcockian” as it premiered to universal accolades at top festivals, including Tribeca and Toronto. Bill also took top prize at the Austin Film Festival for his work on Runaway, which was subsequently released by eOne Films.

He got his start as a stage actor and director. As an actor, Bill worked with legendary lyricist Tim Rice, starring in the title role in the American premiere of Rice’s rock opera, Blondel. As a director, Bill is an alum of the Guthrie Theatre’s exclusive Director’s Lab.

Bill transitioned to playwriting, studying under and mentored by Tony Award winner and Oscar nominee Mark Medoff. Bill was named one of New Mexico’s Best New Playwrights with his play, Hell is a Diner. He was also a company member and dramaturg for Desert Playwrights Theatre Company. In 2014, Bill’s multimedia homage to the silent film, He Who Gets Slapped, opened to rave reviews. Slapped went on to be staged at the LA Theatre Center as part of the Kennedy Center for the Arts theatre festival.

As a screenwriter, Bill has developed feature and television projects with The Film Collective, NBA Entertainment, Warner Horizon Television, Veritas Entertainment, More/Medavoy Productions, eOne Television, and more. He was honored as a Bush Artists Fellowship for writing grant recipient and, most recently, was selected to participate in the acclaimed Yale Writers Workshop.

Bill has been a featured panelist and jurist at the Austin Film Festival, Scriptfest/The Great American Pitchfest, and the ScreenCraft Writers Summit. He’s been a featured speaker for industry organizations including the Independent Feature Project, Women in Film, the Tribeca Film Festival, the Phoenix Screenwriters Association, and the Northwest Screenwriters Guild.

In addition to his work in Hollywood, Bill is Faculty-in-Residence for Dramatic Writing and Department Chair at the esteemed Scottsdale School of Film+Theatre.

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