The War of Attrition

There has been much talk about the power of resilience in the press, with news outlets reporting that it is this quality that, above all, determines whether we succeed or fail.

A lot of creative success seems to be just down to this: keeping going. There was one professor at the University of Southern California Film school, where I taught, whose students all sold scripts: one wrote a film called ‘But I’m a Cheerleader’, another wrote episodes of ‘Zena, Warrior Princess’, another worked on ‘3rd Rock from the Sun’ and yet another sold a script called ‘What women want’ that was made and starred Mel Gibson. When I asked the professor why she had managed to attract such a talented group to her class, she said, ‘Oh no, they weren’t exceptionally talented, no more than any other group of students. They just set up a writing group that kept going after the class ended, and supported each other, and that’s how they all made it.

This reminded me of a post inspired by my book, Is there life after Film School, which I am re-posting below.

By Marcus Sonsteby on Friday, July 27, 2007

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The War of Attrition

Tags: advice, book

In the final paragraph of her introduction to her book Is There Life After Film School: In Depth Advice from Industry Insiders, Julie MacLusky writes:

“When I set out to conduct these interviews, I wondered if those who succeed have any personal qualities in common, or particular routes to success. I found that they did share a realistic idea of the business they were getting into, which was married to a fierce determination. They were also prepared to do their time in lower paid jobs and earn their experience the hard way. And finally they were prepared to keep going when others might have chosen to give up. Screenwriter Peter Dowling told me he believes success is down to a war of attrition. Thus, if you graduate from a class of thirty-two screenwriters, and five years later only two of you are still writing, your odds will be greatly improved by the reduction in competition.”

One dictionary defines “attrition” as a reduction in numbers usually as a result of resignation, retirement, or death. Another word that comes to my mind is cutthroat.

Peter A. Dowling shares writing credits with Billy Ray on Flightplan (2005), a Hitchcockian thriller starring Jodie Foster. Is There Life After Film School? was published in 2003 by Continuum.

Julie MacLusky is Assistant Professor of Screenwriting at Chapman University. Several of her short stories have been published in anthologies, and she has also written and produced documentaries for BBC Radio.


The War of Attrition: Part 2

Tags: advice, book

Be sure to start with Part 1.

Is There Life After Film by Julie MacLusky, Peter Dowling continues:

“I think as a writer you just have to keep on writing, stretching your self and trying to grow. You often hear people say, ‘You have to write the most un-commercial thing you can to prove to people that you’re a good writer,’ but I just write what I like and would want to see myself.

There are clearly a lot of talented people out there who haven’t yet made it—but it’s a war of attrition. Maybe they weren’t ready when their opportunity came along. An opportunity will probably come along again, and they must just keep writing. Good material—you often hear it, but it’s true—will find its way. This business is built on looking for good material. They’re not out there to keep you away. If you’ve got a good script, somebody will get hold of it, read it, like it, but it—it’s just the nature of the business.

I really think it’s just staying power. People who get disillusioned give up, and then I have to question how much they really wanted it in the first place? I’ve known now for over twenty years what I wanted to do. I remember at eighteen meeting people who were at university in England and they said, ‘What do you want to do?’ and I could tell them. But if I asked them, ‘Well, what do you want to do?’ and they were doing some kind of business degree, they didn’t know, but they had an income figure in mind. I always knew I wanted to make movies and it’s not about the money. I say if you do what you love and you’re successful at it, the money will come.”

I can certainly relate to Peter. Filmmaking is something I’ve longed to do since I was 13. My advice to myself and other filmmakers: Write something.

Begin to write stories. Take short one act plays and turn them into ready-to-shoot screenplays (while making all the changes you want). Take moments from you life and turn them into screenplays. Write the ordinary. Write the fantastic. Write the dream you dreamt as a child.

Regardless of whether you want to write: write something!

Here’s a link to the book: