Should I direct my spec?

questionmarkI’m writing because I find myself at a crossroads, and I could use some good advice.

I’m an early career writer-director with ten years of experience as a theater director. In the last few years, I’ve written and directed a couple of good short films, and written a couple of spec scripts, one of which is in development with an independent producer. Recently, I got a literary agent, a smart guy working for a good agency, and he wants to try to build a career for me as a screenwriter.

My dilemma involves my new, suddenly popular spec script, and how to use it to move closer to my goal of directing independent features. The script is a dark, metaphysical romantic comedy in the vein of a Charlie Kaufman film, and industry people who read it get very excited about it, noting that it is both highly original and commercial.

My agent, who is also enthused about the script, suggests that I tone down its darker elements, and try to sell it to a studio as a more conventional romantic comedy. If we do try and sell it, does it make sense to make the script more mainstream?

I’m inclined to look for a producer, and get a name actor attached, with an eye toward directing it myself as a small independent film. I know I have the skills to do it justice, but will my status as an unknown be a serious obstacle in the search for financing?

My agent says the time to make the leap to directing would be after I’ve established myself via my writing, four or five years from now. Given my background, this strikes me as an overly cautious approach. How much is his advice colored by his perspective as a literary agent?

– Nick
Los Angeles

Direct it yourself.

Why? Because you want to be a director. You have experience as a theatre director. And even though there’s a possibility that you’ll be able to sell your script to a studio, then attach a meaningful director, then get it made, then get your writing career started, the odds of all the elements coming together are pretty remote.

Remote enough that you might as well direct it yourself, assuming you can do it for an independent film budget.

Yes, there are counter-examples. Charlie Kaufman has only now begun directing, and Zach Helm didn’t direct Stranger Than Fiction, though he’s directing a film now. And, for that matter, I didn’t direct Go. But I was aiming to be a screenwriter, and I became one.

People forget that Sam Mendes had only directed theatre before American Beauty. Tell your agent that you see yourself as more of a Sam Mendes/Alan Ball hybrid, and start meeting with indie producers.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.