I once read that something like 20,000 people each year die as a result of falling out of bed. The same list of death statistics informed me that about 13 people each year are killed from a vending machine falling on top of them. Either way is not the ideal circumstance to check out of this life into the next, and I have no idea if those statistics are true, but I am certain the odds against either happening to you remain very very small.
Then let’s take the case of Stephen Rooney of Hammonton, New Jersey who was killed in the summer of 2011 after being struck by lightning. Death by lightning strike, while statistically unlikely – between death by falling out of bed and being smashed by a vending machine – does happen (odds are about 2,320,000 to 1). But Mr. Rooney’s death by lightning is more unusual because, just prior to his death, moments before he was struck, he acted as though it was an impossibility simply because 48 years prior his own father was killed by lightning, which led Stephen Rooney to say “Lightning never strikes the same family twice” minutes before he suffered the lethal strike.
Fuck the odds, you just never know.
So what does that have to do with screenwriting? First, you can make a strong case for “coincidence” being a valuable device in your storytelling toolbox but a father and son both being killed by lightning, 48 years apart, is probably the stuff only a skilled author like John Irving could make work and, in his case, it would, naturally, be a metaphor for why Ronald Reagan sucked. I digress…
The fact is that the odds of you, or anyone you know, selling a screenplay or getting a movie made are ridiculously low. That is if you are the kind of person who looks only at the odds. But numbers – statistics – often don’t tell the entire story.
You can look at the numbers and conclude something like this:
The population of the United States is about 300 million. Roughly 50,000 scripts are registered each year and about 100 spec scripts are sold each year. Based on just those three numbers, you could say that your chances are 1 in 3 million of selling a spec script or you could say they are 1 in 5,000. They’re just numbers and both would be accurate.
However, let’s throw some information into the equation that may skew the odds.
- You read several spec script each week
- You write 20+ hours every single week
- You do whatever you can to expand your circle of creative, talented people who share your interest in filmmaking and screenwriting.
- You make your own movies on any camera you can get your hands on.
- You join (or start) a writers group
- You reach out to the industry in a positive way – interning, socializing, making friends, writing letters or emails to folks.
- You move to LA where you can do all of the above with ease.
You get the point. IF YOU DO EVERYTHING POSSIBLE, including spending a lot of time writing and reading and writing and reading some more, then you are basically telling the odds to go fuck themselves.
Back to Stephen Rooney, he changed the odds of lightning striking significantly by deciding to smoke a cigar while standing under a three story tall tree during a lightning storm and… the lightning won.
Stack the odds in your favor. Go where lighting could strike. Stand under the fucking tree.