Sturgeon’s Law states that 90% of everything is crap. Zeno’s Paradox states that it should be impossible to cross a room, because first you must cross it halfway, and before you can cross the remaining distance, you must cross half of that distance, and so on into infinity… So crossing an infinite number of half-distances should take forever.
Anyone who has ever read a TV Guide or judged a talent contest knows that Sturgeon’s Law is true and immutable. Anyone who has ever crossed a room knows that Zeno’s Paradox is not. But just try to get a job in the film industry, and suddenly Zeno doesn’t look so dumb. Time after time, you get halfway there, only to find that you still have an infinite number of ‘halfway’s still to go.
Why? Because of Sturgeon’s Law. In any creative competition, you can only compete with your peers at your current level. The good news is that 90% of the peers at your level will always be crap. If you can prove that you’re not crap, then you get elevated to a new level, consisting solely of that “talented tenth”. So now everybody’s great, right? Nope, because this is a new group, and so Sturgeon’s Law kicks in again. 90% of this new group, when compared to each other, is also crap. You’d better start scrambling again, hoping to avoid the next decimation.
How many times does this happen? How many decimations? At what point do you “have it made”? I don’t know yet. The one thing I’ve learned is that you’re never anywhere near the end. Let’s follow a typical path:
- 90% of those who start writing their first screenplay don’t finish it.
- 90% of those who finish a screenplay, never write another.
- 90% of those who write several screenplays, never risk taking the next step (in my case, film school, but there are other paths as well)
- 90% of those who apply to film school, don’t get in.
- 90% of those who graduate from film school, never even get representation. (But they all have to pay back every penny of their loans.)
- 90% of those who do get representation, never sell any scripts.
- 90% of those who do sell scripts, never see any of them turned into movies….
And so on into infinity? I don’t know, but I’ll let you know if I ever cross the room.
Wow. Depressing, right? I’m sure that no one is that shocked by steps 1-4, but you might not have known about steps 5-7. I sure didn’t. Before I arrived at my “elite” film school, I assumed that all of the graduates would be set for life. They sure didn’t let us know up front that their graduates have an 0.1% placement rate in the industry. Even after that sunk in, I still assumed that once you had reps you had it made… Nope.I cannot recommend highly enough this excellent ten-part series (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10) by Irwin Handleman about the ups and downs of his screenwriting career. It’s brutally honest and hilariously droll. Irwin has gotten past me to Step 8: seeing one of his scripts made and put on screen (transformed into an Usher vehicle called In the Mix). The result? He did not get any job security from that at all. Crap. I’m never going to be set for life, am I?