This is the story of how a troubled, wannabe punk rocker from Seattle became a professional screenwriter. (Warning: epically long thread to follow.)
I always loved movies. I was a kid who lived through the stories in my head. Gangster pictures. Westerns. Disney flicks about ghost pirates or goofy scientists. My mother would drop me at the revival house with enough money for a ticket and popcorn. Movies were my safe space.
When I was 16, a kid in typing class was drawing storyboards. He made Super 8 zombie films in his backyard, complete with exploding oatmeal brains. He wanted to be a director. I realized you could dream of a career telling stories. From that point forward, I never had a Plan B.
High school was not good. Jail was a possibility. College was not. So I joined the Army. I went to Korea, jumped out of airplanes, served briefly in a National Guard Special Forces company. After my discharge, I worked on fishing trawlers in Alaska.
I managed to get admitted to a small college in Washington state. I got good grades and applied to transfer to film school at NYU. I’m pretty sure the only reason they let me in was that I was a vet.
This is New York in the 90’s. The year I arrived, someone was murdered every four hours. I got a job in a Mafia-linked bar, took loans, got help from family. I did whatever I had to do to eat and pay tuition. I worked the day of my graduation. I have never worn a mortar board.
There are two kinds of people who attend film school: The kind who call themselves “director” even though they haven’t directed traffic. And the kind who find a way to claw their way into the industry. For the next two years, I worked as a set PA on the streets of New York.
Fourteen hour days, rain or shine. I was slashed with a box cutter, shot at, an old lady hit me over the head with her umbrella like I was living in a live action Bugs Bunny cartoon. But I learned more about filmmaking in those two years than I did at NYU.
All this time I was writing screenplays. It’s hard to write after a 14-hour day, so I wrote on weekends. One Monday morning, the producer on the film I was working on asked me what I did over the weekend. I told him I was writing a screenplay. He asked to read it.
This is important. This was pure, unearned luck. But I put myself in the position to get lucky by grinding out 14-hour days. And when he asked, I had a screenplay ready. He read it. And passed.
This is equally important. My script wasn’t for him but he liked my writing. All of the things I had experienced - the bad teen years, the Army, Alaska - were in my writing. I sounded different than other screenwriters. I sounded like me.
He passed me on to his development executive who got me a manager who got me an agent. I wrote a spec script. An action picture. We slipped it to the producer. And he passed again.
I was broke. I had failed to get this producer to say yes on two separate occasions. I felt like I was blowing my Golden Ticket. But he liked my persistence. He still thought I might develop into a writer. So he had his home studio give me a blind deal at WGA scale.
That blind deal became CHANGING LANES.
It took nine months to write. The deal was so small and I was so unimportant they literally just forgot about me. I reappeared with a first draft. And the producer loved it. He worked with me on two more drafts. Then he fired me and I didn’t hear from him again for three years.
To be clear, the end of our relationship was my fault. I had personal issues that convinced him he would be better off not working with me. But my draft of CHANGING LANES circulated around Hollywood. It gave me a career. Five years later, the movie was in theaters.
A writer brings four things to their work; talent, effort, and imagination filtered through lived experience. You cannot manufacture talent (or luck) but we all control our effort and imagination.
I have been a professional screenwriter for two decades. I work all day, every day, to develop my craft. But my greatest strength is the authenticity of my writing. I do not sound like other writers. I sound like me.
Everyone who reads this will not succeed at becoming a professional screenwriter. But all of you have a chance. If a troubled kid from Seattle with no money or connections can do it, so can you. And I want every one of you to try.
You don’t have to work on fishing trawlers or become a paratrooper. You don’t have to work in a Mafia bar. Each of us has experiences unique to our lives. Each of us has a voice. Your job is to make the world listen.

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More from @ChapTaylor2

12 Apr
This morning I’m starting a new TV pitch. In order to procrastinate - and get my head right - I thought I’d do a quick thread about TV pitches. My stats are: pro screenwriter for 20 years, pitches sold to NBC, Fox, ABC and FX. One season in a network writer’s room.
Everything that follows are my opinions. Every writer has strengths and weaknesses. Hopefully, telling stories in a room is one of my strengths. We’ll find out soon enough. In the meantime, opinion one is the most obvious... A pitch is telling a story. Period.
Blowing away the room with a fantastic performance does NOT guarantee a sale. You are at the mercy of what the buyer thinks they need, and what they have already bought, but all things being equal, think of a pitch like early Israelites thought of the Bible...
Read 10 tweets
11 Apr
Since it’s Sunday morning, maybe it’s appropriate to talk about something that’s been on my mind... Recent polls show that for the first time in modern history, less than fifty percent of Americans report belonging to a house of worship.
While roughly two-thirds of Americans still identify as Christian, the fastest growing religious group in America is unaffiliated. There are a lot of people on Twitter who probably believe this is a good thing, but honest people should take time to consider what that will mean.
Start with the fact that data shows religiously observant people are happier and healthier than those who are not. I am not attempting to proselytize and social scientists suggest a number of reasons for this, but this is what the data shows.
Read 10 tweets
23 Feb
Okay, I was inspired to create this thread by two things: recent Twitter conversations with aspiring Native filmmakers on how to tell their own stories, and a series of great threads by @tonytost about how to break into the screenwriting business. Here goes...
I’m specifically giving advice on how I think Native filmmakers can get to a position to tell their own stories, on their own terms. Be advised that I am neither the Boss of the Movie Business or Native. These are just my opinions as I try to be helpful.
Also, I believe this may apply to anyone trying to get into a position to control their own narratives. Black. Latinx. Female. LGBTQ. Working class whites... This is about how to tell the stories you want, how you want, without unreasonable compromise.
Read 14 tweets

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