View Full Version : What makes a writer "A-list"?

06-02-2004, 12:37 PM
Interesting article by Tom Matthews in the current "Creative Screenwriting" on sustaining a screenwriting career after the first sale. He worked steadily for several years after his first produced credit, then found himself stone cold.

Got me wondering: what makes a writer "A-list" -- i.e., a "star" among writers, the go-to person, etc.? It can't be just writing ability -- I recently looked up several Oscar-winning writers who hadn't had much (if anything) in the way of produced credits since collecting that little golden eunuch.

So what is it? A great agent/manager? "Plays well with others?" The annual killer spec (along with the writing assignments)? "Connections"? Or ??? And what can a newbie looking to the long-term learn from this?


06-02-2004, 03:23 PM
I don't know the answer to your question (have laways had a problem with labels in undies & how one person's A is another person's B) but it strikes me that when you say this "who hadn't had much (if anything) in the way of produced credits since collecting that little golden eunuch," you might well be speaking out of your hat.

Credits (espcially on 'punch-ups') often don't reflect how many A-list writers just got a ton of dough, but are uncredited for their work on the film itself.

I haven't read the article, but I know that there are "script doctors," considered A-Listers by most, who have about a week to polish up the script and you won't see their names anywhere except the occassional interview/commentary.

So while it might *seem* these respected writers are resting on their laurels, eating bonbons and doing bumpkis, they might in fact be busily churning out numerous final shooting versions of the films that are actually making it to the screen.

("Get me Princess Leia on the phone...")

Hugh Jardon
06-02-2004, 07:02 PM

Same thing that makes a director A-List,
an actor A-List, and on and on...

A writer who's presence on a project actually
betters its chances of getting it made.

06-02-2004, 07:41 PM
That's the result, not the cause...

My question is, how does a writer manage a career so as to BECOME A-list?


Mike Samonek
06-02-2004, 08:16 PM
No, it is the cause.

Listen, being a great writer is a step in the right direction, but a lot of this comes down to luck. Do you get a movie made? does it make money? Those issues are largely out of the writer's hands, but they are steps along the path to the A-list. There are lots of good scripts that never see the light of day - lots of good writers who are unproduced but continue to work every day. Getting to that next level is purely the luck of the draw. Every one of us unproduced writers is one film away from moving up the list - and one hit away from topping it. But our work is done - so all we can do is sit and wait (for the most part) and keep working.

All you can do is pick your projects wisely, do your best work, be someone people like to work with - and then get lucky.

Done Deal
06-02-2004, 08:35 PM
I'm sure some others can offer varying opinions but here's a little something...

A writer can't really manage their career to become "A-list" any more than an actor or director really can. Now granted, yes, if you only choose to work on crappy movies regardless of your talent then you'd be "managing" yourself poorly but for the most part it comes down to a writer, in this case, being able to deliver the goods overall.

Now granted there are always exceptions and variations but... Generally speaking you are talking about someone with a great understanding and overall command of the craft of screenwriting. They excel at dialogue, descriptions, characters, structure, pacing, etc. They are someone who can come in and quickly help to identify problems in a script and provide solutions to them. They are usually going to be someone who is recognized for the box office and or critical success of the films they have written. They are most likely going to be someone who is very good with meetings and has made an impression around town with all the various executives and producers they have met with. And they can come through in the clutch. In other words, they are the person that you know if you hand them the ball they will most likely score with just a few seconds left on the clock. Someone you'd trust your career with.

For the most I would say if you learn everything you possibly can about writing, have a terrific knowledge of the history of movies, watch a million films, read tons of scripts, write solid screenplays that shine in everyway, be knowledgeable on many worldly subjects, and do your best to work with top producers on good projects then you will have a decent chance of making the A-list. Also, having an agent and/or manager that is well established who can get your name out there and get you into a lot of good meetings will be invaluable.

And of course some of it is just Mother Nature and a bit of luck. :D

06-03-2004, 06:18 PM
That's YOU?

I LOVE you're work, dude!

Seriously, though -- I can't add much to this thread -- what has been said is the truth of it -- talent, a little (a lot?) luck and consistency of both of the above. A few big hits -- you're Shane Black.

A few misses -- you're Shane Black again......

(Who am I to talk -- he's directing a movie, I'm sitting on my ass sipping Cherry coke.....)