With her first produced screenplay, 2007’s Juno, Diablo Cody won an Oscar and became something of a rarity in the screenwriter world: a celebrity herself, à la Aaron Sorkin, Charlie Kaufman, and Matt and Ben. Juno made her an in-demand writer in Hollywood, and she followed it up with two more films (Jennifer’s Body, Young Adult), a TV show (The United States of Tara), and much uncredited rewriting work. Her next script is also her directorial debut, Paradise, the story of a pious young woman (Julianne Hough) who, after suffering through a fiery plane crash, heads to Las Vegas to experience sin (the film is currently on VOD, and in theaters October 18). In six short years, Cody has experienced wild success, backlash, and everything in between, so for our How to Make a Movie series, we asked her to share the seven things nobody tells you about being a top screenwriter.
1. You will be held accountable for your words.
Writers drink, and therefore we often exhibit poor judgment. In 2007, when Juno came out, people were wearing rhinestone-embellished trucker caps and I was making bad decisions, too. I said a lot of stupid things in interviews because I figured no one was paying attention — who cares about screenwriters, generally? But my big mouth got me into trouble countless times. As a “visible” writer, you have to learn to conduct yourself like an actor. Say what you’ve been coached to say. Don’t talk shit about anyone. Behind closed doors, I’m still a drunk train wreck, but in interviews, I try to channel Sandra Bullock or someone else the public finds charming.
2. You will be a big deal for about ten seconds.
Since I “broke through” (ugh) six years ago, countless younger, funnier, smarter writers have flocked to Hollywood and TOOK MY JERB. That’s the nature of this business. Just ask any of the actresses who were on the cover of Vanity Fair’s Hollywood Issue in the nineties. Believe me, they all want to murder Emma Stone right now. You will be replaced. Keep your head down and work as much as you can.
3. You can make money doing things nobody knows about.
I occasionally do uncredited “secret” rewrites on scripts. I like that, because then people who would ordinarily avoid my projects are tricked into buying tickets for films I’ve worked on. I entertain frat guys without their consent!
4. But you have to say no to people constantly.
I turned down a pretty great job last week, and I thought long and hard about it because, Oh God, what kind of spoiled asshole have I become that I wouldn’t do this? But when I thought about the time commitment that it required and what it would pay me and how it could take me away from my children — I just couldn’t do it. My 27-year-old self would hit the roof if she knew I turned it down.
5. Meetings get way better.
I have friends who are lesser-known writers, and they get very nervous before a pitch because they feel like they’re in service of the people that they are pitching to. Whereas sometimes when I go in and pitch, it’s like being an honored guest. The assumption is there that they’re probably interested in what I have to say. People don’t look out the window. Also, you get to park right in front of the studio instead of having to go way off to P6.
6. Everyone you know will suddenly aspire to be a screenwriter.
I’ve never heard of a dozen people applying to dental school because their friend or family member became an orthodontist. But if you become a screenwriter and have success at it, at least five of your non-writing acquaintances will spontaneously decide to try writing a screenplay. And you know what? I don’t blame them. I genuinely believe I have the best job in the world, other than Katy Perry. Besides, it’s not like I know what the fuck I’m doing. Go ahead, guys! Take a crack at it!
7. The guy who refused to date you in college comes asking for a job.
Jeff Goldsmith is the publisher and editor-in-chief of the digital magazine Backstory and is also the host of the popular iTunes podcast “The Q&A With Jeff Goldsmith.” You can follow him on Twitter at @yogoldsmith.