Scary, yes, but
good for ya…Mentors are highly overrated. I know everyone’s supposed to have one, and everyone probably does, which is why I figure they’re overrated. I mean, think of the Great Mentored Mass out there absorbing wisdom at their masters’ knees and yet never actually succeeding.
Blame the mentor.
Mentors are wonderfully avuncular support systems. They nudge you slowly, carefully nurture your talent, pick you up when you fall and tell you confidence-restoring tales of how they once stumbled.
Meanwhile, they’re rich and successful, you’re not.
Face it. Their mentorship is probably 95% about making them feel good about themselves.
The other 5% is inefficient mollycoddling of the mentored, who would probably get a lot further with a few swift kicks to the rear.
That’s why I always say what screenwriters really need (pro or otherwise) is a benefactor.
A benefactor doesn’t give a sweet crap about your self-esteem, nor are they interested in picking you up and dusting you off. They probably like you personally, but if you got a brain tumor that killed your writing ability, it’s almost certain they’d stop calling after a few weeks. They’re too busy for encouragement, they’re too selfish to be a shoulder to cry on, and they’re way too mean to ever ever ever be avuncular.
Seriously, watch out for avuncular. Avuncular people will put the sleep of death on you.
No, benefactors are mostly interested in doing whatever the hell it is that actually needs to be done to make you better than you are now, because they’re paying you for a product.
The concept of the benefactor (or patron of the arts, if you prefer) is as old as both creativity and hunger. Artists and craftsmen have always sought the patronage of the wealthy. The wealthy, by dint of their voracious appetite for more wealth, are ambitious enough for themselves and us. That’s why the relationship is so wonderful. They give the artist a certain purpose beyond his own squirrely mind. Mozart was a genius no matter what he played, but he tended to actually get the work done when he was being ordered to.
Mentors let you get drunk and dream the day away because, in part, they honestly don’t care if you ever make it. In fact, they secretly want you to fail, which may be why they became mentors in the first place.
Benefactors dump cold water on your head and drag you to the typewriter because your lazy, writer’s blocked self-indulgent artsy-fartsy crap is getting in the way of their plans.
In its best form, the artist-patron relationship becomes stable and pleasant. Most big-time screenwriters naturally gravitate towards one or two steady patrons of their art. The patrons provide direction and purpose beyond the mere ego direction and purpose the screenwriter would rely on otherwise, and the screenwriter provides the patron with works of value and, just as importantly, style.
Consider the case of Jerry Bruckheimer. Jerry doesn’t write movies. He’s a patron. A benefactor. More to the point, he’s a steady patron of Ted and Terry’s. Beyond the money that he makes off of the movies that they write, they have added a certain sensibility and style to his oeuvre.
Yes, patrons have ouevres.
At least…the good ones do. Or try to.
My patron is Bob Weinstein. John August loves to work with Tim Burton. David Koepp works repeatedly with Spielberg. Akiva Goldsman found a patron in Brian Grazer and Imagine.
None of these writers (including me) is married to our benefactor. We all flit around here and there, but slowly and surely, like the pairing off process that happens before a prom, matches are made.
They have real staying power, and they help both parties grow as craftsmen, businessmen and entertainers.
If you’re a pro, try and find that single patron. Become a “company man” for a bit, because it will actually free you in the exact ways you might have expected it would not. You find yourself trusted. Treated like an equal. Consulted. Depended upon.
If you’re an aspirant, ditch the kindly old man with the twinkly eyes who makes you feel warm inside after a hard day at the laptop. Find someone crazy enough to want to pay you to write. Doesn’t have to be a script. Earn some money writing anything. Learn how to work for a patron. They, and only they, can transform you into a professional writer. Everyone else is just killing time.