Spotlight: Gary Goldstein, Screenwriter / Playwright

Every so often the Oracle selects entertainment professionals with established Hollywood careers to interview about their work, opinions and what advice they have for the next generation of up and comers wanting to make it in Hollywood. This week’s session is with Gary Goldstein, Award-Winning Screenwriter & Playwright for Film, Television and the Stage.


Gary Goldstein, Hollywood Screenwriter

So Lets Get Started…

Can you tell our readers a little about where you’re originally from?

Gary –
I’m originally from a town called Valley Stream on the south shore of Long Island, New York.  It was immortalized in the great crime movie “The Honeymoon Killers.”  It’s also the hometown of Steve Buscemi (who shot his movie “Trees Lounge” there) and Edward Burns (who shot much of “The Brothers McMullen” there).

Do you currently live in L.A.?  Did you start your writing career in L.A.? How old we’re when you arrived in L.A.?

I’ve lived in L.A. since the mid-1980s and, yes, began my professional writing career here in 1988.  How old was I?  Just out of 4th grade.  That would’ve made me, what, like, nine?  Do the math.

So you’re a Screen Writer, did you receive any POST high school type training before you came to Hollywood to be an Screenwriter? 

I was a broadcasting and film major at Boston University, school of communication, but never learned about screenwriting there, per se.  Everything I learned happened once I moved to L.A. and started paying attention.

What was your first job after moving to Hollywood? Was it screenwriting or did you start out doing something else to make ends meet? Explain your early years in the entertainment world…

I came out to L.A. from New York to work in publicity at Universal Pictures.  One day I realized I wanted to write movies instead of promote them.  It was a good job, though, and definitely got me started out here.

What was your first paying gig as a screenwriter? What show was it? Was it hard being the new guy on staff? Were you nervous? How much money did you make?

I wrote a freelance episode of “Saved By the Bell.”  I pitched about 50 ideas before they finally picked one and hired me to write it.  I wasn’t nervous, just excited; they were all really nice to me.  I worked hard and wrote what became a classic (“classic?”) episode–or so I’m told by people I meet who were kids back then. 

The biggest thrill of the whole thing was going to the taping and realizing they’d built an entirely new part of the set just because my idea revolved around the kids unearthing the old high school radio station.  That was cool.

I got paid something like $7500 for the episode, which wasn’t a lot even back then as the rates for Saturday morning shows were less than for prime time. On the plus side, the episode’s been rerun forever so the residuals have been kind of amazing.

How hard is it to make a living as a screenwriter in the beginning of a career?

Listen, some people write one screenplay, it sells immediately, they get a great agent and they’re off and running.  It happens.  Not to me or anyone I’ve ever met, but it happens.  At least I’ve read that it happens.  Or maybe I dreamt it…

At one of my first TV pitch meetings, the producer I was pitching to told me it probably takes about five years to start to make any kind of real living as a screenwriter.  I thought–“five years, are you kidding me?”  But ultimately (after, oh, I don’t know, five years) I realized that he was right.  And that was at a time when there was more freelance work assigned, the spec market was hotter, and money flowed a bit more freely. 

Bottom line, it’s not a career for the weak-hearted or easily discouraged, which isn’t to say you shouldn’t do it.

Are you in the WGA ‘Writer’s Guild’? How hard is it to get into the guild? What are the requirements for a new screenwriter to gain entry into the WGA?

I’ve been in the Writers Guild since I wrote that “Saved By the Bell” script.  I’m honestly not sure what the parameters are these days to be eligible to join; when I joined I believe you just had to sell one TV or film script to a Guild-signatory company to be eligible. I’d suggest exploring the website for updated info–as well as for writerly inspiration. 

Being in the WGA has been a great help to me and most writers I know for so many reasons.  Forget what politicians or skeptics might say, unions are the workers’ friend. 

Do you have an agent or manager? When does a new writer need to start thinking about that? And what’s the best way to go about it?

Writers–and not just new writers–often put the cart before the horse in this area.  They spend too much trying to get representation before having something great to be represented.  Write a great script–a great spec screenplay or TV pilot–and then worry about representation.

In reality, especially nowadays, it’s a chicken and egg thing.  It’s hard to get an agent (or a new agent) till you sell something or have some recent success, but you usually can’t sell something till you have an agent or a manager (unless you have some other extraordinary personal industry connection who can open a door–like your uncle is, say, Harvey Weinstein!).   

At the same time, having an agent or manager is no guarantee of work or success, you always have to provide your reps with something strong to sell–a script, a pitch, an angle–something in addition to what they may or may not be able to do for you. 

Agents do, however, sometimes seek out the winners of the major screenwriting contests (Nicholl Fellowship, Scriptapalooza, etc.) so it never hurts to submit to the better contests.

What are you doing in Hollywood right now? Any current projects or shows you’re working on.

I’ve written a number of TV movies over the last few years, which has become a very satisfying arena to work in.  A spec screenplay I wrote a few years ago, a fun romantic comedy called “Hitched for the Holidays,” was picked up by the Hallmark Channel and goes into production shortly in Vancouver.  It’ll air this coming November or December. 

I’m also currently writing a new screenplay called “Best Month,” a romantic (or kind of anti-romantic) comedy about a divorcing couple who revisit their marriage.  Plus a recent spec TV pilot I wrote called “Bi-Coastal,” which is a sort of “Sex and the Cities,” continues to go out to networks and producers.

Continuing to hone your craft is obviously a key factor in the success of any screenwriter. Besides taking your class (Gary’s also a Screenwritting Instructor) are there any other workshops or things an up and coming screenwriter can do to help make a transition to Hollywood any easier. Any tips for the new guy to get noticed?

Read everything you can about screenwriting.  If you want to write TV, watch everything that’s like what you’re trying to write; same for movies if you’re writing screenplays.  Know as much as you can about successful TV shows and movies from before you started writing.  I’m talking the generation before yours.  History repeats itself and you want to be prepared.  Good writing never goes out of style, it just reconfigures itself.

Pay attention to the world around you, keep yourself reasonably sane, develop good writing habits, have a life away from your computer, interact with actual people, and, for God’s sake, make notes at every family gathering (trust me, there’s always gold there).

If we go back to this, will television get better again?

Do you use any Screenwriting computer software programs to help you get your job done more efficiently? What is it? Is it worth it to invest in one?

I use Final Draft and you can’t go wrong with it.  Your writing has to look as professional as it reads and sounds, so definitely invest in popular screenwriting software.  End of commercial.

Are there full-time day jobs for screenwriters? What are they? For the new arrivals in L.A., what entry-level job gives the best access to learning the screenwriting side of the business, in your opinion? And knowing now what you know, where would you tell them to look for those jobs?

One thing I learned pretty early on was that “writing is writing.”  All kinds of writing feeds other writing.  In other words, sure you want to make a living as a screenwriter, but while you’re trying to do so (or between paid script gigs) make your freelance, non-screenwriting work still about writing.  Try to get hired to write press releases, presskits, bios, manuals, stand-up comedy, anything that pays decent money for the time you’ll expend. 

Don’t work for peanuts, but remember anytime you’re not bringing in any money–you’re not bringing in any money!  And there’s something gratifying about the cause and effect of writing something (anything) fairly quickly, getting paid for it, and moving on to the next thing.  Unlike screenwriting which can be a very long-term process, often without resolution.

I’m also a big fan of journalism writing as a way to become a better, tighter, more vivid writer of script dialogue and narrative.  I’m not talking blogging but actual, honest to goodness newspaper writing.  They still exist, sometimes quite well thank you, and freelance work is available in these days of shrunken staffs more than you might think.  It may not pay tons but it’s good experience and gives you structure and discipline and, importantly, an editor.


What would be your Ultimate Hollywood Insider Tip for someone fresh off the bus? Do you have any words of wisdom for the next generation of Hollywood ‘Newbees’?

If there’s anything else you think you want to do–go do it.  Like I said, screenwriting isn’t for the weak of heart.  It takes loads of patience, a lot of energy, barrels of confidence, and more skill than it might seem from some of the movies and TV shows out there. 

But if you truly want to write, and no one–not even your most annoying relative or skeptical friend–can talk you out of it, then go for it.  Just be prepared to dig in for the long haul and try to be good to yourself in the process.

Any parting thoughts you’d like to mention to our readers about your upcoming Screenwriting Class? The Why’s… The How’s… The Benefit’s…

No one’s handing out medals on the street corner if you finish a screenplay all alone.  It’s tough, grueling, lonely and enormously time consuming work.  Plus you probably don’t know as much as you think you do about writing. 

I learned how to write screenplays in a great screenwriting class and it was the best investment of time and money I ever made in my career.  I can’t recommend taking a good class enough, whether it’s mine or anyone else’s. 

Getting and staying on the right track is key to properly finishing a strong script–and not taking three years to do so.  Plus never forgo any good chance to network with other writers and industry folks.  Again, unless your uncle is Harvey Weinstein…

For More Information About His Screenwriting Program Click The Link Below

We’ll that concludes another great session of The Hollywood Oracle’s Job Spotlight segment. We would like to say thanks to our special guest, Gary Goldstein for taking time out of his busy schedule to share his Hollywood Story with us.  I’m sure our readers appreciated your honest insight and advice about screenwriting and the industry as a whole. There you have it… So, be on the lookout @ for more amazing insider interviews from people who followed their dreams and succeeded. You too can make it happen, if you really want it!

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