Christopher McQuarrie isn’t a household name filmmaker, like Quentin Tarantino, but his career is nothing to sneeze at: He’s an Oscar-winning screenwriter, having penned The Usual Suspects two-and-a-half decades ago, and he’s currently the house director for the Mission: Impossible series, which used to change hands every episode. But even someone as successful as he is has had to fight for it. On Wednesday McQuarrie took to Twitter to offer some tough love on anyone trying to break into his tough industry.
I‘m receiving a lot of questions from writers asking where to submit scripts or how to sell them. Others ask how to sign an agent, attach directors or producers, etc.
You won’t like the answer, but here it is:
You’re asking the wrong questions. (Thread)
— Christopher McQuarrie (@chrismcquarrie) October 23, 2019
“You won’t like the answer, but here it is: You’re asking the wrong questions,” he began. The short version: You have to keep trying and never give up. “After twenty five years in the craft, I’ve learned the secret to making movies is making movies – starting with little movies no one will ever see. The secret to knowledge is doing and failing – often and painfully – and letting everyone see.”
McQuarrie repeatedly compared the film industry to a lottery, one that he’s been able to win several times. He pointed out that, after winning his Oscar in 1996, his career fell on hard times. He didn’t even recover until the late aughts: Valkyrie, from 2008, was his first produced screenplay since 2000’s The Way of the Gun, which was also his directorial debut. He rode Valkyrie to the first Jack Reacher, then rode that to Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation. And now he’s essentially a hit franchise’s showrunner who almost exclusively works with Tom Cruise.
Point being: McQuarrie wound up practicing what he now preaches. He goes on:
Some questions you should be asking: How do I gain experience making films? How do I become an invaluable part of the process? How do I learn to walk before I fly? And the answer is: make a film – alone or with friends – share your work – then do it again. This guarantees NOTHING. But it’s what I know. And it’s better odds than the lottery. And there’s no waiting for permission. You are, in fact, living the dream. And if you think the dream relies on bigger budgets and a paycheck, brace yourself for profound unhappiness.
He also reminded aspiring filmmakers that even if you’ve made what you hope is your calling card doesn’t mean it’s time to rest. And your favorite filmmakers? They were sometimes miserable, too.
Your greatest cinematic heroes, whoever they are, all made their own luck. They were also never satisfied, they all suspected their peers had it better and were better, they never felt fulfilled or fully understood. At some point they all failed spectacularly. And your heroes never, ever fully realized their dream. That is why they kept dreaming. That’s the best it’s ever going to be. And there is no place else to start except at the beginning.
He ended by saying, “This is my truth – learned the hard way. It may not be yours. I was asked and I have answered with what I know. Those of you with arguments and acrimony are wasting valuable time that could be spent on your future.”
So there you have it: The film business is comically hard to master, even after you’ve mastered it, and the math will tell you that almost no one does. But if you do win an Oscar and then wait another decade-plus and find yourself lording over a popular franchise, you’ll at least be able to dish out sound advice.