Dan Benamor's Journey in Screenwriting

Written by Justine Owens and Avery Faeth

Dan Benamor's Journey in Screenwriting feature image

Dan's foray into the world of screenwriting was born out of a gut critical reaction to a film that failed to make its mark. Reflecting on this pivotal moment, Dan shared, "I was inspired to get into screenwriting specifically because I saw a movie I thought really didn't work." This moment of disillusionment led to an unexpected revelation when the criticized film's writer became one of his favorite screenwriters, spotlighting the complex journey from script to screen.

Dan's initiation into screenwriting was as humble as it was determined: “One thing I was certain of, watching that film, as a cocky 18-year-old, was that I could write a better movie than that. This sort of blind irrational confidence is necessary to go into the foolhardy, Don Quixote quest that is screenwriting. I went and literally bought Screenwriting For Dummies and started writing screenplays. 20 years later, I'm still doing it, and I'm (though I'm not certain of this) hopefully slightly less of a dummy.”

Facing Rejection

Dan knows all too well the reality of facing challenges along the road to screenwriting success. "The entire field is a challenge. It's nonstop rejection," he cautions while recounting the personal and financial struggles inherent to the profession.

It’s the moments of affirmation punctuating Dan's journey that have buoyed him through the hardships, offering glimpses of success amidst the doubts.

The only thing that has kept me going is that every couple of years, something happens that affirms I may have some skill at this. I win a contest, beating out a thousand or more other writers, or I get a film produced, or I get hired (and paid!) to write a film. I get to go on set, watch dailies, see the rough cut, and so on. Every time I'm about to walk away, like a degenerate gambler, I put it all on black one more time, and I hit. And that's just enough to keep me going, at least so far.

The Balance of Art & Business

Over the years, Dan's perspective on screenwriting has matured, shifting his focus from originality to execution and marketability. "You start out as an Artist with a capital 'A'," Dan reflects, only to realize that "the art part of it is more in the execution of an idea." He spoke about the importance of the business side of creating and selling a film:

Marketing is everything - as soon as you make peace with that, your work as a screenwriter will become infinitely more producible. Your challenge is to demand the attention of a fickle, overserved consumer, who has thousands of (usually bigger budget) choices at their fingertips. What concept can make for a great title, poster, trailer, etc.?

… you're basically writing the blueprint for a skyscraper. It has to be THAT professional, that carefully designed, for someone to invest millions of dollars into it. Part of that is a marketable premise, and the other part is iron-tight execution … it all matters. If you treat it with fanatical respect, occasionally, others will respond to that effort, and you'll sell a script.

Advice for Emerging Filmmakers

For those just beginning their creative journey, Dan offers simple but sage advice—"Focus on quality over quantity," advocating for the value of exceptional work over prolific output.

If you can make a stellar five-minute short, that's better than a mediocre 85-minute feature film … Wait until you're at a place in your career when you can get the money to do the movie properly or come up with a smaller film you CAN make properly today. Do everything you can to present a brand of consistent excellence, and you will keep leveling up.

Dan also stresses the importance of kindness and professional relationships. "Be NICE," he urges, highlighting the long-term benefits of treating colleagues with respect and consideration.

You're gonna look up in fifteen years and realize a lot of people have disappeared along the way. The people who were walking this road with you are not all gonna make it. And in fifteen years, so-and-so's second assistant is now going to be the Head of Production at a big studio. And they will absolutely remember if you were kind and respectful, or not.

Keep Writing!

Dan's journey is a testament to the resilience and passion required to succeed in screenwriting. He likens the experience to a memorable scene from Men in Black, "where Will Smith asks Tommy Lee Jones if it's worth it. Tommy replies, yes, it's worth it, but then adds, ‘if you're strong enough.’" This analogy encapsulates Dan’s approach to screenwriting and filmmaking—a challenging yet ultimately rewarding endeavor for those who possess the strength and dedication to persevere.

J from Men in Black with the caption: oh yeah, it's worth it

Dan Benamor

Dan is an accomplished screenwriter, growing from his early short work to co-writing his feature debut Initiation. He continued this momentum with NGN Productions feature film Stagecoach: The Texas Jack Story in 2016. In 2018-2019 he wrote episodes for the Netflix show Roman Empire. He was also a semifinalist in Shore Scripts' 2019 TV pilot contest for his script Ash & Bone. Since then, Dan has written the screenplay Sunrise in Heaven and had his feature script The Wrong Tenant released by Tubi. He has also and has written for several podcast series, including Otzi The Iceman Must Die and Mahalo With A Bullet.

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This article was produced in collaboration with Shore Scripts.