In the Spotlight: Steven Hartman
Updated: Dec 8, 2020
Steven Hartman has figured it out. He is living his best life because he understands that the road to success is a path not a destination. As screenwriters we can become lost in trying to have our "big break" moment. But the truth is that it takes a decade or longer of consistent work and effort to become exceptional. That's what Steven has become, exceptional and the future is looking bright for this writer. This is why I am excited to introduce you to him.
This is Steven Hartman...
I really started getting into movies as a career when I realized I wasn’t going to be a doctor. I can’t remember how aggressively I pursued it at the time but I know I decided to work at a theater to be near the movies (this was one of the best jobs I ever had) and started reading books like “Adventures in the Screen Trade” and “High Concept” to get an idea of what the industry was like. Between my Junior and Senior year of high school, I attended a workshop based at UCLA that was a one-week program focused on the entertainment industry. I loved every moment of it.
From that point on, I knew that after I graduated high school, I was LA bound. So, I applied to a couple film schools and chose Columbia College-Hollywood. While I had some great internships and had a lot of fun in California, a combination of frustration, a quarter-life crisis and even some depression changed my priorities and I headed back to Michigan.
But writing was and always will be a passion. I knew that no matter what I did, I would write. When I moved back, I started writing and publishing books, receiving some good feedback and making okay sales. At the same time, I started building a career in writing. At first it was product descriptions for a local e-commerce website then freelance writing just about anything I could from real estate to finance to lawn care companies. Now, I work in branding and communications writing scripts for videos, blogs, internal communications and more. I’m lucky in that I look forward to Mondays and starting the work week.
Starting back in writing scripts was a combination of a few things culminating at once. I thought it might be fun and a good exercise to turn one of my books into a script. I also read a book in which a small section referenced the Hollywood scandal centered on Fatty Arbuckle in the early 1920s. This was a movie, I told myself. Then jumped into researching and writing it.
Since then, Fatty Arbuckle (or When the World Was Ours as I originally titled it) placed in Top 5 of Final Draft’s Big Break Competition in the historical category in 2019 as well as placing in other contests. I’ve had many other scripts place in contests as well.
The book I adapted into a script was When Santa Came to Town and it’s a finalist in the Script Summit Competition in the Family category this year.
I love writing and telling stories. I’m happy I get to do it for a living and strive to continue to do it for both screenplays and books.
Q: What inspired you into taking this path?
I’ve always loved movies, but isn’t that everyone’s story? For me, it was something I loved but never thought I could do. In fact, I wanted to be a doctor. That is until I almost failed Biology in high school – then I figured being a doctor wasn’t in my future. It was also in the summer of 1996 that I saw The Rock in theaters. During the car chase scenes I was actually cheering in the theater. I absolutely loved the experience this movie provided and, when I walked out of the theater, I specifically remember thinking, “That’s what I want to do. I want to make people feel the way I just felt.”
Q: Who was the first person who believed in you?
My parents were supportive from the very beginning, probably because they didn’t know anything about the industry. There wasn’t a time that I said “I want to be a filmmaker or a screenwriter,” I think they saw how much I loved it, studied it and how creative I could be. They let me go to a media workshop based out of UCLA between junior and senior year of high school and weren’t surprised when I was only looking at colleges in California.
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Q: How do you define success for yourself?
I think it’s somewhat hard to define because people tend to correlate happiness with success. For me, I already am successful because I write fulltime for a living (although not screenplays) but I have plenty of opportunities to pursue screenwriting and writing in my personal life, whether I ever get paid to do that still remains. The definition of success should evolve because life changes. For screenwriting for me, success would be selling a script or securing a writing assignment. From there, it will evolve as I aim higher.
Q: Give us a typical day in your life.
Are you an Early Bird or a Night Owl? Early bird.
Do you have a morning routine or ritual? Work until the kids get up. I’ve started making coffee a little later and that seems to give me a boost around 8am. I have a flexible work schedule so my hours can vary as I please.
Do you have a pre-bed ritual? My wife and I will watch TV at night but I always have my laptop open and I’m always writing something. If I don’t, I fall asleep almost immediately. I would say most of my personal writing takes place between 8pm-10:30pm.
How do you define a successful day? If I’ve written. I always feel off if I don’t work on something personal. It doesn’t happen often, but I sure feel off-balance when it does, almost like I let myself down.
Q: What’s been the most important skill you've developed on your path to screenwriting? How to diversify my writing. I wouldn’t be where I am in my career if I didn’t have a background in writing and screenwriting. For most writers, you need a day job and expanding my skills through freelance and seeking non-script writing job has opened many doors and gave me the skills to be a writer fulltime.
Q: What’s been the greatest challenge in your writing so far?
Finding sources of honesty. I learned a long time ago that if people read your script they won’t be as honest as they could be when critiquing your writing or they focus on the wrong things.
Q: What’s been the greatest reward in the choices you've made?
The greatest reward has been the feedback I’ve received on some of my writing. It comes from everywhere:
-Praise for writing at work
-Great feedback from screenwriting contests
-Doing well in contests – Top 5 in Final Draft’s Big Break was a huge reward for me.
-Seeing how people react to the books I’ve written. My dad absolutely loved my first novel that I self-published in 2009. Just this weekend (Aug 2020) my dad and I were talking about how he doesn’t read much and the reasons behind it but then he told me about one of the aspects of the book he specifically remembered from when he read it 10 years ago and how it made him feel.
Q: What do you want to learn from a community of your peers?
How to be a better writer. Everyone has a perspective or something they can share. It’s important to be open to creative criticism