Movie fans see the end result, but they are rarely privy to the endless hours of backbreaking labor that goes into that product — if the product gets made at all. And it’s not just “struggling” screenwriters who experience that sort of frustration; it happens to some of the biggest filmmakers on the planet on a regular basis.

That point was hammered home on Twitter this week by Academy Award-winning writer and director Guillermo del Toro. He and a bunch of other filmmakers were asked by a fan how many screenplays they had written that “never got made.”

Del Toro actually responded. “I have written or co-written around 33 screenplay features,” he noted. “2-3” were directed by other filmmakers — that would be The Hobbit movies, which he worked on for years and intended to direct as a two-part film (hence the odd “2-3” distinction) before he finally left the project, at which point Jackson restructured the material into a trilogy. Del Toro himself has made 11 movies, including his upcoming adaptation of Pinocchio for Netflix. But that leaves “about 20 screenplays not filmed.” And because each one takes at least half a year to write, del Toro added, that works out to 16 years of his life “gone” on things that will never see the light of day.

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It sounds awfully depressing when you put it that way, but del Toro seems to have a positive attitude about the whole thing, noting that it gives you experience and “skill improvement.” James Gunn had a nice perspective on it as well, responding with a list of all the things he could have done in that time instead of writing screenplays that no one will see:

At least a couple of del Toro’s unproduced scripts are known. The most famous is probably his adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness; del Toro developed a movie version for years. (To date, it’s never been made.)

So just keep that in mind, aspiring writers. Even if you’re successful, this will likely happen to you, over and over again. Meanwhile, Del Toro’s next, actually produced screenplay, Nightmare Alley opens in theaters on December 17.

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