Sunday, February 21, 2010

You Know You're a Screenwriter When...

For the unfamiliar, a "reveal" in screenwriting parlance is the placement of key, revelatory information in a story. Most times, the last reveal is the most important revelation of all.


FADE IN:

Kris Young, a teacher at UCLA’s screenwriting program has a nice little piece in the recent book of screenwriter interviews, Tales from the Script, Edited by Peter Hanson and Paul Robert Herman, ItBooks, HarperCollins, 2010, pp. 26-31. He talks about something he calls, “Kung Fu Screenwriting.” Based, as he says on Bruce Lee’s philosophies,
...there’s a difference between doing and being. When you venture forth to do screenwriting, like many people do, then the moment you stop, you’re not a screenwriter. But if you move toward the idea of being a writer, then it never leaves you. And I think that’s a higher thing to aspire to – to be a writer. You keep writing not necessarily to sell a script or to get a movie made, but because that is who you are (last italics, mine)
I look for people who are already self-motivated. People who already have a high level of interest in the subject – they’re really not gonna do anything else. They’re writing before school begins, they’re gonna keep writing when school stops. It’s not something they do, but it’s something they are (last italics, mine). 
Be a writer as opposed to someone who does writing. 
It may sound delusional or pompous as I have had no film of mine ever produced in a complete form, and I have only had options taken on my written work, but... I am a screenwriter. I realized this when I found myself working on yet another screenplay with the full awareness that it was not a movie I expected Hollywood would ever make. And I didn’t care. I had to tell myself this movie. 
I have worked as an agent, sold books to publishers for advances so high that the New York Times, no less, wrote about it as out-agenting the New York agencies. But I have no agent. I have sold scripts to major studios. But none was written by me. 
And now, I find I don’t even care. In fact, I maybe never have cared. It’s about the stories. I have to make these movies even if they never go before a camera. They go before my camera, the one in my head. So I guess I’m nuts, endlessly repeating the same thing and looking for a different result. The stories in my head make me tell them. Substitute “voices” for “stories” in that previous sentence and I meet the definition of insanity; probably without the substitution. 
Comedian, Jeff Foxworthy has made a career with the “You know you’re a redneck when...” jokes. They are a hilarious platform for observations about the culture. Me? I know I’m a screenwriter. I have no choice. It might be said that screenwriting has me
It begs the question, though: don’t you want someone to even read the stuff? Yes. I can’t deny that it is something I strive for. I have gone so far as to orchestrate table readings of my scripts. I did one once on a supernatural story I wrote, and afterward people were commenting that they were afraid to go home alone. So, I guess it was effective. And that one almost was bought by two producers with a deal at a mini-major who were riding the wave of a bona fide hit. Then the mini-major went down. That one had actually even won me an agent for a time. 
I once work-shopped a script at a well-known online website. Readers actually lavished praise on that particular script. It was almost embarrassing. That one won an option on the first and only submission I have ever made with it. Alas the option lapsed. Why don’t I try again? The subject has become over-saturated lately. But it will come round again someday. 
When I had finished it, I had decided to try it at the Nicholl competition. But it didn’t qualify because it was viewed as an adaptation - it was a prequel to a classic novel. It had a couple characters from the novel, but it was a wholly new story from top to bottom. No matter, it went down on the technicality.   
Hey, Nicholl! You should have a sub-category for such material when there are enough entries, or open it up for adaptations every three years. You are ignoring legitimate work. Remember Clueless (adapted from Jane Austen’s Emma)? 
I wrote another script that could in no way be called an adaptation, though it was an updating of a 19th Century ghost story, wholly altered. The only commonalities were a character name, a stage prop, and a starting premise. Only the Nicholl would call it an adaptation, and then, only if I told them. But then, I guess they would have called The Creature from the Black Lagoon an adaptation of King Kong... if somebody had pointed it out to them. And, while it was, it sure as Hell wasn’t! Anyway, every time I show this script to someone, they miss what is really going on and dismiss it as a fairly routine tale. It’s not. With its playing with perception and subjective paranoia, the written word does not represent the utterly riveting movie it would be. So, I’d have to make it myself. As Ethan Edwards might say, “That’ll be the day.” 
And now, here I am with another story ready to go to script. I’ve worked on it off and on for years. I’ve finally gotten it to what I call a “working treatment” – for my use only, a 50 page single-spaced telling of the story as it would play onscreen. I’m ready for the first draft. Problem is, it’s set in Hollywood. And we all know, Hollywood never likes to make movies about Hollywood. Oh, they do them, but not with so-called “newbies.” I’ve wrestled with this issue all along, always telling myself that it doesn’t matter, that someone will see it as the really cool caper movie it actually is. But that little devil “on the other shoulder” just laughs and laughs at such delusions. And then I realized that, no matter, I don’t care. I want to finish telling myself the movie. That drawer has room for one more. #  
FADE OUT
Lee A. Matthias

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