Monday, July 12, 2010

If a Screenplay is Written in the Forest...

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.

So, anybody out there ever write a script, and then, after seeing the latest blockbuster, conclude that the script you wrote is so far off the mark, so unimpressive by comparison, that it can’t possibly interest anyone? I’m not talking about seeing your idea done better elsewhere. I’m talking about your idea never ever being done, anywhere! And if you did, and saw it coming, why'd you keep going?
I recently finished a black comedy I call Darkness Calls Me, set in Hollywood, primarily in the ‘90s during the spec script boom that saw Shane Black and Joe Esterhas trading record sales. There are no car chases, no explosions, no super-powers, and no morons getting “lucky.” Instead, there’s just a really cool scam. I can say “cool” because I didn’t come up with it, I found it in the newspaper, and the arresting FBI agent said it was the cleverest scam he’d seen in his two-decade career. So I took the scam, and, after setting it up in the first act, I pay it off later in acts two and three by adapting it to Hollywood. It might be described as The Player meets The Sting. But do they even make “mash-ups” like that anymore?
So, there it is. No spectacular Jason Bourne action set-pieces. No plots about world domination. No capes. And the sex is real-world rather than an adolescent male’s wet dream.
I spent, off and on, over a decade building Darkness Calls Me. It evolved from a straight caper story set in contemporary America to a fairly sophisticated period black comedy about the movies. I struggled with it for over eight years trying to find a way to make it resonate as much with an audience as the original idea had with me. I spent another couple years trying to find a way in that wasn’t the “same ‘ol same ‘ol.” I don’t know if I succeeded, but does it really matter?
Why? Because I look back on those ten lost years filled with Hollywood’s single-minded obsession with “over-the-top-ness” and I find my story-aesthetic left so far behind that I wonder if the script can ever find an audience. We are in an age, for God’s sake, when whole movie studios lay down dictums that ALL films in development must be in 3-D! (And I am not talking about Robert Towne’s apartment number, here.)
It became clear to me long before the script was completed that it was becoming out of touch with the industry to which it must sell. I rationalized my continuing effort with valid arguments, arguments like “movies about the movies” continue to appear: What Just Happened, Swimming With Sharks, The Muse, Bowfinger, Get Shorty, Barton Fink, The Player, The Big Picture, etc.; the Coen brothers seem to be able to find interest in quality genre-stories, so my story’s champion is out there; it entertains even without the spectacle; etc., etc. But am I just fooling myself?
If a screenplay is written in the forest, can it be read and sold? #
Lee A. Matthias

Quote of the Post:
When someone says, “They’d never make that movie now” -- that’s exactly the movie I immediately want to sit down and write.  Or try to.  Let the cards fall …
---Lem Dobbs

1 comment:

  1. Great post. The quote from Lem Dobbs is inspiring.

    Personally, I prefer to watch "The White Ribbon," "Lake Mungo," etc. than the latest remake from Hollywood, but that's just me.