Friday, August 28, 2009

Blog 5: Screenwriting -- The words come first

Before the actors take the stage, before the DP lights the set, even before the donuts are on the table and even before anybody even knows there is a story... 

The writer is there, sitting in front of a blank page, desperately trying to think of something else he or she wants to do than this. As I mentioned, I have written and rewritten a total of 16 produced scripts, both mine and others. I have also around 30 hours of episodic (this number changes depending on the wine I drink).  And a lot of those movies aren't great, some aren't even very good but a few came through pretty good. In almost all the cases, it was due to notes from producers and or development executives. 

And in all cases, the bad movies were from people who knew very little about anything while the good movies were with who knew their stuff and made my work better.  In addition I have worked on around 20 screenplays that made it to development but not to production.  Travel Day was a spec script, and for those readers who aren't familiar with the term, it's a screenplay I decided to write entirely on my own with no guarantee of ever being sold, or maybe even being seen. 

I have 24 of these specs on my shelf now, and I think they all could be made, unfortunately the powers-that-be think differently. And maybe they're right, or at least half right. That's what writers live with, a basket full of ideas nobody else cares about.

I am not great at concept movies, I couldn't write The Hangover if I tried, and I wish I could, I'd have a lot more money than I do. I tended to write good character studies, and it got me work and a reasonable career. One thing someone once pointed out to me was that my endings seem to always be unresolved, ambiguous. I realized they were right. I finally had a style, I thought. But after awhile, I didn't really ever figure out why the endings were the same, be it movie or TV episode. So I left it alone. Meryl Streep doesn't try to figure out why she can become so believeable as any character. Best to leave the muse alone.

I taught screenwriting at UCLA once, and I'll do a blog on that up the road, but I came up with what is being written in Hollywood these days. And it hasn't changed in a hundred years.  If you want to write something that can be sold, consider this, in order;

1. Movies made from novels and books.
2. True life stories
3. Remakes and sequels
4. Original screenplays

You can see where the original screenplay sits in the scheme of things. If you don't believe me, open your newspaper entertainment page.  So naturally I picked # 4 because I don't know how to write those other stories, or maybe I don't like to. Maybe that's why I don't have a Porsche, but I like my 96 Explorer. And it's paid for. Ever seen what a tune-up costs for a Carerra?

And I don't mean the first three "genres" are bad or unwatchable, many of them are great, unless you count Taking of Pelham 1,2,3.  But I learned late in my career to write what I write good, rather than what I would probably write bad.

So now you know more about the odds of ever getting Travel Day made. And you're probably wondering why I want to punish myself by choosing the hardest kind of movie to make. It all goes back to what I said in the first blog, it's never easy. For anybody who tries to get a movie made.  A director named Peter Hyams, I believe, was credited with this:

"Being in the film business is like being married to a beautiful woman who cheats on you, and you know she cheats on you, but every so often she dresses up and you take her out for dinner and look at her and's all worth it."

What I take out of that is that most of the time this business breaks your heart but every now and then it's worth it.  My ex told me that I was one of the few people she knew who was living his dream, you know, that kid in the picture to the left... that's all he ever wanted.

That's why I'm here.

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