Thursday, September 1, 2011

Character writers?

One of the best things about actors was always the character actors. Think of actors like Strother Martin, Dub Taylor, Walter Brennan and women like Cloris Leachman (still working), Agnes Moorehead and so many others.

These weren't the stars, they were the supporting cast. And they sure supported the stars, some of whom weren't really great actors in the first place. In short, a star was famous, a character actor was what made the movies enjoyable.

One of the best lines of dialog ever came from Strother Martin, who could forget "What we got here is a failure to communicate" from Cool Hand Luke.

There's another thing about character actors, good ones always worked. Whereas Hollywood is filled with almost stars, fallen stars and aspiring stars, those stars often dimmed. But a character actor would always find a job.

I worked once with Stuart Margolin, who played Angel on the 80's series Rockford Files. He was the co-star of a series I worked on. It was amazing how he could get the attention of the viewer simply by doing a little "business" as they say, a look, a twitch, an expression. That's all it took to get the viewer to focus on him.

Character actors never got the attention that the stars did, but they worked a lot more often.

So how does this relate to writers?

I suppose every writer has always hoped of making the big time and had dreams of climbing the stairs at Academy award time.  But few do. Remember, there are around 10,000 screenwriters in the WGA, although it's hard to really get an exact number.

But every now and then, one of the lucky ones gets to climb those stairs. And the rest of us watch and dream.

I can divide writers into 3 categories; the famous ones,  the one-hit wonders and the ones who somehow manage to work most of the time. The character actors of the writer's world. There are those who became famous; Robert Towne, William Goldman, Joe Eszterhas and Shane Black and a handful of others.

And then there's the rest of us. I always wanted to write a biography entitled "Working My Way to the Middle". Well, I never really was serious, besides I didn't have time, I was working a lot. And I still am.

I know two writers who sold one screenplay and have never sold anything else again even though they try and try. Nobody knows why, it's just the god or goddess of writers who decides and he or she isn't telling why or how.

I've had a good run with 18 movies, some of which were rewrites, all of which were "Page 1's" as the term is used. Meaning a rewrite that started at page 1, and going through the entire screenplay.  I've been rewritten twice on movies, more on series.

And now, as a aging screenwriter, I continue to write and have plans to write at least 2 specs this fall and winter as well as continue to look for funding for Ghostkeeper 2 and Emperor of Mars. I'm also considering a "crowdfunding picture", wherein funds are solicited online. It's an interesting format, I might do a blog on that whole premise.

So there it is, some writers get an assignment a couple of times in their career, others become stars, but some of us are lucky enough to find continuous work, not as highly paid as the star writers but working more often than not.

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