As my writing career matures, I luckily get involved in more interesting ways to utilize my talents. For example, during this past year, I’ve finally taken the plunge and surmounted the screenwriting learning curve. It took a couple of weeks and several 3 AM nights digging into the Celtx software and pushing on. With the guiding spark of an old friend and inspired collaborator, Dominick Jerry, the two of us have produced 3 screen plays in the 8 months. Really excellent synergy.
Dom and I are old friends, with a remarkable working vitality. Getting together to write with an express purpose adds a whole extra dimension of satisfaction, instead of just meeting up for a pint. He’s a genius of visual story, whether it is westerns, television sci-fi gangster drama, or professional wrestling rivalries.
When I get hung up on some conflict in a scene and wonder what the characters will do, I get stuck thinking in prosey terms, indirect even at its most direct. Dom just gets it, “Sam hits him over the head with a shovel. Cut scene.” Yes! Of course! Why didn’t I think of that? Because I’m all prosed out. Screen writing is bare bones visual instructions. Stay out of the director’s way, give over the essence of the characters and the story, and keep your voice out of it. It is an interesting paring away of style, to reveal the substance beneath.
Another interesting thing about screenwriting is that it is only the earliest glimmer of the movie-making process, with an emphasis on process. Coming from a book publishing standpoint, I am accustomed to a long, solitary labor with culminates in one impeccable document. When that document is done, I’m done with the task.
But screenplays are like collaborative notepads, they are constantly being reworked and rethought and tinkered with. Also, screenplays are never written for a large audience, especially at the early stages, you are never writing for more than 20 or 30 people, max.
As utilitarian as screenwriting is, the strict parameters force room for art. But you’ve got to be creative, to squeak it in past all of the necessaries. A creativity within the creativity, to make the screen writing prose, scant as it is, lean and engaging as possible. Tiny, apt descriptions, a few drops of art, and move on. That part is fun. Also, unlike a book, you’re not writing to the audience; you’re writing to about 20 or 30 filmmaker people, most you haven’t met yet. If they buy it, they can do whatever they want.
But the process is interminable. You don’t publish a screenplay. If anyone is going to read yours, it’s because you’ve persuaded them to read it. Pavement must be pounded, relentlessly. That bit gets exhausting, and really lowers the odds that I’m actually going to get something I wrote produced. I’m not committed to the follow through, that’s more Dom’s realm. I can crank on the story factory, but the industry footwork is more his realm. 8 months and 3 screenplays later (one television season and two feature films), I hit a wall. Mostly because I was neglecting my own projects and needed to get back in the salad. But we’ve got our factory set up now, and will resume seasonally to fill our screenplay stable.
The beauty of the experience is that now I can write screenplays. I enjoyed learning something. And we’ve gotten unsolicited, professional Hollywood feedback that our screenplays are good, and improving.
During the process of writing these screenplays, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with people of different levels of accomplishment in Hollywood film production, from a careerist TV actor, to an ILM visual effects producer, and to others with more near-miss experiences (which teach a lot).
One perspective it gave me on the current state of the film industry is that directors and producers are more interested in books than screenplays. If they’re a big outfit, they’ve got a whole stable of screenwriters who are practiced hands at adapting any book to the screen. I’m probably have a better chance of getting through to a film maker by writing a book they hear about, rather than try to peddle them my own screenplay.
If I consider the film business seriously, it is laughable that I will suddenly storm the scene with a blockbuster when there are 100,000 other writers in Hollywood who have been in line for 20 years, writing screenplays the whole time. Even if my shit were that good, their dibs on the scene would elbow me out of the way. But as I said, process, process, process.
For me, the time spent with Dom is the most rewarding part. Onward and upward, my man!
Thank you for reading. Reading Rules!