"Hacks are writers you can count on to turn in a screenplay with a by-the-numbers plot; clear first, second and third acts; a love interest; and likable characters. They are writers who do not experience writers block because they have disabled their critical faculties. You will not get a brilliant screenplay out of a hack. But you will always get something you can shoot."Accordingly, I am by no stretch of the imagination a hack. Of course, this definition could be incorrect and I could be a hack because my characters have, in the past, actually been waaaay too likable and I have had to rewrite them -- but that's for another post.
Anyway, I bring this definition up because it reminds me of a formula I saw on a screenwriting blog some place... some time ago.. that made me so angry I almost blew a vein in my forehead.
FORMULA. That's your first clue that it's bad. The word -- FORMULA!
It happened during one of those awful migraine days, too. Ouch. But those days are gone. I'm on week four, migraine free and seizure free, by the way, but one of the side effects of the meds is short term memory loss.
I was leading some children in music last week and forgot what we were singing. Then I was burning CD's and forgot why I was burning them. Yesterday, I was chopping up franks for my son's beanie-weenies and not only did I forget what I was cooking, but I forgot what day it was and whether I was making breakfast or lunch.
Focus. Focus. Must Focus.
What was I talking about?
Basically, this formula that said your screenplay should have such and such beats by this page and some other beat by that page and there was some kind of automation that would check it for you or something. I argued that the formula was a terrible writing tool and a good way to screw up new writers and teach bad writing or something like that. I don't remember what I say when I blow a gasket. I just take a deep breath and blow.
Gee, I wish I could remember where that formula was...
Let me make this clear. I don't have a problem with guides and beat sheets as long they don't extinguish creativity with something as stifling as "Julie must kiss John by page nine". How can you create like that? How do you know it won't happen on page twelve or fifteen until you write it? How do you keep from spitting out formulaic crap?
I think I got pretty beat up on the board for opposing this "great new tool" so if anyone remembers where it is, could you point me to it so I can refresh my memory? That would be cool.
Or, maybe not.
Anyway, the point here is, according to Alex Epstein, this type of formulaic writing by the numbers makes you a hack. Doesn't mean he's right -- but it has my vote.
Wait. What did I just vote on?