Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Writing the Wrong Story

I'm always fascinated with American Idol contestants who defend their poor song choices by citing its message, sentimental value, or use of their song as a gift for a dear ol' family member. Idiots. You're a finalist in the mega-ball singing lotto and you choose a ditty Grandad played on the banjo beneath Granny's window instead of a song you genuinely kick butt singing? That's like giving Jerry Bruckheimer a cutsie homage to my kid instead of a script that will merit investing millions of dollars. I'm not giving an icon my most sentimental story to read. I'm giving him the best one.

I frequently talk to writers who admit to submitting: (1) tribute stories (2) partially fleshed out ideas (3) genres they're uncomfortable writing. All three are mistakes. They think it's an even trade off if the idea is commercial or high concept. I disagree. A poorly executed good idea is not better than a well executed mediocre one. Okay, yes, commercial and high concept ideas are more likely to be produced but poor writing will get tossed in the can. Oh, and here's a tip. Producers don't care who your story memorializes if it's not a good one.

This screenwriting thing we do is, sadly, not for everyone who attempts it but those of us who do take a stab at it need to execute well and come up with ideas people want to see onscreen. It's not enough to do one or the other. It's just not. "People" doesn't mean a thumbs up from your wife either. You gotta sell more tickets than one.

Often I'm told "well when you're a produced screenwriter, then I'll take your advice". Okay, that's cool with me. I'm not handing out advice anyway. I'm just making observations.


E.C. Henry said...

You're a very opioniated person, MaryAn. I disagree with your points that it's a mistake to write tribute stories, partially fleshed out ideas, and in genre's your uncomfortable with. But I'm not THAT passionate about the disagreement really.

My point is: sometimes as writers you NEED to step out on a ledge and try something new. A lot of ideas GROW OVER TIME; they're not perfect of the gate. And GOOD WRITERS paint using colors from all genres. Even Steven King, the horror master, has some romance in his writing. And tribute stories, if passioantely written, can work. Look at the biography movies. Someone had to love that person to pay them such homage.

Overall, in this post you sound biter. Like you gave some feedback to a writer, annd they didn't listen to what you had to say. Don't be so ridgid, MaryAn. There's more than one way to skin a cat.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

MaryAn Batchellor said...

You couldn't be more mistaken, E.C. (except about me being opinionated) I am just extremely sad to read people writing outside their niche and wondering why Hollywood isn't banging at their door. Write what you know. Write what you're good at. Write what you ROCK at writing. And, if you want to experiment, cool, but don't give that to the producer who wants to see your best work until it IS your best work.

Cheryl Laughin said...

Didn't know your email and since things got all changed over at thewritersbuilding, never got to check my email.

Anyways, thought you might want to check out this site: hollynorth.org . Everything is always worth a try (that's why that darn Nicholl Fellowship pulls me in every year ;)

Hope this is of some help. Caio--Cheryl Laughlin

MaryAn Batchellor said...

Hey, Cheryl! Thanks for the link and yeah, I haven't rejoined TWB.

First, I couldn't because my membership expired in January and I had to wait until membership opened back up. What the??? I was one of the early members and had to wait for an invite? Whatever. But then my email from Calvisi sounded like he didn't really believe I'm a serious writer. Uh. Okay.

Second, I'm not thrilled about the new requirements. I have no problem with submitting a writing sample and paying the fee but why do I need to submit a new industry contact every year? That bugs me. Yes, I have industry contacts but I don't want somebody calling them for a reference so I can join an online writing group. How fast will THAT knock them OFF my list of industry contacts? I am perfectly capable of looking small and insignificant without help from anyone else, thank you very much.

What are your thoughts on the whole thing?

Emily Blake said...


Sometimes I cringe when I have to explain that my best script is a zombie story. There are people who don't consider that to be a real movie and have told me so and as a result I'm self conscious about it and sometimes think maybe I should try writing something more dignified.

But then I remember that I really LIKE zombies and I had a blast writing the script, and I tell myself those people can go off and write sensitive dramas about autistic grandmas, I'll keep blowing things up and not apologize for it.

MaryAn Batchellor said...

But you CAN write about an autistic grandma zombie!

James said...

Hey. I finally agree with you :)

I think the biggest chink in the writer's tribute-script-to-take-over-the-world armor is...

...they often think everyone will understand how their script references all the ones they are paying homage to.

The problem is really 2-fold.

1) Most people miss even the most blatant references to other works in scripts.

2) If it is realized, often it reads as lazy writing and not the writer's idea of the masterpiece he thinnks it is.

MaryAn Batchellor said...

Good points, James, but what do you mean "finally" agree with me? Oh never mind. I don't agree with myself half the time either.

Jason Arnopp said...

Hello, MaryAn! Based on the hilarity of that Carlin quote alone, I'm adding you to my blogroll. That's simply the kind of guy I am. Yes.