Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Monday, June 28, 2010
“This is a simple story, fast-paced, entertaining, and a good read. The writer is capable and assured. Even when the story takes a loopy turn (or two), the writer presents these events so confidently and matter-of-factly that it's almost like he's daring us to doubt what we're being told.”What I love is that this remark speaks of a writing style I particularly admire. This is a writer who knows his story so well that he simply watches it in his head and dictates that onto paper. He knows his characters. He knows their back stories. He's telling us just enough but if you asked, he could elaborate. There's just no need to. He doesn't worry about suspending disbelief or flowery prose because the story is what it is. He's not making it up as he goes along. It's a "this is my story and I'm sticking to it" style of writing. Wish I could read this screenplay!
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Monday, June 21, 2010
The readers' comments are interesting and give us a little window of insight. This one likes strong prose while that one likes that a script isn't overwritten. One applauds how the writer forces the reader to feel something while another is impressed by the sharp dialogue.
The replies to those posts, though, are usually the same: declarations of ownership. It reminds me of the people at ball games who watch for themselves on the jumbo tron and wave just in case. Out of 6000 plus screenplays, only 45-ish remarks are up so far and quarterfinal letters go out in about 40 days. Do the math.
Monday, June 14, 2010
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Case in point: Mildred Pierce starring Joan Crawford. So somebody uses a rotary phone instead of a cell phone. Big deal. The situational conflicts are timeless. Mildred indulges her spoiled child to the point of excess and then ultimately, destruction. I see parents every day over-indulging disrespectful unappreciative kids. I know a lady who can't pay her utilities but her 12 year old daughter gets her hair colored and cut, her nails done, and her eyebrows waxed every month. Just yesterday, the parents spent their grocery money to get the girl her third new cell phone since Christmas. "What am I supposed to do?" asked the mother, "It wasn't her fault somebody spilled a drink on her phone and she's got to be able to call me because we can't afford a house phone."
On the flip side, when I was watching The Damned Don't Cry, another Joan Crawford film, I was struck by the opposite. The film doesn't translate today and it's not the lack of 3D or CGI. The gold digging seducer is unconvincing and the gangster element is even less believable for today's audience. I am unable to overlook the dated cars, guns, and phones the way I do in films like Mildred Pierce, Sunset Boulevard, and All About Eve. Everything about The Damned Don't Cry has me stuck in 1950 and the dialogue bounces between stale and on-the-nose to somebody-please-make-it-stop. The bloodless acrobatic shootings don't even render a bullet hole and remind me of Bugs Bunny saying "you got me, Doc, you got me." Part of my reaction may have been brought about by my recent viewing of Johnny Depp's Public Enemies. In fairness, there is no comparison. But the point is that The Damned Don't Cry was probably a great film in its day. Today is no longer that day.
A lot has changed in 60 years. But, a lot has not. Those films that capture the "a lot has not" are timeless and have eternal themes. They are the ones that have sipped from the cinematic fountain of youth.
Tuesday, June 08, 2010
Perhaps it was the reports of the death of Mystery Man on Film, I don't really know, but whatever the reason, I got a bee in my bonnet and decided to start reading more screenplays from aspiring screenwriters. Zoetrope and Triggerstreet are places I don't frequent much but they're a good place to go read what other wannabes are writing. I usually take the time to read the screenplays people email me (heh, as if I know anything) but I thought I'd take it a step further. So, I looked at some scripts being "workshopped".
O. M. G.
About 99 % of my time and oxygen would have been better spent teaching my dog how to use a stick shift. He already believes he's the one driving the car anyway. He sits on the arm rest, looks over the windshield, observes passersby and barks at anything red: stop signs, cars, school uniforms. The only time he takes his eyes off the road is to lick himself.
But I digress.
There are, of course, a few gems worth reading and those exceptions are why the goal of the Nicholl Fellowship is to identify and nurture the screenwriting skills of talented writers. But most of us need a reality check. So here it is. Most wannabe screenwriters:
- Cannot write a complete sentence
- Have no storytelling skills
- Don't understand screenplay structures
- Wouldn't know a theme if it was tattooed on their butts
- Have a better chance at winning American Idol than being produced
- Don't have a decent command of the English language
- Have no idea what's behind the door they're knocking on
- Think all pronouns are possessive
- Actually want fame instead of a writing career
- Do not know the difference between "effect" and "affect"
- Are under the mistaken impression that screenwriters get wealthy
- Have never heard of a misplaced modifier or split infinitive
- Believe that they are the exception to every bullet on this list
Here's the brutal truth. Most of us can't write. I'm sorry but it's true. If screenwriting is a hobby, have fun. But stop whining about not getting produced. Most of us have no business even attempting to write screenplays and quite frankly, the movie industry doesn't want us right now anyway. The only films being distributed right now are proven commodities, sequels, prequels, re-do's, CGI's and those distributions necessitated by nepotism.
We think because we can use screenwriting software or self publish, that makes us writers. It does not. It makes us people using screenwriting software and self publishing. We think because we go to film festivals and shake hands with produced screenwriters and film executives that they are now our friends. They are not. They are people who shook a few hands. We think because a few indie producers are polite to us or we advanced in an obscure screenwriting competition run out of somebody's garage that we have a shot at making real industry contacts. We do not. We are people that found a sympathetic ear or a hungry wallet.
Wake up, schmuck. You are not a writer.
If you are the exception to those bullets, good for you. If you are not -- and make no mistake about it, most of us are not -- stop throwing your money away on gurus, books, online gimmicks and contests. You may learn formatting and structure but nobody can teach you creativity. Nobody can make you something you are not naturally inclined to be.
I'm sorry. I really am. But this is the truth. You can't write. Have you already given five or ten years of genuine effort to screenwriting with no results? Then get out. Find something fun or meaningful and go after it.
Life is short. There is more to it than screenwriting UNLESS you know know know know know that you're the exception. But remember this: my dog knows he's the one driving my car.
P.S. -- about 53-ish days before Nicholl letters go out.
Monday, June 07, 2010
Saturday, June 05, 2010
I "met"-ish Mystery Man on his first blog and spoke to him many times via email, this blog, and Triggerstreet. He was quick to encourage and even compliment but didn't hesitate to point out flaws and room for improvement. Mystery Man was intuitive. Learned a lot from him.
Here is a comment about Mystery Man's passing where Scott Myers also posts a conversation he had with Mystery Man eight months ago. His present blog is flashy and impressive and he's become a regular writer for Script Magazine. And, of course, he's on Twitter and he's here and he's -- well, he's just about everywhere screenwriters go for advice, reviews, and analysis.
Or, he was. I hope this is a mistake and I'll be taking this post down. Meanwhile, I'll end this sad news with Mystery Man's closing remarks in the latest issue of Script magazine.
I know writers love to know the "rules" and "formulas" and "principles" of writing, but truthfully, there are no great truths about writing. A great writer knows the pitfalls and takes a concept and creatively considers the most compelling way to tell that story - structure be damned.