The Screenwriter's Manifesto
In the shower this morning, it occurred to me that every radical or sometimes even nut cases, needs a manifesto. If someone, God forbid reads it, your declaration is a great way to vent your frustrations about life and art. I however, am not unsatisfied with my art. In fact, as someone writing scripts, I’m fairly happy about ongoing progress with my work. But I digress. This week, was a time of epiphanies. It began by watching a Jack Kerouac documentary on Netflix. Then I viewed one about Charles Bukowski. Finally, I watched one about innovative American film maker Robert Altman. As they quoted in the film, probably the closest thing we’ve ever had to Bergman or Fellini. The common thread for all three of these visionaries is that they marched to their own drummer… and listened to their inner voice. None of them were what one would call “an overnight success”. By the time Robert Altman read the script for Mash, it had been rejected by every studio in town. In hindsight, we now know that film is the stuff of legend.
Over the weekend, I watched The Graduate. I had not seen it in years and way before I started writing. I firmly believe that today, that screenplay would never see the light of day. During the first hour, I was amazed that several of the scenes with Mrs. Robinson lasted ten to fifteen minutes and with shitloads of dialogue. Perhaps with the exception of Quentin Tarantino, this is a no-no in today’s world. But generally speaking, producers I contact are scared of too much talk. In today’s cutthroat marketplace, I wonder if Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf would be greenlighted? Or if for time’s sake, My Dinner with Andre would be reduced to a cup of coffee or a power date? Just thinking out loud; after all, this is my manifesto.
I put my work out there for other writers to critique just like everyone advised me to do. A good example is Trigger Street Labs. And god bless them, they were great, user friendly website. I reviewed ten other writers without picking the berries out of the turds. I earnestly looked to the heart of each story and offered what I believed to be constructive feedback, delivered in a positive way. In most cases, what I received in return was my typos corrected and formatting critiques with no feedback on my story. Kiddies, you can be a formatting genius but if you can’t tell a story with a good beginning, middle and end, you might as well toss your laptop in the trash. My blessing from Trigger Street, was finding someone who looked at my story. This is not to say you can send poorly formatted material in to producers and expect to impress them. I continue to refine formatting, narrative and dialogue techniques. A good way to assist this process is read scripts by writers whose work transferred into great films. I recently read a bit of Robert Bolt’s script for Lawrence of Arabia, and that my friends, is literature.
As a barometer for the quality of my work, I decided I would enter a number of screenwriting contests and film festivals. Though you can’t win or even place in them all, I’ve been blessed to win a few, and place in more than a dozen over the past year. The reason, I wanted to build my brand credibility. This has brought me relationships with industry people including producers, literary agent and investment banker. I also use trade magazines, yes and even Craigslist to answer any ad looking for screenwriters. Though you have to sort through a profusion of bullshit, you can actually make some usable connections. This year, by meeting with credible film industry people, my scripts have been in front of the likes Weinstein Company, Emmett Furla and William Morris. Two things got me in the door with these people. Industry connections made via trade magazines and a sexy logline with a one page synopsis.
We live in the ADD world of smartphones, YouTube, downloadable everything and jaded sensibilities. Getting someone interested in your screenplay is like attempting to write a hit song. You have very limited time to spark someone’s interest. Look at it this way. A good logline may get someone to read your synopsis. A good synopsis may get someone to read your script. And aspiring screenwriters; don’t get so hung up on someone stealing your idea. You should be so lucky to have something worth stealing. Ninety five percent of the time, you don’t.
This brings me to my final rambling. Do yourself a favor and perform due diligence on people who want to hire you for spec scripts, rewrites and collaborations. Everyone out there is operating on what I call the “Wimpey Principle”. Remember that chubby little gent in the cartoons who assured Popeye “I will gladly pay you for a hamburger today.” Anyone can pay IMDb fifteen bucks a month to list their name and designate that they are “a producer”. When you check their credits, if they have no films made and ten in pre-production, it’s a pretty fair indicator as to legitimacy.
Get in the ballgame, have fun, listen to your inner voice, try to create art whenever possible and have fun while doing it. I write screenplays because nothing gets me higher than typing FADE TO BLACK and feeling like I just gave birth to a child… a little baby script 120 pages or less.