The Screenwriter

So. Did you watch the Oscars? I don’t know about you, but I was terribly bored. It just felt obligatory. Where was the fanfare? Where was the over-production? Instead, we got an awards ceremony that was just as predictable as most industry films. Daniel Day Lewis had to win for There Will Be Blood. He raised the bar so high, actors who win the same award in the future will feel like charlatans. On the other hand There Will Be Blood couldn’t win for Best Picture, because it was horribly dull. The academy might be eccentric in its voting, but they understand what entertainment is. Heck, I haven’t even seen No Country for Old Men and I knew it was going to win. It was also a sad night for Original Songs. The Disney songs were serviceable, but horribly staged and/or performed, though hats off to Amy Adams. I think she’s a natural performer and could probably hold her own on Broadway. I think it was the big faces she made that sold me. The Once song – the one that won – was just not something I would ever listen to if given the choice. I’m sure within the context of the film, it’s magical, but outside its setting, performed on stage, I just wanted to fast-forward the whole thing. At the end of the day, all I can say is, “Thank God for Jon Stewart.” His dry wit was probably the most entertaining part of the whole show.

One day, I hope to see the show live.

Like everyone else, I love movies. It’s a wonderful feeling to be swept away into another world for an hour or more and live through a portion of someone else’s life. Granted, not everyone’s life is interesting (or well told) and I’m, more often than not, disappointed. Whenever I am, I can’t help but think that I could do better. And that’s one of the reasons I fell into screenwriting.

Another reason is that it’s just easier for me. That’s not to say that writing a screenplay is definitively easier than, say, writing a book. I find that – for me – telling a story through a movie saves me a lot of pre-writing, which usually consists of researching whatever it is I’m writing about. As a storyteller, there’s a certain amount of authority you have to build in order for your audience to lose themselves in your tale. Take, for instance, a scene where a character is about to snipe a another character with a long-range rifle. You want to make sure the audience knows that the sniper is a professional. To establish your storyteller authority in a book, more than likely, you would describe technical details of the rifle, like accuracy, reload time, weight, etc. You might describe sniper methods, like breathing, adjusting for wind, stances, whatever. When you have this kind of foundation, your audience will be with you when you portray your sniper as a veteran.

Now, consider the same scene from a screenwriter’s view. The screenplay isn’t meant to be read by the audience. In a roundabout way, it’s meant to be seen. Therefore, the burden of storyteller authority is significantly reduced for screenwriters. Depending on the kind of story, I don’t have to necessarily research all of minutia about rifles. I can simply write: MAC pulls out a sniper rifle and aims without hesitation. When the audience sees the gun and how the actor is behaving, they understand that that character is a veteran. Not only does concept of writing visually save me research time, but it also saves me a lot of writing for foundation-building.

The craft of screenwriting is also just easier for me to understand. When I consider books, I think of meandering plots that don’t necessarily rise or fall. It’s just full of things that the characters do. That’s probably an ignorant statement to make, so if it is, I’ll just chalk that up to my not reading enough books. With screenplays – industry versions, anyway – I can totally get behind the three-act structure. I don’t mind knocking out the inciting incident within the first 20 pages. I like figuring out character arcs. Best of all, I enjoy the inverse necessity of pages. The target for screenplays is 120 pages whereas I’m sure publishers want authors to write more pages to justify book prices.

Anyway, my screenplay is now in the hands of a working film actor and if he likes it, he’ll sit down with a couple of bigwig directors and give them his thoughts on it. I’m trying to keep my excitement to a small warmth in my chest. I’ve lived long enough to discipline myself into not getting my hopes up. If it happens, then I’ll celebrate. If it doesn’t, I’m no worse for wear.

With that said, wish me luck.