You`ve done it. It`s taken you years to finish your novel, and finally, it`s been published! Now, the next step is to make it into a movie. Shouldn`t be too difficult, right? Delve into the realm of screenwriting, asking questions such as what is the difference between a screenplay and a novel? Learn from recorded interviews with screenwriters as to why they chose their craft, and what keeps them invested. Thus begins “Why Would You Want to be a Screenwriter?”, an article exploring what it takes to be a writer in the film business.
“The difference between life and the movies is that a script has to make sense, and life doesn`t,” said Joseph L. Mankiewiz, one of the greatest film directors of all time. Nothing about the above statement could be truer. Unlike life, a screenplay has certain rules it must follow if it is to ever survive the challenging industry. Screenwriting inspires both the creative and formulaic aspects of writing, perfect for someone who loves putting both parts of their brain to good use.
However, unlike writing fiction, the industry is much more difficult to work with. One must take into account the responsibilities of buckling down to write, the lifestyle in general, whether an education is worth it, the difference between writing a novel and a screenplay, and the future of screenwriting.
Writing, whether for a novel or for the screen, requires intense selfdiscipline and skill to be noticed. The most successful screenwriters are some of the most committed people there are. They understand how important it is to write, face the “dreaded” blank page, and produce on deadlines. If they are not responsible for their work, then it will never see the light of day.
However, because the responsibilities and incentives are one and the same, that means that screenwriters have a lot of freedom. Unless a writer is called to be on set with a specific shooting schedule, any lifestyle will fit. From stay-at-home mom to someone to lives mostly on the road, the urge to right is inescapable. There is no one to answer to. If a screenwriter wants the bills to be paid, he/she has to find the motivation to grind at the computer just a little longer.
Depending on the size of a writer`s laptop, or if he wants to just use the traditional pencil and paper, writing can be done anywhere at any time. Because films are such massive projects, the writer has to be fully invested. The abilities to pace one`s self, create deadlines, do adequate research, and spend time and energy are all critical to the job. Then, before the writer can even sit down and begin work, there`s the loglines, taglines, overviews, and treatments. Pre-production requires due amount of patience. If all these traits cohere in sync with one another, screenwriting is a more than doable career choice, especially as technology shifts. Determined writers typically begin with normal day jobs and implement their writing around their working hours until they are established (Porter, “Interview with a Screenwriter”).
Even when everything falls into place and proper contacts have been made, income does not always make the cut. A writer gets paid along the lines of a contract, if offered one by a studio. Like the minimum wage for a job, there is also a minimum wage for a screenplay. After the writer establishes his or herself, and if their products are in demand, the wage will be increased. Then there is always the option of being a freelance writer who gets paid according to the profits their movie actually makes. It is not until a writer`s name is well known does the money and offers roll in. Screenwriting requires dedication, perseverance, and passion. The artist must be fully dedicated to every work he or she produces. If the writer is not moved by the story, then what is the point of all the mind-grinding, difficult work that the cutthroat industry requires?
There are hundreds of film schools out there, but that does not necessarily mean that a budding writer needs to attend a full course. The only mandatory technique required is to be able to tell an intriguing story using masterful language. Then again, full understanding of how proper, “real” English works is helpful too. Dominique Blanchard, a screenwriter and graduate of Georgia State University, stated on March 21, 2017, “You have to be careful about the university, particularly in the film business. There`s that whole thing about ‘if you can`t do, then you teach’. I hate to say it, but that is a deep reality for the industry. Nobody just decides to head backstage, especially when writing. No one does that. The majority of teachers end up being retired actors or directors that didn`t really do much, or directors from theater that are now trying to break into film. You have to be really careful about who you learn from.”
Because film is such an unstable industry, successful writers cannot let the market get in their heads. Learning to follow instincts and express from the heart on a page takes practice. Even though film colleges might not be the best option for all, writing workshops are frequent and easy to get into. Those who want to perfect their craft benefit enormously. Blanchard quoted,
“. . . Writing is still an art, and art comes from within. You have a lot of requirements for structure and format, but if you want to take writing classes, those are great. I don`t necessarily think that you have to have a degree, but you have to have a foundation where somebody can point you in the right direction. So when you take these classes, you will get guidance and they will break down screenplays.”
Screenwriting is meant for people with visions. As Blanchard said above, screenplays make it possible for a writer to execute their precise ideas on the screen for all to see. “Story telling is more important than rhetoric,” according to Charles Deemer, a retired professor from Portland State University. “A screenplay is not a literary document.” It speaks action, not thoughts. In this way, it is possibly more challenging that writing a novel.
Just like any other craft, screenwriting requires practice, patience, study, and talent. Years of pain and learning experiences prelude every success, particularly in the film industry. Because the screenwriter is considered “vulnerable” compared to directors, producers, and actors, he or she has to sort their priorities. They must decide whether family, career, or integrity will come first. Blanchard shared a personal story about how she had to defend her integrity and her work against the temptation of publishing her own movie. “When you invest in other people, you can`t control how they see your stuff. My first script that I ever wrote, I got a director who wanted to put a lot of sex in it, and that really devalued the movie for me. . . I could have just taken the deal, or have been really offended, but what I chose to see was, ‘wow, my screenplay is not as full as it needs to be.’ If it was full enough, the idea of including these kinds of scenes would not even be considered. I think it is all a matter of perspective, and that`s what you have to remember, especially in anything that you do in film and television. The industry is cutthroat. Nobody wants to be your friend until you can do something for them. . . . The field is really superficial. . . If you get your feelings hurt, you have a choice. You could get bitter or you could recognize your mistakes and learn different strategies.”
Because of rising technology, movies will only get better. Studios have bigger budgets and have a better ability to bring worlds to life. That means screenwriters must stepup to the challenge. However, mostly because of the economy, it is difficult to find anyone who is brave enough to face the giants. Most writers are falling into television. If their script for a particular show fails, then they don`t have anything to lose. There are better (and more) chances when it comes to writing a television series. Thirty years ago, it used to be that ninety percent of students wanted to pursue writing for the movies, and ten percent wanted to go into movies. Now, it`s fifty-fifty. There are just no original scripts in Hollywood. There are too many risks.
Although many writers daydream about seeing an Oscar on their mantelpiece, it is important to set realistic goals. To S. Lane Porter, a freelance screenwriter, it is more important for her to create a work that “. . .a person remembers from childhood, or the one they put on the television when they`re having a bad day, or the one that comforts them like their favorite sweatshirt. . . .” After all the above, it is logical to conclude that most writers pursue screenwriting “. . .not for the money, but for the soul.”
Screenwriting not for people who wish the weave with words and have an awe for the English language. As Blanchard said above, The screenwriter is not allowed to be wordy. Directness is key. Screenwriting grants the writer the possibility of telling visually appealing stories, rather than a more poetic masterpiece. If this is what the wannabee seeks, then screenwriting might just be the perfect fit.
Screenwriting is an increasingly difficult industry to break into. People should always consider the topics mentioned above before they take up the gauntlet of writing movies. However, it is not impossible. For those who are willing to put in the work can find the opportunities and will become the next great film-writers.
Atlanta, Georgia-born, Casey M. Millette, sixteen, has been into writing since she was five. Her love of The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia has inspired her to write Cursed, a fantasy series. You can follow her author Facebook page and www.caseymmillette.com.
This is an excerpt from Youth Shades Magazine October 2017 Issue. Click here to get your copy for free.