Screenwriting, as a professional fascination, is built on desires for personal approval that can be as fruitless and full of wish-thinking as gambling-addiction. Screenwriting is not filmmaking, it’s a part of filmmaking, it’s one of the blueprints, but it is not a good litmus test for the quality of a movie, clearly; Studios sign huge checks to great screenplays to then receive the worst Rotten Tomatoes scores in history. The Thunder Road Screenplay received multiple 3/10 ratings on The Blacklist. Yesterday, The Academy’s screenplay library reached out to have it added to their collection. The screenplay for Dunkirk is 70 pages. The only thing (Academy Award Winning Screenwriter) Diablo Cody knew about screenwriting when she wrote Juno was that “the dialogue is in the middle.” It’s ok to suck at writing screenplays if you know what will make a great movie and if you want to understand how people engage with movies in 2018, don’t study the script for Seabiscuit, get a Reddit Account like a normal person.– Jim Cummings
Shout it from the rooftops!
I really like what Jim has to say about independent filmmaking. It’s refreshing and intelligent.
Another gem I picked up at Austin Film Festival: the crap +1 fallacy.
The fallacy is that you see a bad movie and think that all you have to do to succeed is write something a little better.
It’s a fallacy because you can’t see the myriad reasons why the movie didn’t end up well–the missteps, the studio interference, actor problems, mistakes, and concessions that made a bad movie out of a good script. Your screenplay isn’t competing with the crappy final version of a movie — it’s competing with the good script that got mangled after it was purchased.
I get this completely, but I have seen films at festivals where I thought “oh, I can make something better than this” and that has been an effective motivator for me at times.
The Not Actually Crap corollary: the movie was bad but made a ton of money. Sure, to your refined taste it was an artistic failure, but to the fat cat investors it was a resounding success.
Also known as You Are Not the Audience (YANTA). Hint: the audience is probably teenage boys or Chinese moviegoers.
i hate grants
i hate writing grant applications.
does anyone enjoy this?
did you like my thing?
are my artistic goals good enough?
do I have a good purpose?
do you like my carer trajectory?
is my art too safe or too risky?
am i saying the right things?
what are you looking for?
can I have some money? i would really like some money.
i hate grants
One thing I noticed at AFF was that a LOT of people are writing TV pilots. It seems like every aspiring-to-be-professional writer I met had entered a pilot into the screenwriting contest or was working on a pilot or was trying to break into TV with their pilot.
I had a conversation with a woman who was developing a pilot for a show that was an autobiographical story of how she found love later in life. I liked the story. I think it would be a good rom-com.
I asked her if it wouldn’t be better as a movie. As someone who lives in Austin, she has virtually no chance of that pilot getting made. First it has to be a great concept. I like the idea but it’s not like earth-shattering and the audience is somewhat limited.
Second, she has to get the idea into the hands of people that can make it a reality, which is basically a few different studios or Netflix or Amazon or Apple.
She doesn’t really have connections there. And it’s very rare that a first-time writer just gets a show made like that.
I told her that it would be much easier to make as a movie. You just have to find a producer that wants to make it. It’s much easier to find an indie producer than a willing TV executive, especially since there are so many possible budget ranges. You could do her idea for $200k, $500k, $1 million, or $20 million.
It’s still hard; it’s still a longshot. I just see a better path there. And it’s her story. She wants it to be told. You can make a movie through sheer force of will. You cannot make a TV show that way. There are just too many factors outside of your control.
She could also write a play, a really funny play. All of these strategies hinge on the material being really good, although honestly, the indie feature route has the least reliance on having a good script.
A lot of the people with pilots in Austin were people that lived in not Los Angeles. It’s pretty damn hard to break into TV if you’re not in Los Angeles. I’m not really sure what their career strategy is. Maybe it’s submitting to contests, hoping to win one that gets them a manager? There are many ways in but I know that if my main goal in life was to write for television that I would have moved to L.A. years ago.
I went to a panel with the director of filmmaker labs at Film Independent. She said that comedy features are very much underrepresented in their submissions for the screenwriting lab.
I think everyone who wants to write comedy went over to the pilot side, which in one way makes sense because there are more writing jobs in TV, but then again, there’s only a loose connection between the jobs and what gets you the job.
Why not zig when others are zagging?
Sometimes I will find myself yelling in my head, in response to some writing advice I read on the internet.
It goes something like this: “you idiots! you don’t need writing advice! you just need to write! sit down and fucking write! do you really think that reading what Hemingway said about the bullshit detector is going to help you, you lazy fuck, when you’re not even putting in the time!?”
That’s a lot of yelling, but I’m yelling at myself.
The first kind of writing advice is designed to get you to sit down and actually write. To create space in your day or your life to do the work. To get words on the page, no matter how not good they are. This advice often has an inspirational or self-help feel to it, and for good reason. You want to write, but you’re afraid for any number of reasons and you haven’t started to put in the time.
I listened to The War of Art once and that more or less rewired my brain to write every day. It’s a powerful book.
The second kind of writing advice is more practical or technical. It’s for people that are already doing the work, putting in the time, pumping out the words. Advice of this variety has to do with how to write an outline or develop a character or create suspense or write better dialogue.
Type II advice doesn’t really mean anything if you haven’t created a space to work within.
Reminders for myself as I return to daily work (writing):
- Work every day. Compound interest. The Daily.
- Work with purpose. Deliberate practice.
- Work deeply.
- Process over results.
- Take risks. Stop playing it safe.
- Dream big.
- Ship your work.
What am I forgetting?
The consensus from Austin Film Festival (and honestly, anyone working in Hollywood that I’ve ever talked to or heard on a podcast) was that only two matter: if you’re a finalist for the Nicholl Fellowship or at AFF.
At least 90% of of these contests exist to make money, not to help you. They won’t get you an agent and they won’t impress people.
Please stop throwing your money away.
I was in Austin last week for the Austin Film Festival. It was a great time. The centerpiece of the festival is the four-day screenwriting conference, which means panels, networking, and parties.
As an aside: some of the panels were great and some were just OK. The panels I didn’t like were mostly because of a moderator that couldn’t or didn’t seem to understand the audience and what we wanted to hear. Moderating is an underrated skill.
On one of the panels, a literary manager spoke of the difference between skill and talent.
Basically he said, you need both to succeed as a screenwriter.
But there are a lot of people that have good careers with lots of skill and not much talent. These are writers who are not necessarily visionaries, but they are skilled in writing in someone else’s voice or in executing a formula. They would tend to work on less innovative shows or movies. They are probably what you would call a hack? I don’t know, I don’t really go around calling people hacks. The manager didn’t use that term.
People with lots of talent and no skill on the other hand, they can’t succeed. You need SOME skill. Actually, you need a fair amount. If you have no skill, then your talent is squandered. It can’t be harnessed. You have things to express but don’t know how to express them skillfully. Great stories, poorly told. Etc.
The high-skill, low-talent person, well, they can tell the hell out of a not great story.
A genius is someone with extraordinary talent (talent encompasses vision and intelligence and creativity and many other traits).
I’m simplifying a bit obviously.
Here’s a 2×2:
Obviously my design skills are low-skill, high-talent.
Can you become more skilled? Yes, definitely, that’s just deliberate practice over a long period of time.
Can you become more talented? ASKING FOR A FRIEND. Just kidding. I don’t know. I imagine that talent is an amalgam of many factors: genetics, upbringing, openness, what you read and who you spend time with and what your influences are and what you see and know about the culture and history and so many other factors with a dose of just general intelligence thrown in.
I love good content.
I’m a content creator.
This is good content.
Have you watched the show on Netflix? It’s such good content.
It’s hard being a content creator today.
As a content creator, I
I love content.
Mmmm Netflix has so much good content.
Did you see Sorry to Bother You? It was great content!
I saw Eight Grade I thought it was great content.
What the fuck is content?
Content is a commodity.
Stop saying content.
I just got the first cut of my feature film this week from the editor in NY.
I still don’t have a title so it’s called Dinner Party. Still untitled. It’s a rough assembly of the first 32 minutes.
Watching rough cuts, especially that first one, is never really pleasant. Mostly I was dreading it, dreading that it would be bad or stupid or terrible or a waste. That’s self-doubt of course, but the fear is real. Sometimes what you make is not good.
Some of it works really well, some of it needs work. I’m relieved. It’s going to be OK. With a lot of work, it might be better than OK or perhaps good or very good or excellent or even great. I won’t know until we put in the work.