Saturday, February 26, 2005

What I Write

I mentioned in a recent post about the difficulty I've encountered trying to sell my work or find an agent -- mostly because I write so-called 'sophisticated' material.

I often ask myself why I choose to write this stuff and not the kind of blockbuster script that will make an easy sale.

Well, it always seems like an easy question for me -- I just don't want to. Some people consider screenwriting to be a business -- a career-decision. And they write what will be most likely to sell. I had a friend in the MFA program who was like this. He just wanted to write scripts for a living, and it didn't matter to him a whole lot what kinds of scripts.

But for me, well, I started out as an english major in college. I wanted to write literature. I'm the kind of person who was writing poetry in college -- not romantic, mushy, win-over-a-girl stuff (I did that, too, but it's not relevant here). No, I'm talking about trying to write modernist poetry influenced by my love of Pound and Eliot.

So... how did I make the jump to movies? I don't know. I'm not one of the many of my generation who wanted to make movies after seeing Star Wars. I liked it as a kid, but it's just not my thing.

So I don't view screenwriting and filmmaking as a career-choice. I view it as artistic expression. Storytelling in the mode of my favorite literature. I could write high concept blockbusters, but I don't find it fulfilling at all. It's connect-the-dots writing; I might as well work in a factory (no offense to anyone who does in fact work in a factory -- my point is simply that writing that type of movie is completely unfulfillinf for me).

The other suggestion you often hear in this business is to write one such script, sell it for big bucks and to big accclaim, and then you can make the projects you want to make. Okay, this has merit. And I probably would do this. If I could.

I've tried. Honest. On at least two occasions, I started scripts with the intention of turning them into crowd-pleasing easy sells. And you know what? The didn't end up that way. The intention was to be more commercial, maybe almost high concept (but not quite), and it just didn't work. I couldn't get it to go in that direction. I haven't yet decided if I was simply unable to write it -- unable to think of good commercial ideas -- or if my mind just didn't like those ideas and rejected them subconsciously before I eeven considered them.

So I write what I write. One of the main reasons I started the project on which I'm now working -- and ultra-low budget film on HD -- is that I just got tired of waiting. I've been hustling my butt off to get this going (and I'm not a hustler -- I really just present my case and hope people will come on board; so far, the results have been uneven).

A low-budget HD film. Almost no money. No stars (well, one person who is on a quirky network sitcom will be playing a cameo role, but he didn't have time to play the lead). Is this any better an idea than writing indie scripts? Maybe not, but if it works well, a festival might go with it. Who knows what could happen?

Of course, people all over the place are doing the same thing I am. So many films made every year, and so many fade into oblivion, just another debt on someone's maxed-out credit card. I really hope this isn't going to be another one of those.

This is the kind of thing I recently decided I needed to communicate to my department chair. To get tenure, I have to get some acclaim for screenplays or films. To get acclaim... well, I am just hoping that the fests will respond to the indie stuff I do (and I hope I do it well... I'm having a lot of self-doubt lately).


At 3:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Could you define what you mean by 'blockbuster easy sell'?

Is that a joke? Were you being humorously sarcastic? Was it an oxymoron?

At 4:14 PM, Blogger TerminalMFA said...

No joke -- I just meant scripts that are easy to sell because they have a high concept idea -- i.e., Back to the Future: a teenager has to travel back in time to make his parents fall in love or he'll cease to exist. Ideas that sell the script and are easy to express in one sentence or two.

I wasn't trying to say anything negative about these ideas -- they're just not the kind of thing I like to write or usually to see (although a well-executed high concept film can be a fun ride. Too often, however, the idea is the only thing someone actually spent any time thinking about).


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