Monday, December 20, 2010

Is my screenplay good?

I was going to write a blog about the fear that consumes writers when they face the rewrite but got distracted by something else.

I was persuaded some time ago to join Linkedin, which professes to be a networking website where you can interact with other professionals in the hopes of accomplishing your goals. Linkedin has many different forums for probably every business there is from flower shops to film, law, accounting and so on.

Having started way back in 1992 on the internet I became wary of forums for one major reason; I would end up arguing with some kid in Indiana about the movie business. I realized it was a waste of my time having to deal with someone who didn't know anything about the movie business but felt he/she was my peer.

Last week, someone on the Those in Film forum offered to read screenplays and offer his comments and advice. All for$150. The person said he worked for some major agencies and knows how to improve a screenplay to sell. All for $150.

Thus ensued a continuing discussion, sometimes heated, as to the value of these kind of "consultants".

My take is simple; if you gotta pay for someone to read your script you probably don't have a good script. And I know of what I speak; I taught screenwriting extension classes at UCLA for a little over 2 years and learned two things;

First, the university encourages the instructors to get students to take more semesters. My first class was writing the first draft screenplay; later the course was dissected into 3 courses, the first act, the second act and the third act.

Why? More money.

In this way, the student would complete a screenplay in 30 weeks. Over six months.

Now while some writers take years to write their screenplays, most first draft screenplays can be written in 4 to 6 weeks and maybe even 10 weeks (the length of the semester). By stretching it to six months you almost forget what you learned in the first semester.

I'm not considering the really talented writers;  they do what they do well and can take 1 week (Dalton Trumbo) or years (Terrence Malik) but they as F. Scott said, are not like you or I.

There are dozens of websites now offering to read your screenplay in exchange for money as well as screenplay sites like Ink-tip, who charge $60 for you to post your screenplay on their site for 6 months. Along with a few hundred of your fellow writers.

You have better chances winning the lottery.

Yet aspiring writers, many of whom feel that purchasing Screenwriter 2000 or Final Draft means that yes, they are writers, will fill these websites with their screenplays. After all, anybody can write a screenplay if they have the software. Why it practically writes itself.

Secondly the truth is this; very few of those aspiring writers are really good, in fact very few are real writers. Of the over 200 students I had, and I've mentioned this before, only 4 of my students could, if they really worked and made some important connections, were capable of writing a real screenplay.

Only 4.

And yes, that's my opinion, but again, not everyone is a brilliant painter, or actor or insurance salesman or whatever. The plain truth is that all of us are just mostly average. I claim no talent, even after writing and/or rewriting 18 feature length produced screenplays as well as at least 70 unproduced screenplays.

What I am is downright stubborn, it took me a long time to learn how to write well. And I even slip now and then.

The impact of all these people who want to write screenplays has encouraged new cottage industries including screenwriting gurus, almost 300 books on screenwriting (go to Amazon sometimes), screenwriting classes at almost every university, week-end workshops with failed actors who shout down at their audience, 3-day filmmaking classes, probably hundreds of websites with courses, software for screenwriting, production, budgets, storyboarding.

The list goes on and on and one is tempted to ask;

So where are all the great screenplays?

With all of these screenplay gurus soliciting and recommending screenplays, there are fewer good movies now than ever before in our history of film. With so much access to experts and so-called experts and books and movies, there just doesn't seem to be a whole bunch of great, memorable movies.

But for now, I have to deal with my own demons; the rewrite of Casualties Of Love, which I'm holding back, in typical writer procrastination, until the new year, and a "fresh look" at COL that I'm sure will result in a brilliant screenplay...

Well, maybe not brilliant, maybe it's gonna be even worse than the first draft.

I need to go shopping.

(Thurs: Christmas time)