Monday, July 18, 2011

The Survivor's Guide to Screenwriting

A few months ago I decided to get a cat. I like cats and had a few of them. I like the idea of a fellow creature whom I didn't have to pick up it's waste with a plastic bag. And of course, it's aloofness which I admire because I don't have any.

My best one was Dweazel, seen above, whom I appropriately named after one of Frank Zappa's kids, who as it turned out, spells their name differently. Dweazel was born at the base of a TV station where I worked as a writer/producer so it was meant to be. She traveled with me everywhere, loved long drives and even flying. But that was years ago.

I finally gathered the courage needed to entertain a life change and went to a veterinarian office on Ventura Blvd., which had several cats in the window, ready for adoption. I was greeted by a somewhat cold and suspicious woman who looked at me with narrow eyes.

"I'm thinking of adopting a cat, maybe a kitten".

She studied me like a customs agent and then said: "Cats can live up to 20 years."


In other words, the cat would most likely outlive me, considering the average life span in America is around 75.

So where is this going?

I've been writing for at least most of my life, professionally since 1985. I had written commercials before that and documentaries but don't include them.

And now, at the ripe old age of 64, I have no intention of quitting.  Novelist Dean Koontz recently said that he will stop when his head falls on the desk. I've often said that I'll stop when my face hits the keyboard.

And then, I want my laptop buried with me because I might just get a good idea. You never know.

If you are truly a writer, there is no end in sight, you will write until you can't anymore. And even then you will imagine.

I have never been as active as I am right now, I had the Christmas movie last year, now have a new Christmas screenplay with 2 producers and am working at the Ghostkeeper sequel which I hope to do in December. Also I'm starting to develop 2 series, one based on spies and the other on a former TV star who now is raising a daughter.

And there are other ideas I'm working on, including two new screenplays which I have yet to start and a documentary I'm editing on Highway 50 in Nevada, dubbed "the loneliest highway in America", with footage shot over the last 5 years.

The key word here of course, is survival. I know writers in WGA who have written one screenplay and never were able to write another, and of course, others who have written more than I have.

People have asked me what the secret is to stay so long in a business when you're presumed finished at 40?

All I know is this; I never quite writing screenplays or coming up with ideas. It was difficult at the beginning, in fact it took me a good 4 or 5 years to really write something that was reasonably ok.  I now have about 35 spec screenplays on my shelf, and am adding at least two more by the year's end.

And I show my screenplays to anyone who wants to read them. You never know where a contact can come from. I get so tired of new writers who are afraid someone will steal their idea. I have learned this; every time I get a fantastic idea I know that at least 4 other writers have that idea, two are considering writing it, one is in development and one has already had their script made.

One thing is true, writers write. No matter if you have a job or not. You've heard me say this often, and it begs repeating; the best thing about being a writer is that you don't have to have a job to write a spec, you just have to have an idea.

Everyone else in the business needs to be hired. Everyone. But writers can write anytime and anywhere. I wrote the Christmas screenplay as a spec in 2007 and it hung around until 2010 until it was made.

Am I worried about taking away jobs from younger writers? Not at all, I don't write like them and they don't write like me, and nothing really counts except the story.

Because it's not about age, it's about a compelling story that holds the reader and the audience and no one writer has a monopoly on that.

Even William Goldman doesn't win every time. 

(Thurs: An ad for producers)