Monday, March 19, 2012

You've written how many...?

The fact is that most screenplays, even those scripted by well-regarded writers, don't get made"
                                    - Larry McMurtry

There is a great divide among writers, there are those who write one screenplay in their whole career and others that write dozens. Most of us are somewhere in the middle. I joined the popular website Linkedin some years ago but rarely followed it mostly because it was for aspiring writers and filmmakers.

I realized that I had more credits than almost all of them and that there were many other people there just to sell their services to hungry writers and filmmakers. So why would I want to belong to a club that would have me as a member, in the words of Groucho Marx.

I get notices from Linkedin, that I should join in more, and yesterday I went in to read about a British aspiring writer who asked advice as he was coming to LA with a handful of scripts and would shop around the studios and get some interest.

Other aspiring writers gave advice; one said it's relatively easy to get companies to look at your material, others said bring money and still others said he should make contacts before he left England.

And you're asking why I don't like Linkedin?

Screenwriting has become the new guy/girl on the block. When movies began people from all over America, and the world, came to Hollywood to be stars. Nobody every really wanted to be a writer or a director.

That began to change in the 70's, when spec screenplays began to sell. Usually studios developed screenplays over periods of time but suddenly we read about unknown writers selling screenplays for millions of dollars. And it was true.

Writers like Shane Black and Joe Eszterhas and a handful of others made fortunes. It's rumored Eszterhas wrote out a storyline on a napkin and sold it for $4 million. It was called Jade and it was made.

But Jade changed things; it was a flop. And so studios went back to developing screenplays to make sure they were good. Or as good as they could make.

But the 70's were the era of the Movie Brats, Lucas, Coppola, De Palma, Scorceses and even Spielberg. Audiences began to know their names and along with them, writer's names. Top that off with film schools beginning everywhere.

And lots of teachers to teach them. Mostly writers who failed (my agent's claim) were eager to tell aspiring writers of the riches to be had. In truth a few spec screenplays were sold from time to time, but upon examining them, the writers were pretty much professional by that time. And they had major agents or friends of major agents.

Someone once said the best way to break into movies is to know someone working in the movies. If there is a golden rule, that's it.

The 80's brought scores of film students and they all wanted to write and direct. And soon every college that could afford to, started a film class. The best were always USC, UCLA, AFM and NYU and still are. And according to some film critics they really didn't learn how to make movies beyond the wideshot/mediumshot/closeup school of directing.

But word kept saying that there's money to be made in screenplays and all you need is the software, Screenplay or Final Draft. The joke became "who in America isn't writing a screenplay".

By the 21st century, there were more screenwriters hanging around than ever. But very few if ever made a sale, spec or assignment. And that's when some people realized there's money to be made.

Film schools could give you the basics, if you cared to learn them, but what was really needed was something else.

Screenwriting Gurus or... motivational speakers and tutors.

Guys like Syd Field and Robert McKee offered 2-3 day courses in "how to improve your writing or how to write great stuff. Others followed quickly with even more details; private instruction. They offered sure ways to sell your screenplay and help getting there. There's even screenwriter coaches, designed after "life coaches" for people who just couldn't get there by themselves.

Screenwriting magazines appeared and offered the same thing; they had experts offering how to make your screenplay sell.

And the truth of it was that most of them never sold a screenplay in their lives, in fact many never even wrote a screenplay. And I know of one famous screenwriting guru who, when assigned to do a rewrite on someone else's screenplay, couldn't do it.

I think I got a lot more to say on this so I'm gonna make it a 2-partner. Some of this was said in older blogs but it's a new day, sun is shining in Sherman Oaks and I got ideas to be played with.

Tune in Thursday if you're around.

(Thurs: How many have you written?)