You have an idea for a movie. It's good, and you know it, because it's been floating around in the back of your brain for years. It's gone through a few changes over the years, of course. At one point, while you had a really great relationship, you knew there had to be a romance subplot, but when that relationship ended you realized the one you imagined was pretty cliché, so you twisted it into part of the story's conflict. Later, when you were in a better, more mature relationship, you realized that conflict needed heart, to make sense of it all. As the years go on and you develop this story, all sorts of things change with your growing understanding of the world, which is all going to serve to make this you real voice, your heart and soul project.
Back in the day, writers had to work with
Get somebody else to write it. Somebody who is an actual writer. It may be a splash of sulfuric acid to the eyes to say it, but if you only have one story to tell, and it's taken several years to figure out exactly what it is, you aren't a writer.
Writers write. It's that simple. If you call yourself a writer because you have ideas, but just don't have the time to flesh them out, you may have a future as an executive producer. If you have one idea, one big passion of a story, and you haven't spent years telling other stories you weren't as into, the story you want to tell isn't going to be very good. You have no practice. Sorry, but it's true. Somebody who really wants to be a rock star doesn't show up at the MTV offices in New York, talk a good talk, and suddenly become a rock star, picking up the craft once they get hired. Actually, they might, but that doesn't make them good.
A writer sees a story in everything. A real writer can sit down at a coffee shop, watch somebody walk in, order their coffee, sit down, do their thing, then leave, and have a story by the end of it. They look at how the person moves, speaks, and interacts. What do they do while they are there? All of this inspires a back story. What events have brought them to this coffee shop, and where does this event fit in the narrative? Once all of that is worked out, where does it go from there? A writer would have
several options to pick from, and run with the most interesting.
Visionary director. Not really a writer overall.
Letting the events of your life affect a story is fine. In the above relationship example, the story changed three times. Instead of picking one that worked best, a writer should be able to see three separate stories to work with. You might point out that the framework you're using changes based on your perspective of relationships. I would point out that you appear to have one framework, and should try and imagine another one that suits one of those abandoned plots. Or, if you can really only imagine one framework, I again suggest not writing.
Do you have a great life experience that would make a fantastic film, and that's why you only have one story? You were there, and you know all of the detail, so you would be the only one who could do it justice. Fantastic. Plenty of good stories came from situations just like yours. Sit down with a writer, tell them the story, and let them run with it. They'll see the story beats, know the right questions to ask, know how to give the audience the right amount of back story and resolution, and not make a two hour "you had to be there" experience.
Ever heard of the sophomore slump? For the benefit of those who thought "no" (giving credit that nobody spoke aloud to rhetorical question), it's when some fresh young talent comes out of the gate hot, their first work getting spectacular buzz, and everybody waiting to see what they do next. The second project gets green lit on buzz alone, it comes out, it tanks. Audiences avoid it, critics pan it, and all heat just goes away.
The sophomore slump comes from not having a lot of ideas. Everyone thinks that since you did this one great thing, you must have greatness coming out of every pore. In some cases this is true. People like the Coen brothers, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, John Singleton, John Sayles, Robert Rodriguez, and Charlie Kaufman were able to ride the wave once they broke out. At any given point they seem to have several ideas ready to go, and plenty that never see the light of day. They may not all turn out fantastic, but it's okay since another idea is right around
Not a writer. Ask Bob Hope. Actually, don't.
On the other side of things we have people like Troy Duffy, who made BOONDOCK SAINTS, but nothing since. It's a huge cult hit, tons of people love it, but the only thing he has in development is a sequel. The documentary OVERNIGHT shows why that will likely never happen. Kevin Williamson burst onto the scene with SCREAM, followed it up with SCREAM 2, as well as every unproduced script he'd had up until then, a TV deal, and very little since. Quentin Tarantino was a huge deal when he first hit, burned hot for quite some time, vanished for six years, won back a lot of those who forgot about him with KILL BILL, then did nothing for three years (save for a CSI episode) until the recent DEATH PROOF. By his own estimation he's done five movies in fifteen years. Love him or hate him, is your goal to have an idea once every three years on average? If so, keep the day job just in case.
I have about fifteen unfinished scripts right now, not counting comic books, prose, and stage plays. Am I bragging? Hell no. They aren't finished for a reason. They don't work yet. I write for a while on one, get out the good ideas, then walk away when they suck and turn my attention to something fresh or on my mind. Later, something may click and I come back to something. I reread it, see where I went off course, fix it, add to it, and get it that much closer to done. Sometimes I'll finish something I don't feel particularly passionate about, because maybe ultimately I can sell it to somebody who sees potential in it I don't. I know I still have plenty I am really into. The important thing is, I'm always thinking of more stories to tell. How may are in you?
This is not to say you don't have it in you to be a film maker, but know going in where your strengths are and where you could use help. Think about how many scripts Hitchcock wrote. Note that at most Spielberg gets story credit, letting somebody else concentrate on the details while he gets other things in order. David Fincher has no scripts ot his name. There's no shame in not being the one to write the script for your movie. If you do still want to write, stay tuned for the next few columns.
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Patrick hails from Baltimore, MD, where playing by the rules is frowned upon. Only average things come from playing it safe.|
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