“Why Would You Be Interested in Screenwriting?” by Casey Millette

“Why Would You Be Interested in Screenwriting?”

“The difference between life and the movies is that a script has to make sense, and life

doesn`t,” said Joseph L. Mankiewiz, one of the greatest film directors of all time. Nothing about

the above statement could be truer. Unlike life, a screenplay has certain rules it must follow if it

is to ever survive the challenging industry. Screenwriting inspires both the creative and formulaic

aspects of writing, perfect for someone who loves putting both parts of their brain to good use.

However, unlike writing fiction, the industry is much more difficult to work with. One must take

into account the responsibilities of buckling down to write, the lifestyle in general, whether an

education is worth it, the difference between writing a novel and a screenplay, and the future of

screenwriting.

Writing, whether for a novel or for the screen, requires intense self-discipline and skill to

be noticed. The most successful screenwriters are some of the most committed people there are.

They understand how important it is to write, face the “dreaded” blank page, and produce on

deadlines. If they are not responsible for their work, then it will never see the light of day.

However, because the responsibilities and incentives are one and the same, that means that

screenwriters have a lot of freedom. Unless a writer is called to be on set with a specific shooting

schedule, any lifestyle will fit. From stay-at-home mom to someone to lives mostly on the road,

the urge to right is inescapable. There is no one to answer to. If a screenwriter wants the bills to

be paid, he/she has to find the motivation to grind at the computer just a little longer.

Depending on the size of a writer`s laptop, or if he wants to just use the traditional pencil

and paper, writing can be done anywhere at any time. Because films are such massive projects,

the writer has to be fully invested. The abilities to pace one`s self, create deadlines, do adequate

research, and spend time and energy are all critical to the job. Then, before the writer can even

sit down and begin work, there`s the loglines, taglines, overviews, and treatments. Pre-

production requires due amount of patience. If all these traits cohere in sync with one another,

screenwriting is a more than doable career choice, especially as technology shifts. Determined

writers typically begin with normal day jobs and implement their writing around their working

hours until they are established (Porter, “Interview With a Screenwriter).

Even when everything falls into place and proper contacts have been made, income does

not always make the cut. A writer gets paid along the lines of a contract, if offered one by a

studio. Like the minimum wage for a job, there is also a minimum wage for a screenplay. After

the writer establishes his or herself, and if their products are in demand, the wage will be

increased. Then there is always the option of being a freelance writer who gets paid according to

the profits their movie actually makes. It is not until a writer`s name is well known does the

money and offers roll in. Screenwriting requires dedication, perseverance, and passion. The artist

must be fully dedicated to every work he or she produces. If the writer is not moved by the story,

then what is the point of all the mind-grinding, difficult work that the cutthroat industry requires?

There are hundreds of film schools out there, but that does not necessarily mean that a

budding writer needs to attend a full course. The only mandatory technique required is to be able

to tell an intriguing story using masterful language. Then again, full understanding of how

proper, “real” English works is helpful too. Dominique Blanchard, a screenwriter and graduate of

Georgia State University, stated on March 21, 2017, “You have to be careful about the

university, particularly in the film business. There`s that whole thing about ‘if you can`t do, then

you teach’. I hate to say it, but that is a deep reality for the industry. Nobody just decides to head

backstage, especially when writing. No one does that. The majority of teachers end up being

retired actors or directors that didn`t really do much, or directors from theater that are now trying

to break into film. You have to be really careful about who you learn from.”

Because film is such an unstable industry, successful writers cannot let the market get in

their heads. Learning to follow instincts and express from the heart on a page takes practice.

Even though film colleges might not be the best option for all, writing workshops are frequent

and easy to get into. Those who want to perfect their craft benefit enormously. Blanchard quoted,

“. . . Writing is still an art, and art comes from within. You have a lot of requirements for

structure and format, but if you want to take writing classes, those are great. I don`t necessarily

think that you have to have a degree, but you have to have a foundation where somebody can

point you in the right direction. So when you take these classes, you will get guidance and they

will break down screenplays.”

Screenwriting is meant for people with visions. As Blanchard said above, screenplays

make it possible for a writer to execute their precise ideas on the screen for all to see. “Story

telling is more important than rhetoric,” according to Charles Deemer, a retired professor from

Portland State University. “A screenplay is not a literary document.” It speaks action, not

thoughts. In this way, it is possibly more challenging that writing a novel.

Just like any other craft, screenwriting requires practice, patience, study, and talent. Years

of pain and learning experiences prelude every success, particularly in the film industry. Because

the screenwriter is considered “vulnerable” compared to directors, producers, and actors, he or

she has to sort their priorities. They must decide whether family, career, or integrity will come

first. Blanchard shared a personal story about how she had to defend her integrity and her work

against the temptation of publishing her own movie. “When you invest in other people, you can`t

control how they see your stuff. My first script that I ever wrote, I got a director who wanted to

put a lot of sex in it, and that really devalued the movie for me. . . I could have just taken the

deal, or have been really offended, but what I chose to see was, ‘wow, my screenplay is not as

full as it needs to be.’ If it was full enough, the idea of including these kinds of scenes would not

even be considered. I think it is all a matter of perspective, and that`s what you have to

remember, especially in anything that you do in film and television. The industry is cutthroat.

Nobody wants to be your friend until you can do something for them. . . . The field is really

superficial. . . If you get your feelings hurt, you have a choice. You could get bitter or you could

recognize your mistakes and learn different strategies.”

Because of rising technology, movies will only get better. Studios have bigger budgets

and have a better ability to bring worlds to life. That means screenwriters must step up to the

challenge. However, mostly because of the economy, it is difficult to find anyone who is brave

enough to face the giants. Most writers are falling into television. If their script for a particular

show fails, then they don`t have anything to lose. There are better (and more) chances when it

comes to writing a television series. Thirty years ago, it used to be that ninety percent of students

wanted to pursue writing for the movies, and ten percent wanted to go into movies. Now, it`s

fifty-fifty. There are just no original scripts in Hollywood. There are too many risks.

Although many writers daydream about seeing an Oscar on their mantelpiece, it is

important to set realistic goals. To S. Lane Porter, a freelance screenwriter, it is more important

for her to create a work that “. . .a person remembers from childhood, or the one they put on the

television when they`re having a bad day, or the one that comforts them like their favorite

sweatshirt. . . .” After all the above, it is logical to conclude that most writers pursue

screenwriting “. . .not for the money, but for the soul.”

Screenwriting not for people who wish the weave with words and have an awe for the

English language. As Blanchard said above, The screenwriter is not allowed to be wordy.

Directness is key. Screenwriting grants the writer the possibility of telling visually appealing

stories, rather than a more poetic masterpiece. If this is what the wannabee seeks, then

screenwriting might just be the perfect fit.

Screenwriting is an increasingly difficult industry to break into. People should always

consider the topics mentioned above before they take up the gauntlet of writing movies.

However, it is not impossible. For those who are willing to put in the work can find the

opportunities and will become the next great film-writers.

 

Works Cited

Blanchard, Dominique. Personal Interview. 21 March 2017

Deemer, Charles. “The Role of a Screenwriter.” Film Underground,

www.filmunderground.com/134/Article/NWFS/The-Role-of-the-Screenwriter.htm.

Accessed 22 March 2017.

Hauge, Michael. “Do you Really Want to Become a Screenwriter?” Writer`s Store,

www.writersstore.com/do-you-really-want-to-be-a-screenwriter/. Accessed 22 March

2017.

Iglesias, Karl.  “How to Become a Screenwriter: 6 Essential Habits of Highly Successful

Screenwriters.” Writer`s Store, www.writersstore.com/the-6-essential-habits-of-highly-

successful-screenwriters/. Accessed 22 March 2017.

Konow, David. “The Current (and Possibly Future) State of Screenwriting.” Creative

            Screenwriting, 5 August 2013, creativescreenwriting.com/the-current-and-possibly-

future-state-of-screenwriting/. Accessed 29 March 2017

Marks, Justin. “My Life as a Screenwriter You`ve Never Heard Of.” The Hollywood Reporter,

15 May 2013, www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/my-life-as-a-screenwriter-520979.

Accessed 22 March 2017

Porter, S. Lane. “Interview With a Screenwriter.” Job Shadow, 2012,

www.jobshadow.com/interview-with-a-screenwriter/. Accessed 22 March 2017.

Trottier, David. “How to Write a Screenplay: A Primer.” The Screenwriter`s Bible, 2014 ed.

Silman-James Press, 2014.