Opinions. Everybody Has 'Em.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Novelist...AND screenwriter!

I’m all for promotion. I believe all really is fair in love, war, and advertising.
But I remain both bewildered by, and strangely fascinated with, the latest incarnation of flummery taken directly from the ‘Fake It Til You Make It Writer’s Guide To Success’, which would be the chapter dealing with The Screenplay Claim.
It’s quite simple. It runs along the lines of a novelist smiling and puffing themselves up importantly whilst repeatedly uttering the magical words:
I’m busy writing the screenplay version of my novel.”
The trick to making this statement seem convincing lies in saying it with just enough conviction that it comes across plausible to the uninitiated.
God bless the uninitiated. They will swallow anything hook, line, and sinker, won’t they? You might well be writing the screenplay version of your novel, and jolly good for you, keeping yourself busy. But that’s about as much as it’s likely to amount to, in all truth: busywork.
Let’s look at history for a moment. Back in the days when Hollywood was Hollywood there were many novelists brought there with the express purpose of turning their literary masterpieces into screenplays. Most failed. And even where the few succeeded, other screenwriters were brought in to snip and polish and generally to paint a very different picture from that the novelist intended. The best of the best amongst actual screenwriters were just as subject to this studio whim and more often than not found their hard work discarded by some upstart whose vision the studio head liked better.
It was all very frustrating. But it helps to explain why so many writers and screenwriters, both of yesteryear and of the modern era, were and are drunken and drugged-up raving lunatics. Because both are equally frustrating and thankless arenas to throw your hat into. Don't deny it.
Nothing much has changed from those days. Except perhaps for the stringency of the liable laws and, frankly, Hollywood has simply found new and inventive ways of circumventing those.
There are - quite literally - millions of suckers in LA who are unemployed screenwriters and every one is looking for that Big Break will make their career and their life. They all want to get within throwing distance of Jerry Bruckheimer with the script that they, personally, feel is overwhelmingly ground-breaking and thus box office record-shattering. The sad and harsh truth is most of them will never graduate beyond serving you a burger with extra fries. The sensible minority will return home to East Bumfuck, Idaho, and there become local business luminaries.
Even those scripts which do make it to tentative studio approval are subject to multiple whims and changes. Any successful original script will end up looking nothing like the thing it started out as. By the time it reaches the silver screen, maybe a year, maybe twenty years down the line, it will have been passed through the hands and minds of maybe a dozen or more screenwriters, each of whom will have as little to do with the last as fudge has to do with particle physics. The end result will have been tainted by the input of not only multiple screenwriters but also multiple directors, producers, and even star-name actors.
You might think that having a slew of 5-star Amazon reviews is all you need to attract the attention of Hollywood because there have been a rash of 5-star reviewed books recently turned into movies. Not so. Hollywood may be shallow and you may think it is driven by what is perceived to be the latest trends, including those set artificially by the Everyman denizens of Amazon review pages, but in truth Hollywood is also money conscious in the final analysis. Just spend a moment thinking about all the 5-star rave reviewed books available on Amazon which have not been made into mega-movies. Right.
Now think about the sheer volume of movies produced by Hollywood. Most of which are destined to wither in obscurity. It may not be nearly as many movies are produced today as were in the studio heyday, but it’s still a goodly number. Do you really think they will be throwing money at your little tale of, well, whatever? Been there, done that, tee-shirts didn’t sell well at the box office. No thanks then, dude. We’ll pass today.
Still think that’s all it takes? Then you are a deluded idiot. Perhaps even more deluded than the idiots who run Hollywood these days.
Just like achieving bestseller status as a writer, Hollywood is a lottery. The chin-scratching pundits who spend their days pontificating on the Internet and raising the desperate hopes of writers might like for the rest of us to think that they know what of they speak, that they are in tune with what is “trending”, but the truth is, they have as little clue as to what might pop or sink next week or next year as the rest of us do. They are simply fakin’ it ‘til they make it because they have a job to protect like the rest of us.
So write your screenplay. Good luck to you. And if you have friends in the biz who have told you “ If you write it, I will film it” take that with a pinch of salt. Please. Because that is as much wishful thinking on their part as screenplay glory is on yours. There are many frustratingly complex steps between screenplay and screen glory. There are more screenplays stuck in Production Hell than ever make it to the big screen. Of the screenplays do make it onto celluloid, more end up going straight-to-DVD than achieve a cinema release. And what does make it to the big screen and come to the notice of the critics, is merely a the tip of a very big iceberg.
Screenwriting and novel writing are two very different animals. Rarely do the twain meet without expectations, and sometimes sanity, being the bottom-line cost. As a novelist then, you might be better off expending the same mental energy in writing your next book.
Unless the Muse has temporarily deserted you? Is that it? She’ll come back. She always does. Or are you a one- or two-trick pony as a novelist? You’ve reached your limit of book-writing potential…In which case, have at it with the screenplay. Because being busy with anything is better than being idle in nothing.
Write your screenplay from your novel.
Just don't think you're going to be the next James Cameron.

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