Friday, November 13, 2009

I got you babe

As part of the application to my screenwriting course at Harvard I ask the students to ask me a question. Most of the questions I’ve received are just fine – good indicators of what the student hopes to learn and sometimes what they misunderstand about what screenwriters do. Yesterday I got this question and it simply blew me away:

“Would you write a feature length screenplay if you knew it would not be produced?”

Oh my. That gets to the heart of so many things.

My immediate response is, without a doubt, no. Of course not. Why would I do that?

And then I hear my impassioned lecturer voice telling the students to pursue screenwriting not because they expect to “win the lottery” – make a million dollar script sale – but because they really love to write screenplays. After all, if you spend most of your time writing screenplays, that is your life. Why would you want your life to consist of something you didn’t want to be doing?

In point of fact, most of the screenplays that screenwriters write are never produced. More than most. So how is knowing that your work is very unlikely to be produced different from knowing that it will never be produced?

Answer number one: Hope. Faith. Belief.

Who knew that screenwriting was such a religious experience?

Danny Rubin (author of Groundhog Day), When A Screenplay Falls in a Forest, at Pure Movies.

1 comment:

Andrew Gelman said...

Yes, there are some fundamental issues here, ranging from the general ("If you want to at least some people to read your screenplay, you could post it on your blog; if you want at least some people to see your movie, you could get some friends to act it out and put it on YouTube") to the specific ("If nobody's going to make a movie out of it, why write your book in screenplay form, a mode that is particularly difficult to read?").

The connections to questions such as, "Why do I knock myself out to publish articles in scientific journals that almost nobody ever reads?" are uncomfortable and obvious.

On the flipside, consider the journalists who are writing TV criticism (say) for Time or Newsweek. Millions of people are reading their every word, but I imagine they'd all prefer to be doing investigative reporting or writing novels or whatever. Unless you're someone like Steven Levitt or Malcolm Gladwell (so that millions of people read your utterances, and they take these utterances seriously, I expect that having a large audience it more appealing in anticipation than in reality.

Beyond all this, I find something tacky in the way that Danny Rubin writes (in the quotation you gave above). Bombastic, fake-confessional, low-grade imitation-Mamet . . . pretty much the style I'd expect a screenwriter to use.

Grabby, though, I'll give him that.