Friday, May 23, 2008

Ms. Franklin knows it

Isn't it weird how medical issues work? You know how in old movies they'd always talk about how they were going to the Rivera "for my health"? Always seemed a little cheesy, didn't it? Well, perhaps the East Coast rivera is good for my health, because I just had an issue drop from the looming "hey, I wonder if this is going to affect my future" to "meh, I should get a doctor's opinion on that one day." It's a nice relief (as opposed to an 'un-nice relief'??).

I'm exhausted. I can't concentrate well enough to write the thrilling and enlightening post on producing I was planning, so we're going to talk about something else instead. Ok, Reader? (If it's not, I don't care, you can just exit click out of here). I refer heavily to Zach Helm's Creative Screenwriting podcast, so you might want to listen to that.

Writers don't get enough respect. I know we bemoan this fact a lot, but there's a problem in the way that most writers approach this issue. The treatment of writers, the firing off of projects, the rewriting of others' scripts, the sending of hams as apologies, has created a sort of "expendable" label for writers. The problem is this - that we've started accepting this label, caving to the system - it makes writers cynical. Don't believe me? How many times have you heard writers tell other writers that Hollywood's going to change their script until its not the author's story anymore? I would say the biggest problem is not the Hollywood system - it's the writers that are giving in to it.

Writers do not demand enough respect for themselves. I think we're afraid to risk it, to demand certain terms. I think we're so desperate for success sometimes that we'll blind ourselves to the possibilities, hope that we'll be treated with respect, or at the very least now we've got an option or a greenlight, no matter what the story really is about now. Zach Helm wrote a personal manifesto. He wrote it after he realize he was making a career in a way that he didn't want a career. He was being fired from his own scripts, getting assignments on other's material, writing stories that weren't really in his vein. He could have kept going. Speilberg asked him to write a script. He could have written for Speilberg. In the end, choosing the integrity of the project, Helm was honest with Speilberg about his limitations with the project. Part of this just stems from what seems to be an incredible honesty Helm seems to have with his work. Part of this is just Helm's sense of respect. At this point, he had been working as a screenwriter for about seven years - without having a script actually produced. When he finished his manifesto, he had decided on a "group of rules": no bidding wars, no rewriting others' scripts, no assignments, he would sell only to those people he respected as filmmakers, and maybe most importantly, he requires involvement in the development of the script. He gets a voice in casting, and if they decide the script needs a new perspective, Helm gets to suggest the new writer. When he's talking at the interview about his manifesto, he says that he realized he no longer wanted the pressure of his script production to be on the studios and the stars, "I wanted the onus to be on me." That demands a level of respect for yourself, your craft, and your story.

I don't know - why don't writers do this? Why do we grudgingly accept Hollywood's role for us? Some might argue that it's necessary to get your foot in the door. I'm not arguing that you should be a jerk to the execs you want to greenlight your project or that you claim there are no notes that could possibly improve your story. My feeling is, if you write a great script, you have an obligation to yourself to respect that work you've done. And there's no reason why you should slowly light every page on fire because a company may not give you an option if you don't. It's okay to be firm about your story. If it's really that good of a script, the execs are going to want it. If they respect your story, how are you going to let them getting away without respecting you as well? No one's going to give us any more respect if we don't start acting like we deserve it.

This is sorta silly, but I have one example of how to respect your craft. I'm shy about showing friends my work. I think it used to be because I was (and yes, still am sometimes) insecure in my writing and am unsure how I'd react to negative feedback. However, my attitude's changing a little. When I give a friend some of my work, their level of respect for my work tells me a little bit about their understanding of me. I'm not saying that they need to love it or say that it's great or anything. But you know how when you're with a friend and they're excited about something or something huge is happening in their life, you want to know about it - even if you're not really interested in politics or engineering or agriculture? A friend's interest reflects respect. And in my closest friends, I really hope for people who can understand my passion for writing and respect that. And when I walk into a pitch meeting or an option meeting, I hope that these people who are invested in the business of storytelling will also understand my passion for my writing and respect that. If they don't, then they never should have called that meeting in the first place, right?

Maybe it would have been easier to write about producing after all. I'm just a little tired of all the cynicism that writers carry around from their expendable label in Hollywood. I think we just spent a few months showing how wrong that label is.

And my friend that I went wedding dress shopping with? She bought her dress tonight. It's beautiful. The maid of honor and I had a wonderful time oohing and aahing over the various dresses. We may also have snuck pictures of us wearing bridal tiaras.

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