Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Scriptwriter’s Life

I remember Stephen King saying in his book, On Writing, that he would write in the morning, get his errands done in the afternoon, and read at night. Must be nice. A screenwriter’s life, however, is vastly more complicated. For many years, I personally felt that success in mastering the craft occured only after the long haul of dedicating yourself in doing these 7 things:

1. Write like crazy.
2. Read screenplays, movie websites, and books like crazy.
3. Review other scripts like crazy.
4. Watch movies like crazy.
5. Network like crazy.
6. Have an open, crazy dialogue with other writers and filmmakers about the craft.
7. Get out and experience a wonderful, crazy life.

However, I was recently contacted by the wonderful Tim Claque, a writer / director from the United Kingdom. He shared with me his brilliant chart (above), which really broadens even my own thinking about many aspects that make up a screenwriter’s life. Admittedly, I was concerned he might be some traveling salesman with a workshop or a book to sell, but he isn’t. In fact, after about the second or third email from him, it occurred to me that he is actually part of
The Revolution. He’s just an artist (like us) who’s willing to engage other artists in the arena of ideas. And this is just a chart he created for himself so that he can keep a balance in his own life in the areas of knowledge and experience as a screenwriter.

He told me, “The idea for the diagram came from some corporate work I was doing. I was writing a script for a bank. And as part of my research I spent a week or two observing the lives of financial salesmen. What was interesting was that they divided their sales lives up in a similar way. They spent only about a third of their development time on their actual sales skills. The other two thirds were on 'other' things. Things like keeping in touch with the business news, getting better at admin, researching new sales ideas, meeting colleagues and meeting competitors - so many things. Well that's what the top people did anyway. You can see the parallels and from that the Scriptwriter's Life took form. It’s easy to see those parallels in hindsight but initially it took me a while to get there. Overall I guess the message I took away from it is - don't just get your head down. Keep your head up and observe the world. Its key for a salesman to understand people and understand the world. But for a scriptwriter is even more important.”

He said that the “diagram is a work in progress and will always be changing following comments from fellow writers. It’s not about fads or the fashionable trends… Eventually, the aim is to create a CD-ROM that has interviews, examples, and advice on it for these areas to bring it all to life. This would be a funded CD-ROM and therefore, free to all writers, as well.”

I asked him what he gets out of his own chart. He said, “When I look at the diagram I use it for reflection. I try to find the thing that I've done the least of recently. Today I realised I've had my head down in rewrites and editing for a long time. My red circle - which is about building up MY character - has been forgotten about. The danger if that continues would be I would lose touch with new ideas and become stale. So I spent part of today reading Oliver Stone's recent BAFTA lecture and watching the film ‘Oldboy’ which has passed me by first time but I knew I wanted to watch. It's important to realise that most writers do most of this stuff most of the time. The diagram allows you to just explore your boundaries a little more. It challenges you to just do that bit more variety and be more fully rounded as a writer AND a person. For me that would represent the next time I feel I need to develop, I shouldn't watch another film - because that's what I did last time. I should do something else ‘red.’ Get to the art gallery, check out the box figures more thoroughly, read a script.”

And to that I say, “amen.” Good job, Tim.


shecanfilmit said...

When I was in London this summer, I met Tim in person for beer. Not only is he part of the revolution, he's also cute. :-)

Tim said...

*blush* Thanks Christina. You could have said at the time though.

Thanks for writing about the diagram MM. I'd not read your 'revolution' post before. I am definitely part of it. I even dared to suggest a move away from courier font.

It says something about us scriptwriters that this seemed to be the most controversial thing I could ever say!

GimmeABreak said...

My networking is presently limited to my fellow TSers. Until I'm as confident in my writing ability as I am in my professional skills, I don't want to give anyone the impression that I'm capable of something I'm not. Don't want to burn bridges before I cross them.

Mim said...

This is a great idea. When you have to work at a regular job to support your writing because you're not getting paid...YET...there are certain sacrifices you have to make. And yet it's also important to stay on track with your life as a whole.

This chart is all about that. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

These charts are great.

Pat, you have the skills as a writer. Complement them with being a saleswoman. Quality sells, but it still needs a kick start.

Per Mim's comments, between my day job as a teacher (40 - 50 hours a week) and what I'm trying to accomplish as a writer/producer, it's been two solid years since I last sat and wondered what I needed to do with my time. Once I decided it was screenwriting, it was all over. (And probably that was the last time I got more than 6 hours sleep a night.)

I have a wife who, God bless her, just can't see the point until money's on the table, and I have a 15 month old boy who's destroyed 1/3rd of my laptop's keyboard.

The funny thing about chasing this lifestyle is I shoot Miriam an e-mail saying this guy in China BLAH BLAH BLAH, and she doesn't even blink an eye.

Mystery Man, I think the first rule of this revolution needs to be, "You are not alone."

GimmeABreak said...

Thanks, Matt. 'preciate that! :-)

GameArs said...

So, in the revolution, is this the blog heard around the world?

Mystery Man said...

Hehehe... I think so. I keep moving up in the technorati rankings.


Danny Stack said...

Tim's a legend.

Fawkner Clements said...

Part of the ability to keep writing over the years comes down to living with the expectation of disappointment. It's the exact opposite of capitalism. In capitalism you want your business to succeed, and to the degree it does your energy increases, and you go out and buy an even bigger business. In writing it's almost the exact opposite. You just want to keep the store going. You're not going to do as well this year as last year probably, but nonetheless let's keep the store going. What ruins most writers of talent is that they don't get enough experience, so their novels tend to develop a certain paranoid perfection.
Norman Mailer (1923 - 2007)

Mystery Man said...

Thanks for that.


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