Wednesday, January 17, 2007

What’s a spec writer to do?

Has anyone read the latest issue of Creative Screenwriting magazine? I don’t know why I keep reading this tripe, because it never fails to piss me off.

Consider, my friends, the latest evolution of brilliant contemporary thought: Ron Suppa’s “The Business of Screenwriting: Even Insomniacs Can Dream.” The logline: “In a market filled with sequels, remakes and adaptations, what’s a spec writer to do?”

Hmm. I wonder. Let’s read it, shall we?

Ron spends maybe 600 words talking about how he can’t sleep and went to a doctor and started writing down his dreams on a pad of paper and he still couldn’t come up with an original idea. Then he spends the last 600 words on how people are perfectly happy plunking down $9 a pop to see the same crap every Friday night. He quoted Darren Aronofsky who, after feeling the sting of criticism for his latest film, The Fountain, remarked that the same people who complain about how Hollywood never does anything different attacks you when you do. And then came all the bile about how there’s only a dozen basic plots at best in storytelling anyway, how the same basic characters always get recycled, and how even television shows bank on familiarity.

And then he ends the article by basically saying, “You know what? Writers should be original. They have to get noticed by breaking new ground and taking risks. So go write that pet project of yours.”

That was helpful, Ron. Thanks.

You guys at Creative Screenwriting are really killing me with this bottom-feeding crud. Who came up with this idea, huh? THIS, an article about ORIGINALITY from the guy who produced
Maui Heat! (That was his last project, by the way, and that was 10 years ago.) This guy has ONE writing credit under his belt, a 1989 movie called Riding the Edge, and I can’t find a single review of it with the exception of ONE user comment on IMDB who called it “absurd but entertaining.”

And hey, Ron, I understand. I really do. You dried up creatively. It happens. And in all reality, it honestly does not matter to me if you have any credits AT ALL. I know some brilliant, unproduced screenwriters who I will listen to ‘til the day I die simply because they are brilliant and they know what they are talking about.

But if you can’t write an article that engages and inspires fellow screenwriters on some kind of substantive level, then get off the bus, man. You’re wasting my time with this whiny bullshit about how there’s nothing new under the sun. Because let me tell you something. Those are the words of a man who has no passion and no vision.

So let me ask the question:

In a market filled with sequels, remakes and adaptations, what’s a spec writer to do?

First of all, know who you're pitching and make sure you're pitching the right stories to the right people. If you’re pitching to a mainstream studio that's notoriously safe and heavy on sequels, then pitch a new franchise. They'll listen. And then back up your idea with a 4-star spec. If doors aren’t opening, then look abroad for wide-open opportunities you never considered before, like the
Asian Film Market. Or make connections with aspiring filmmakers at the local level.

Be great. Be strong. Be of good cheer. You're amongst friends. Study psychology. Study philosophy, religion, and mythology. Study contemporary issues. Study amateur scripts that fail. Study pro scripts that fail. Study legendary screenplays by true mold-breakers like Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon, THANK YOU VERY MUCH. Study history. Study cinema. What hasn’t been done before? What’s being done now that’s wrong? What’s missing in today’s movies? How can you manipulate structure and technigue to find originality?

Storytelling will never die. There is an endless number of great stories that haven’t been told yet, but there are few writers today who can tell those stories really well. The possibilities for new and exciting characters are endless. The variety of contradictions that could be built into characters to have depth are innumerable. Why should Hamlet be the character with the most depth? Who the hell says there can’t be a modern Shakespeare? Or another golden age of cinema?

Above everything, master the craft. Make every detail count. Never, ever sell yourself short. You have to have vision, passion, a love of films, and a true devotion to the craft. You have to be willing to try and fail. You have to push yourself and others. You have to give and receive honest feedback. You have to learn to take criticism. You have to engage other writers in a constructive discussion about the craft. You have to be capable of dealing with the absurdities of the business. And if you fail, fail spectacularly, and go down swinging with the most unforgettable stories ever written.

As Jim Emerson said in his review of The Fountain,
“I'd much rather watch somebody shoot for the moon when the stakes are sky-high than sit back while they play it safe.”

That’ll be $6.95, please.

Or $9.95 if you live in Canada.


Mim said...

Passion and vision. That sounds almost like what Tom Hanks said about Warren Beatty the other night at the Globes. That and artistic integrity, or huge balls, as he called it.

I'm glad that, in this case, it's okay for women to have them too.

wcdixon said...

nice one MM...

I know this is the easy way out, but I always say...assume talent (which means ability to come up with good ideas), how to go about getting you and your script/series noticed.

GameArs said...

"...go down swinging with the most unforgettable stories ever written."

That's the plan. Thanks for looking out for us, MM.

Unk said...

Ah... I knew it had been way too FUCKING QUIET in the Scribosphere.

I read the article.

On the toilet.


pooks said...

Then wiped, and flushed?

Great post, MM. Bravo!

chris soth said...

hear-hear. It IS harder than it used to be...but if the lottery is a million to one, or ten million to one, what's your real difference in experience playing it? (that's an analogy to the spec market).

For's generating my own projects, putting together my own budgets. If I have to become a director to tell stories, I will...

...the workers must control the means of producting.

Mystery Man said...

Thanks, guys. I forgot add one more "Study grammar. You should know how to fucking write."


dix - I couldn't agree more!

You're right, Chris, it IS harder. We have to surpass the pros today and it's quite doable.


Mim said...

Grammar is my pet peeve too. I can't believe how many people call themselves writers who don't know how to use proper grammar...

...and punctuation. I'm not the world's best speller, but I know how to use a dictionary.

GimmeABreak said...

Eye no how too use a dickshunary, two, sew their.

MaryAn Batchellor said...

Not that Ron and I are pals or anything, but mind if we give him an opportunity to rebut?

Mystery Man said...

Not at all!

Tim Clague said...


Check out my recent post. It might give you food for thought. Its a challenge to us as writers and film makers.