Okay, Unk, first thing’s first. I need you to tell me if I’m crazy. When I posted our first Blog Talk article, I made a joke about a month-old scandal involving a screenwriter who spoke ill of the way British women dress. I wrote, “Screenwriter Who Will Never Get Laid Ever Again: Tad Safran.” That was THE most clicked link in the article.
I posted that midnight, Tuesday. Well, I get all kinds of news alerts, and about 13 hours later, ABC News ran this story: “Meet the Man Who May Be Britain's Sexist of the Year: Screenwriter Claimed British Beauty Was in a State of Crisis.” This scandal was a month old! And in what (to me) felt like their rush to get the story out, they actually got his name wrong. (ABC News, if you’re reading this, it’s TAD Safran, not TED Safran. Do your bloody homework!)
Am I crazy? Did I cause this or is this just a fluke?
I mean, I can just imagine an ABC staffer (who's also an aspiring screenwriter) come into the newsroom, check my blog, see the link about Tad, and think, "This could make for some great copy!" Then the staffer runs into the editor's office. The story gets approved, and by noon the story is up. And now, Tad's career in the U.S. is down for the count. Maybe I’m just being paranoid, but this kind of stuff happens to me all the time. I really feel guilty as hell about Tad.
Second, I gotta say, I loved your article. It occurred to me as I was reading your thoughts about screenwriting blogs and community that this really isn’t our first blog talk. We actually had another one over a year ago when I posted my screenwriting revolution article. Remember those happy times? Here’s part of what I wrote:
“Who gives a flying flip if you – OH MY GOD - reveal the things you’ve learned about the craft? Or what you love about movies? Or the script-to-screen studies you did six years ago? Or the insights you have about film technique, formatting, characters, dialogue, style, structure, or anything else you love about screenwriting? How else are you going to grow if you don’t talk to others about the craft and ask questions and get the kind of feedback that takes you to a new level…? The truth is, revealing what you know means very little. It means you know stuff. How well you APPLY what you know to your own stories is a vastly different matter altogether. You won’t actually know how well you’re doing until like-minded students of the craft give you feedback. Besides, how do you know that what you know is actually correct?”
And then there was your great response, I think, therefore I blog:
“I’ve even tried the forum thing a few times… I’ve read a lot of screenplays and except for maybe three… COUNT ‘EM, THREE screenwriters, nobody ever takes the effort or the knowledge seriously. So you bang your head against the wall trying to help because you get asked for help but hey… Does anybody even really want it? Hence the reason I blog. I blog to help but I also blog to vent (like this) and even more important, I take my ideas about screenwriting and write them down so they make even more sense to ME and hopefully a few others out there in cyberspace. I love the craft so much I can’t fucking sleep at night…”
Exactly. That’s it exactly. Only those who have been through it, who feel that same passion, can really know what you’re talking about.
And then Billy Mernit chimed in:
“Amen to all of that, I say, but what it brought up for me is an ever-present issue in teaching screenwriting and storytelling. Sometimes -- an uncomfortable truth that must be told -- I find that I'm trying to teach finer points of craft to writers who have yet to grasp fundamentals. So what's the point? If a writer doesn't even know how to construct a working story, isn't talking to them about ‘painting with light’ like rearranging window seats on the Hindenburg?”
And he’s right. Blogging about the craft does not necessarily make you or your readers better writers. If they don’t get it, they don't get it, and all the screenwriting blogs in the world isn’t going to fix them. A writer must have talent. A writer must have an eye for characters and an ear for storytelling. And a writer must have, I think, what Hemingway called “a built-in shock-proof shit-detector.” (Watching bad films doesn't improve your shit-detector, either. You have to read a lot of amateur screen-shit. You have to recognize shit when you see it on the page. And you have to be able to point out the hard-to-find shit, too, the little dingleberries that can ruin a scene.) A writer also needs regular feedback on his or her work, and I don’t think enough can be said about how much Dana Brunetti has changed the face of screenwriting and perhaps the future of films by creating TriggerStreet. Or Francis Ford Coppola with Zoetrope. At the same time, I think screenwriting is a little unique in that it’s a very specialized, technical form of writing, which makes knowledge important, which makes insights about the craft important, because it is the blueprint to a film. And so, blogging about the craft can take raw talent to new levels. It can help enable that talent to become more knowledged about the craft, which in turn, is essential to becoming a better screenwriter.
Furthermore, writers shouldn’t have to pay for screenwriting insight, because more often than not, the advice you get is wrong. The “insiders” are never consistent with what they tell you even when it comes to feedback on your script. It’s maddening. I’ve long come to the conclusion that everything in this business boils down to the individual sitting across from you and how smart or dumb that individual may be. (And on the flip-side, it also boils down to me and how well I handle that conversation with that smart/dumb individual.) You need a community to come together in order to sift through the shit and the gold. So let us hope that we may once and for all lay to rest the era of the screenwriting guru!
I want to say, too, that blogging intensely about the craft creates opportunities you never expected. It brings together people with like-minded passions and obsessions and you can’t put a price tag on something that valuable. I was given unique opportunities to read scripts of fellow bloggers, and yeah, the talent’s impressive. I read the plays of Joshua James and an erotica novel by Ann Wesley Hardin. I read scripts by Todd, Christian, and Christina. Loved ‘em all. Christina, in particular, is someone to watch for. The best script by a screenwriting blogger was without a doubt Billy's The Trouble with My Sister. He writes the shots and it’s damn effective. (By the way, this list doesn’t even include the many scripts I read on TriggerStreet and there were so many great ones, I couldn’t possibly list them all. One of the highlights, though, would have to be Bob Thielke’s Completely Visual Screenplay. No one’s ever done that before.)
Let me give more examples. I've written articles about books and then received e-mails from the authors and had the chance to pick their brains, like Jennifer van Sijll. I once wrote that I loved the writer, Anita Liberty, and her hilarious book, How To Heal the Hurt By Hating. Next thing I know, we’re e-mailing each other, and I was given the chance to give feedback on her “How To Heal the Hurt By Hating” screenplay. She was so wonderful to talk to, so genuine. The script was just as good as the book. Of course, I had suggestions, as I always do with every script, but she did a great job. I couldn’t believe she actually avoided the temptation to use voice overs, which novelists never do if they write adaptations of their own books. Her script was a whole lot better for it. I’d love to see that film get made. I genuinely treasure the time I had with her. I wish her a lot of success.
I once mentioned in the comments section of one of my Hitman articles that my favorite computer games were the ones with Tex Murphy - Under a Killing Moon, Pandora Directive, Overseer, etc. They're very funny. To my great surprise, I got an e-mail from Aaron Conners, the story creator for those games. He was just grateful his classic games weren’t forgotten. I got him to tell me about the actors they worked with, because those games were big productions at the time. I also got him to tell me about his Tex Murphy screenplay and the film that almost was. Oh, baby… The title was “A Black Sun Ascending.” Aaron was awesome. The e-mails we exchanged really made my day. I wish him well, I really do.
I hope you know that I say these things not to brag but to show that if you intensely devote yourself to studying the craft and blogging about what you learn, the community will respond to you and you’ll be surprised by your own unique journey.
I give it back to you, Unk, for one last article. I treasure the experiences I’ve had so far, and if you had not been there, I wouldn’t be here. I really have you to thank for all of this. I genuinely appreciate you and all you’ve done for the blogging community.
Perhaps 2008 will be the Year of the Screenwriting Blogs?