Sunday, December 30, 2012

What I Wish I'd Heard At Graduation, Addendum: Be Amazed By Success

When I was young and silly, if I met a screenwriter who only had one credit for one bad movie ten years ago, then that writer was just a joke to me.  After all, I was about to be a huge success, and I couldn’t risk my rising cred by hanging out with people whose work I couldn’t respect. 

This attitude can be seen in the criticism meted out to storytelling guru Blake Snyder: “This guy’s biggest credit is Stop or My Mom Will Shoot! Why are we listening to a thing he says?”

This is a lousy attitude for so many reasons...
  • Writers have zero decision power over which jobs they get.  There are Oscar-nominated writers out there trying like hell to get every job they can possibly pitch for, no matter what they think of the source material or subject matter. 
  • The credited writer has very little influence on the quality of the final film.  Every choice the writer makes gets second-guessed on the fly by the producers, the director, the stars, the editor, and the distributor by the time the movie is done.  
  • In fact, writers can’t even control the quality of their own writing on the page.  If the producer tells you to write it badly, then you write it badly, or you’re fired. 
  • The vast majority of screenwriters, even the ones who make a good living at screenwriting, get few if any onscreen credits on theatrically-released feature films.  If you get a credit, even if the final film sucked, then you’re probably doing something very right. 
Most often, the writer in question wrote a brilliant spec back in the day, and then a producer bought it, and pretended he was going to make it soon, but asked the screenwriter to re-write one of the producer’s pet projects in the meantime.  Alas, the producer then buried the brilliant spec, because all he actually cared about was the pet project, which was always destined to be a horrible movie, no matter who wrote it.

Now don’t get me wrong: maybe the writer you’ve just met really is just some talentless boob who got steampiped through the system because his uncle was the studio head.  But it’s pretty obvious who those guys are.  If, on the other hand, you find yourself saying “Gee, this guy seems smart, so why do his movies suck so bad?”, then give him the benefit of the doubt.   In this unforgiving business, it’s good to keep in mind that success is a pretty amazing thing.

1 comment:

lena said...

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