Thursday, August 06, 2009

Thoughts on the documentary: Tales From The Script

Last night I attended a screening of a new documentary called Tales from the Script, about the screenwriting industry. It was essentially two hours of talking heads mixed with scenes from movies about movies.

Not that it's necessarily a bad thing, but after two hours of talking heads followed by and hour Q and A of talking heads, I was longing for a fist fight. Zack Penn seemed pretty combative, but he never got out of his chair and punched anybody, so I nearly fell asleep.

I wish the director, Peter Hanson, had set some of these interviews outside or at a coffee shop or SOMETHING. They were almost all upper torsos of writers at their desks.

Despite that, I recommend - nay, INSIST - that every new writer watch this film. It will be out sometime, someday, and then I'll tell everybody to go get it. If you are just now considering writing a screenplay or you just wrote your first and want to know how to make money off it, you MUST watch this film. It will answer many of your questions and erode your delusions about what you're getting into.

The movie was funny as hell in places. I don't think people outside the Industry will really get it, but for those of us in the trenches, jokes abound, and some sobering stories too.

I learned a few things. First, ALWAYS send in your best work. I don't care if it's a first draft, it should be as good a story as you can make it. Guenevere Turner sent her first draft of Bloodrayne to Uwe Boll, prepared for endless notes and rewrites, and he decided to shoot the draft she sent him. Granted, he's Uwe Boll, so he sucks, but still. Every draft should be a shooting draft.

Second, writers are a whiny people. Yes, the studio craps on you, but Jesus, it's all anybody talked about for half the movie. Guenevere, who is one of my new favorite people despite having written Bloodrayne, finally observed toward the end of the film that she gets to wake up at 10, spend all day writing, party every night, and gets paid a substantial amount to do so.

Yes, thank you. Those of us with day jobs would like the full time paid professional writers out there to kindly shut the fuck up about how hard your job is. You can complain some - we all complain some, and you certainly have your fair share of shit to deal with - but then please remember how lucky you are that somebody pays you to do what you love all day. Larry Cohen actually made a good point about that in the Q and A. He reminded us all to write because we like writing, not to please anyone else. If you do that, he said, you'll be happy.

Seeing this film also made me think for a second about how tiny I am. I was sitting there with my writer friends in a theater packed with writers, most of whom have never sold a screenplay, all of whom made the jaunt to Los Angeles because they think they have what it takes. Larry Cohen also told us that most people can learn to write a screenplay, but few people have the natural talent to write a good one.

And I thought Yeah, all these people think he's not talking about them. And then I thought, I don't think he's talking about me either.

Then I thought, oh man, each person here is just like me. They think they're good. They think they'll make it. Most of them are wrong. What the fuck makes me so special?

Then I shrugged and thought, fuck it. I am special.

Because here's the big lesson to come out of Tales from the Script. You have to be convinced that there is nothing else in your life you were meant to do. Screenwriting is frustrating and disappointing as hell - William Goldman is the most miserable writer in this thing - but it's fun if it's your calling. Only the most determined will make it. So you do it for the love.


  1. How does it compare to "Dreams on a spec"?


  2. ... but then please remember how awesome you are that somebody pays you to do what you love all day.

    There. Fixed it for you.


  3. This is where I admit a friend loaned me a copy of Dreams on Spec like a year ago and I never watched it.

    It's still sitting patiently on my shelf.

  4. Good point, Harry, although some writers could use a bit of a reduction in ego.

  5. I was interested in this but went to the New Beverly for the Dante Festival instead (Bruce Dern talking nonstop for a half-hour=awesome). It still sounds interesting, even if it is just talking heads. But the concept of screenwriters doing nothing but talk about what they do sounds interesting to me anyway. Was there any acknowledgment of Budd Schulberg during the evening?

  6. I don't think his death had gotten around yet.

  7. My William Goldman story: Sitting at a cafe with a couple of other writers, two actors, and a director. All of us have had success, one or two of us have had long term, serious money success, but mention our names and the most likely response would be, "Who?"

    Goldman stops by our table, nods and says, "You must be the writers."

    We look at him with that, "get lost" look we sometimes use on people who are... well... beneath us (we're a pretty snobby, insidious bunch).

    Goldman walks away and we continue our very important conversation. A minute later another director walks up and says, "I just saw Bill Goldman, he looks great."

    We look at one another and realize we just dissed William Goldman, a screenwriter god. Live and learn.

    About the Dreams on Spec, it's not bad, more like the true struggles newbies might suffer through... You're almost there, right on the brink. Maybe. That sort of thing.

  8. PS: Don't order this: Tales from the Script DVD in error:


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