What makes a scriptwriter?
Have you really got what it takes to be successful?
Fresh back from presenting The Fantastical World of Scriptwriting in New York for the celebration of the 40th Anniversary of Woodstock, in this second contribution to The Story Department, filmmaker and teacher Jack Feldstein bares all and gives us his honest advice on the matter.
Previously: Confessions of a Scriptwriter (1)
11. HOW NOT TO BE PRECIOUS.
“Kill your babies” is a saying that’s prevalent in scriptwriting circles. As is “you can’t polish a turd”.
How does a scriptwriter learn to have “open heart surgery without an anesthetic”? In other words, to accept editing by others – or even oneself – for the benefit of the film/project.
Acting like a professional scriptwriter is rarely easy. But criticism that improves the script must be accepted. How does a scriptwriter get “out of the way” of the ego? While still maintaining enough self belief to continue?
The Zen knowledge of the acceptance of not being able (or want) to control the world greatly benefits a scriptwriter.
There is a line between arrogance and confidence. Where is that line?
Think about this. If it is said that “pride is a prison” then “humility is the key”. Separating both is that line.
Confidence can be learnt by surrounding oneself with confident people. Plus continuing to achieve small successes.
Above all, if one cannot find it in oneself to say something positive about one’s own script, then it’s best to say nothing at all. RATHER than point out a negative.
Besides, people will find plenty of flaws without the scriptwriter’s help.
12. OPPORTUNITIES AND OPENING DOORS
Should a scriptwriter accept every job and opportunity that comes their way?
Probably. On the path through life, learning is the goal. And every situation presents new challenges.
It’s helpful to remember that the next script a scriptwriter writes rests on the mistakes and successes of what has been written previously.
Hopefully the mistakes won’t be repeated and the successes will help build confidence.
Perhaps not being afraid of failing with a script, (or being brave with the concept of failure) is a great lesson in itself.
It might be best in scriptwriting to not look backwards too much and rather to be optimistic and look to the future (next) script.
A nice metaphor for this is the story of Lot’s Wife who turned into a pillar of salt when she looked back.
13. MONEY AND ART
That infamous unholy matrimony.
In a capitalist world, the balance of the two is a necessary axiom. Maybe discovering and then accepting the sort of scriptwriter that one is, is the only solution to this eternal dilemma. For instance, if certain ethics are important, consider documentary.
These days, becoming a filmmaker is a common option for a scriptwriter as well.
If a person’s attitude is “I’m an artist and I’m not going to be dictated by evil commercial interests” then definitely a life as a filmmaker should be considered, rather than one as a scriptwriter.
Otherwise a future grappling with ulcers and hypertension might be on the cards.
We are all human. And perhaps all we can hope for is aiming for the best we can be, in any particular situation. Forget this at one’s peril because then the scriptwriter runs the risk of being dogmatic and didactic. And – unfortunately – the cardinal sin of… boring.
Have something to say, but be careful not to force it down people’s throats.
14. HOW CAN A PERSON TELL THEY ARE A SCRIPTWRITER?
They read scripts. And actually, they love reading great scripts.
To write structure and plot can be learned. But a scriptwriter must have the aptitude to write characters who ring true to an audience. Perhaps, as in many paths of life, a scriptwriter is born that way. It’s the way they think. With the ability to understand people.
Is it their consciousness? I’d need ten years studying metaphysics for the solution to that question.
All people may be born equal… but we are certainly not born the same.
Certain traits in a person’s nature can aid in making a scriptwriter’s life less difficult. For instance, bohemian rather than corporate expectations can help.
Most people know the alphabet. They’re literate. But few literate people are truly scriptwriters.
If a person’s ease of writing is greater than or equal to their ease of talking then they are probably a writer. If in their writing, they are drawn to drama and conflict, then they are most likely a scriptwriter.
A script is not a mouthpiece for one’s views. (Except of course for propaganda). It is a blueprint interpretation of what a scriptwriter has seen/heard/experienced.
15. RES IPSO LOQUATOR
The thing speaks for itself.
A script must contain the blueprint basis for all the information that will be conveyed to an audience. Further analysis is inevitable but that’s AFTER the experience of viewing the film/play/series.
The academic world of analysis of films runs parallel to the scriptwriting world itself.
16. HOW DOES A SCRIPTWRITER KEEP ON WRITING?
In psychological terms, writing might be an attempt to heal inner emotional damage from childhood. If that’s the case, a scriptwriter seems almost compelled to continue scriptwriting.
But blocks can occur. What are they?
The inability to face certain truths? Fear? Of failure? Of success? Of offending others? Of self-revelation?
Or a lack of having anything left to say that’s not repeating what the scriptwriter has already said? Can the creative well run dry?
When inner psychic damage is repaired (healed), does a scriptwriter stop being a scriptwriter?
These are interesting points with no clear answers. They are issues that should be considered by each and every scriptwriter for themselves.
17. WHAT IS TALENT?
Is it determined by the Zeitgeist? The cultural milieu for whom it’s meant?
Is a scriptwriter’s job to capture the Zeitgeist… and is the ability to do this a measure of the scriptwriter’s talent?
After all, without common cultural references, many great works lose their relevance and their meaning is obfuscated.
Is this perhaps, why many Australian films don’t travel easily into the wider, global market? (see # 23 for further discussion)
Also, remember Mozart and Salieri or Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell. A human being can learn almost anything, except: to become more talented.
There might be an unconscious desire for a less talented individual to kill a more talented one.
Scriptwriters should choose their friends carefully.
18. DRINKING AND DRUGS
The trouble with these is that they wear off. And both lead to poor judgment.
A scriptwriter’s greatest asset is a clear mind. Best to keep it that way and NOT choose Aldous Huxley as a role model.
19. COMEDY : THE TEARS OF A CLOWN
Comedy may be the most lucrative of all genres. The public seems to have an insatiable appetite and need for humour. And it is often said in the scriptwriting business, “funny is money”.
Also well known is a definition of comedy as “when tragedy happens to someone else”.
To write comedy, the scriptwriter must take a subversive and lateral point of view of their own inner wounds. No one wants the tears of clown. (Think Pagliacci, in the famous opera.) Or the anger of a clown. (Robin Williams occasionally falls into this trap.) The sexuality of a clown. (Paul Reubens aka Pee Wee Herman is a case in point.) Or even the nihilism of a clown. (Woody Allen’s serious filmscripts are a perfect example of the latter.)
What psychic price does the scriptwriter pay with funny scripts?
Be aware there is one.
A scriptwriter should know that under the best humour lie the greatest truths.
20. PROCRASTINATION AND EASE
One trick scriptwriters use to start a script is to pretend to themselves that no-one will ever read that script. They are writing it merely for themselves. And will place it in a drawer. Then, of course, a script has been written and it’s too late.
As for ease of scriptwriting, a free road to one’s unconscious and consciousness is clearly beneficial while writing a script. (As opposed to real life, where it might be rather challenging.)
Reasons for procrastination can include fear of failure. Or even fear of success.
But only a mind reader can really know why a person might constantly talk about writing a script and yet, ironically, never write one.
Jack Feldstein is a director, playwright, scriptwriter, script editor, series creator, interactive scriptwriter, filmmaker & lecturer in Sydney. His short films including ‘The Ecstasy of Gary Green’ and ‘The Great Oz Love Yarn’ have been shown at festivals around the world and have received acclaim for their originality and humour.