Monday, March 12, 2007

Screenings For Screenwriters?

Because I had two films released on DVD on the same day, my friend Tina arranged a screening of the movies at Lola’s Martini Bar in Hollywood - a great place. The management did an amazing job - setting us up with a private room with big screen TV, DVD player and surround sound speakers. And we had a pretty good crowd - maybe 50 people. Though none of the Thursday night crowd showed, we had folks who flew in from the UK and Texas! We all got drunk and watched the two new movies...

But they aren’t really *my* movies. My name is on both of them. They both began with my screenplays. But what ended up on screen bears no resemblance to the screenplays I wrote. Oddly enough, the one that I was a co-producer on is probably less like my script than the other one - they even changed the *concept* on that one.

I like the idea of celebrating the accomplishment of having two movies made. I always recommend celebrating your accomplishments, because we are in a business where writers don’t get enough respect, don’t get enough praise, and usually don’t even get noticed. I advise celebrating every time you finish a screenplay - that’s a big accomplishment! Reward yourself! In fact, I recommend giving yourself some small reward for finishing your pages for the day - treat yourself to a desert, or movie, or *something* - writing is not easy, and no one is going to pat you on the head, tell you did a great job, and give you a doggie treat. You have to give yourself the doggie treat.

Years ago, before moving to Los Angeles, I had a hot new script called RECALL about the auto industry - and my then-agent (the worst agent in the world) loved it and was going to send it out to a bunch of big producers. So I decided to throw a party to celebrate, and made up a stack of copies of the script and sent them to everyone I knew along with an invitation. The booze and food was on me. I have to confess, I was hoping that all of my friends would show up and tell me how much they liked the script - how they laughed at the funny parts and were excited by the action scenes and found the suspense portions real page turners. People began showing up at my house, booze was flowing, everyone was having a great time... except me. Not a single person had even read the first page of the script. Maybe I was expecting too much of my friends? They were a mix of folks who wanted to break into the film biz and civilians. But I had hoped that at least the film biz folks might have taken a look at what I was so proud of.

Well, my awful agent couldn’t get anything going with the script... maybe it was the script, maybe it was his lack of letterhead and crappy manual typewritten cover letter.

I had a much better party when I sold my script to Paramount... but that was basically a going away party. It had nothing to do with my writing. The writing was the reason why I was going away, but nobody was saying "Congratulations on your writing!" they were saying "We’re gonna miss you!" Maybe I shouldn’t be picky about stuff like that. These folks came to the now-defunct Velvet Turtle Restaurant in Pleasant Hill to show me love. That’s cool.

And everyone who showed up Sunday night was there to show me love - and that’s fantastic.

But how do we celebrate the *screenplay* when the film is so much different?

In this case, both films completely suck. How can I subject my friends to crap like this? How can watching these wretched films be celebrating the much better scripts they came from?

One of the reviews of CROOKED says the films problems stem from a bland script from William C. Martell... except the movie doesn’t resemble my script at all. They stripped away all of the cool stuff. I sent the reviewer a link to the script... but I’m pretty sure he hasn’t read it, and the review still blames me for dialogue I didn’t write. Welcome to Hollywood! I remember watching an episode of Siskel & Ebert where Roger praised an actor for a specific action in a film, and having read the screenplay, I knew that the *writer* had come up with that amazing bit. Because I had Roger’s e-mail (and was a regular contributor to his Film Answer Man column) I sent him an e-mail about this... and nothing happened. Roger is a great guy, but his paper isn’t going to print a retraction about a bit of business in a film... and Buena Vista isn’t going to let him talk about some past film review flub on the TV show. Plus - who really cares? Film Critics don’t have the time to read the scripts for every film they review, let alone all of those versions of the script that came before. If there is a problem with the story or the dialogue, they blame the name listed on the screen as the writer. As writers, we have to sort it out for ourselves. That means we don’t take any of that stuff personally - hey, it might have been the dozen uncredited rewriters or the awful notes from the director we had to implement or some other reason. We have to just be happy knowing that we did a good job - even if the resulting film completely sucks.

One of the things that helps me deal with having my work screwed up on screen is that I still have the screenplays (that nobody reads) - and I post them. In fact, I post the *first drafts* typos and all. Now, if you read my *script* and think it sucks, that’s fine. You are judging *my work*. I can live with that. It’s particularly easy to live with when someone has pulled the screenplay out of some huge stack (half a million scripts in circulation at any one time) and bought it... then invested the millions to make the movie. I’m not saying that everything I wrote is perfect... or even good... but when someone buys my script instead of one of the other 499,999 out there, *something* was good about it. And that decision to buy and make my script is something I should celebrate...

But how?

As we watched the dreadful films Sunday night, I felt like we were celebrating bad rewrites and poor direction and awful acting. That wasn’t my script up there.

My friends were trying to like the movies - and *I* don’t even like them.

About 3/4 through one of the films, I thought we had had enough - and I popped out the DVD and popped in the *other* version of the script so that we could do a scene-to- scene comparison. This was better - that other film is much more like my original script, and the scene from that version was more exciting, more interesting, and actually looked much more expensive (on 1/6th the budget). At lest these were my characters. And the scene itself was my scene. (If you’re wondering - it was the STAGECOACH inspired fruit truck vs. motorcycle chase... which became a boring car chase in the new version.) By showing both scenes, my friends could *see* the difference in writing. They could appreciate my work - by comparing it to the rewritten version.

After that I just plugged in CROOKED, turned the English subtitles on and the volume down... and we had a party with the movie in the background. This ended up being the best choice - we could just hang out and have fun, and every once in a while I could point out something happening on the big screen and comment on it. We had a great time, and when it got late I scooped up the DVDs, thanked everyone, and drove back over the hill to the Valley.

I still don’t know the best way to celebrate a script. The problem is that what we do is *written* and to appreciate it, you have to read it. That means we aren’t going to get much appreciation for our work - nobody is really going to read our scripts. Even when the films get made, the writer gets the blame if the film sucks and the director and stars get the praise when the film is good. Critics don’t read scripts. They never will. Writers are always going to be behind the scenes and unnoticed. The world is never going to even notice that we exist... unless they’re complaining. That means we can’t expect anyone else to appreciate all of our hard work... we have to practice "self appreciation".

Next time, I think the DVD will just be playing in the background as I just hang out with my friends. Having the friends is the important part. Having the script sold and made is what is important - not whatever the heck is on that DVD.

Maybe next time I’ll just show my credit on the big screen... Then spend the rest of the night celebrating that credit, but not necessarily the film that comes after it.

- Bill


David CC Erickson said...

I find myself at 45 writing screen plays. I started out writing music, multi-tracking demo tapes, painting in acrylics, welding sculptures, writing plays, a novella, short stories, etc... When I gave my dad my novel to read, his comment was "I opened it and a bunch of adjectives fell out" . That was the extent of his multiple graduate degrees feedback. Thanks, dad. I gave my latest screenplay to my business partner. He sent me an email asking if there was a "synopsis" that would help him "get through it".

When you create something, nobody gets it but you. People will completely miss the point of your creativity ninety percent of the time - even if you're a master at what you do, so it's best if you're in it for yourself, and you enjoy what you're doing. The celebrating is great, but you're celebrating doing what you love more than any specific accomplishment. Because only you really understand what you've accomplished. Creativity can be a very lonely road. Best not to worry about getting other people to understand. If you can just get them to laugh or cry or gasp at the right moments in your story, you've done something significant. But they still may be laughing or crying for the wrong reasons. Carry on!

Joshua Grover-David Patterson said...

I once said to a friend of mine:

"Yes, I've had movies made of my scripts, but they aren't, you know, a HUGE deal. It isn't like you can buy most of them anywhere."

To which he said:

"Well, how can I not be impressed? I mean, am I going to hang out with all my OTHER friends who write movies?"

I think you can kind of take the same tack, to a certain extent. Much like your friend who just keeps working as an actor, each movie of yours that comes out, good or bad, is a movie with YOUR name on it.

Getting another movie made and on the shelf and available is a huge accomplishment - you might not like the movies, but you've still done something that 99.9% of the world's population hasn't. And you've done it, what, 19 times?

Anonymous said...

I just sold my first script last spring.

I was excited as all hell.

Then I went on set. I started to hear words that weren't mine. I started to hear character names that weren't mine.

I left set and called the production office. I asked for a shooting draft to be emailed to me.

By the time I saw the cover, I knew things were bad: they even changed the title.

The script was terrible. Exposition going no where for pages and pages and pages and pages. This was a horror film.

No one gets killed until almost an hour in.

I've never felt more betrayed and sickened in my life.

Fast forward to just a few weeks ago. The film is released straight-to-DVD.

There are reviews in horror e-zines was the only one with a nice review.

Other reviews say the writer (my name is still on the credits) should never be let near a word processor again.

Suffice to say I wrote a few of the reviewers and admitted not one word of my original script was left in the final monstrosity that they had seen- not even the title!

I explained the set-pieces I had, the monster I created, the influences...

I got some nice responses from the reviewers all apologizing; one even went back and made some alterations of his review.

Baptism by fire.

Anonymous said...

How about celebrating by putting on your own performance of the script, with all your friends and other guests playing the parts?

aggiebrett said...

Dude, there is no reason to even worry about the quality of the damned movies, as that was not why any of us were there in the first place.

As a general rule, I'd rather hang out drinking beer with a good friend and a bad movie than a bad friend and a good movie.

wcmartell said...


That's what I figured out - that the movies were unimportant, and all of you guys who showed up (and those of you who were there in spirit) was important.

Next time... maybe we will get drunk act out the script.

Schmucks with Underwoods said...

Oh the pathos. Great stuff Bill! Very funny! Well, I guess not for you but you get what I mean.

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