Saturday, October 25, 2008

Chronicles 66 - That Old Chestnut


Again, I haven't blogged for about a month. I'm not the most frequent of bloggers, although, surprisingly, I do still seem to attract a small but loyal band of readers, so, gentle readers, I thank you for that!

The frequency of my blog posts tends to be linked to scenes in my life that push the writer-producer narrative forward, so, as things have been slow recently, there have only been a few uneventful, character-development scenes in the screenplay of my life.

Right now I'm working on my 3rd script assignment, a family comedy, which is currently over the deadline partly because of the hectic schedule of my day job, which has cooled down thankfully, and the producer's delay in getting back to me with notes. The latter is a situation that I am quite happy with as it gives me an excuse not to write. I know real writers are supposed to write every day but I don't and if truth be told, I don't particularly want to write every day.

Stephen King says that if you want to write you MUST read. This is something I haven't really being doing. I mean, I've been reading a lot of books either about the industry (either from a screenwriting or producing point of view) or books directly related to an assignment for research purposes (or plays) but I haven't been reading novels or short stories/articles which is mainly what Mr. King is referring to.

For novel writing it seems to be de riguer to read other novelists. As a person I tend to be quite purpose orientated, I'm not a 'casual' reader, so, whatever I read is normally linked to some purpose or 'project'.

However, lately I have been getting my teeth into a number of novels because as the years go by, the desire to finish the novel I started writing 14 years ago is getting stronger and stronger and this desire is further accentuated by the general frustration at the sine wave-like, up and down, stop-go, stop-go nature of film making.

I have a number of projects 'out there' with several producers, in various stages of financing with scripts being read by various directors. A veritable womb, pregnant with possibilities. It's not that doors don't open for me, they do, but sometimes I get the feeling that a door opens and when I step into the room it disappears, dissolving, mirage-like, in front of my eyes.

I'm engaged to write two more script assignments, which is great, it's not to be sniffed at, BUT a screenwriter's career is driven by the 'spec' and there comes a point where one says to one self, "Do I really want to write another spec that will probably take 5-10 years to manifest into cellulod - if ever?".

So, I'm thinking out loud here, but, I may very well hold off on writing another spec script, fulfill my contractual obligations on the current script assignments and just wait and see what happens to all the various film projects that I have 'out there'. That is not to say I will disown them but if I have six screenplays out there in various stages of 'being produced' this might be a good time to get back to where I left off, 14 years ago i.e. back to that old chestnut, that cliche, the, dare-I-say-it: (sound of a drum roll) semi-autobiographical first novel!

If I examine closely my motivation to write screenplays part, not all, but part of the motivation is from the outside-in, i.e. following the market or writing an assignment because it looks good on my writer's CV etc, it's all linked to the idea of a sale or to some sort of career move.

I'm not saying that the writing of a novel would be without any worldly aspirations or would be written, nose to the page, blindly oblivious to the realities of the publishing world but in screenwriting it is very hard to seperate the 'art' from the buisness. You always have one eye on the market because of the sheer amount of money involved. Even in the indie-world, unless you are very low-budget you are still talking in the range of 1-15 million dollars.

After a while all this outside-in creativity starts to feel a little 'tried', manipulated, very goal orientated, high on craft, execution but low on inspiration.

Screenwriters talk about knocking out high-concept scripts, one after the other, like an assembly line, hoping the high-concept mud will one day stick to a Hollywood studio's wall. This whole idea is increasingly becoming anathema to me and I'm beginning slowly to form an extreme dislike for that term, 'high-concept'.

The idea of sitting down and writing a spec is beginning to feel like a chore, something I have to do, almost under duress, to move forward. Maybe it's because I'm getting old, hey, call me old-fashioned, call me crazy, but isn't writing or creativity, art per se, supposed to be a joy?

Notice I use the word joy, not 'fun'. The word 'fun' seems to have been stripped of all its meaning in its current cultural usage. "It's a fun script but it's not really what we're looking for right now". Fun is a superficial piece of lingustic cellophane that can be used to wrap around any scenario, (the term 'cute' is even worse!) whereas joy is something deeper, joy comes from the soul, the spirit.

So, recently I've been asking myself what I want to do next, apart from the script commissions which I'm obliged to write. I have 3 spec ideas, a screenplay, a play and a novel, and if I'm honest with myself, and search my soul, the project - actually let's scrap that word 'project' - the inner inspiration that pulsates and resonates the strongest within me right now is the novel, so I guess I better hitch my wagon to that star.

Now, the danger here is that, being a purpose-orientated person, that I go off researching yet another platform, the book world, and end up trying to follow that market so I hope I'm able to resist that. Old habits die hard though.

Does the world need another semi-autobiographical first novel? No, I guess not. Will it be published? God only knows - it would fall into the literary fiction category so the chances are small (yes, I've read all the depressing statistics). Do I need to write it? Yup, it certainly looks like it.

Ciao for now
SWU

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