More Adventures Thinking About the Screen Trade

Figuring out how to publish a novel was easy. You write a novel, revise it, polish, it and send it out to agents. You send out 10-15 query letters at a time, fine tuning them based on the previous batches results. You keep doing that until you run out of agents or get one to sign you. If you run out of agents, you go back to the desk, write another book, and do it all over again. You can also write short stories and publish them hoping an agent will find you, but the agent is the key.

With plays, you write a script, you send it out to small regional theaters who accept them or contests, hoping someone will pick your script for production. When you run out of theaters, you put on a production of the play yourself, get involved in the local theater community, and keep producing your plays until a bigger theater takes notice.

These were the first two writing experiences I was familiar with and it all made sense. Get a screenplay produced is more complicated. First off, getting the screenplay produced is not usually the initial goal. You write a script and send it around hoping to use it as a calling card to get assignments to write other scripts. And there is a decent system in place for this as well. You move to LA, get a job as a reader or secretary at a film studio or agency, and learn the ins and outs of the business until you eventually run into somebody who can get your script to the right people.

This is why my focus on screenwriting has been limited until now. I’d like to address a couple of things here, the first being why I’m suddenly putting more effort into this than previously. From the description above, you can garner that in screenwriting, knowing somebody is more important than most of the other fields. Unknowns are routinely signed by literary agents or produced by professional theaters, but every screenwriter I know had a connection to get their script read by the right people. Well now I’m in a position to know people who can help me. Through my involvement in the crime fiction community I have come into contact with a number of former and current screenwriters who have offered to read anything I might send them and get it to the right people. That’s great. It takes care of one step. The next step is the bigger challenge. Having a good screenplay to give them.

I don’t want to write screenplays to get rich. I don’t want to write them because I think they’re easier than novels. And I don;t want to write them for any other silly fame-based reason. I want to write screenplays because 1) I’ve never written one and I like the challenge and 2) Writing a screenplay will force me to confront my weaknesses as a writer and hopefully make me better. My biggest weaknesses as a writer all fall under the Structure/Plot umbrella and screenwriting relies almost entirely on structure for success. I don’t outline when I write prose. I don’t plan when I write prose. But I’ll have to do it to write a screenplay. I want to write a Two Minute Movie, made famous by UCLA professor Lew Hunter. I want to write a step outline for my story. I want to know exactly what is going to happen in my story before I type a single page of script.

Why don’t I work these issues out in prose form? Because one of my biggest strengths I think is my prose style and that style comes from my loose, freethinking plotting style. Because screenwriting is more sterile in its prose, I think I can work on my plotting and structure issues without affecting my prose style. I don’t know how it will turn out, but I’m at a place in my writing now where I’ve developed my strengths as much as I can and it’s time to work on my weaknesses. And I think it helps that I love movies. A friend of mine said that for someone who loves movies and loves deconstructing them, putting one together should be interesting as well.