Gerald Hanks Filmography

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Why Do We Write Screenplays?

If you're reading this, you must have an interest in screenwriting. You could be an aspiring writer who's never written a script, or an experienced writer with several films under your belt. You could be a director looking for a writer to develop your ideas, or you're a producer who's looking for a writer to create a product you can sell to investors. You might be an actor looking for insights into how scripts are created, or just a film fan who wants a deeper understanding of the screenwriting process.

In any case, you may have contemplated the question of “why do writers write screenplays?” Out of all the possible creative endeavors, why do writers choose to sit in front a screen, open up our word processing software, and bash our heads into the keyboards until our brains spill out? Why do screenwriters choose to isolate ourselves from friends, family and fun, only to write out words that very few people will ever read? The reasons for such self-inflicted torture can be as varied as the scripts sitting on the shelves of the hundreds of Hollywood production offices, but most of them boil down to a select few.

“I want to be rich and/or famous!”
If you chose to get into screenwriting to be seen on red carpets, trade jokes with Jimmy Fallon, and get the VIP treatment at the hottest clubs, you're barking up the wrong tree. Unlike the world of live theatre, in which the playwright is royalty, the film industry ranks screenwriters below directors, producers, actors, crew members, craft service workers and janitors. Also, for those of you who think your “million-dollar idea” for a script will be your ticket to a Beverly Hills address, go back to the first entry of this blog to quickly disabuse yourself of that notion.

“I want to tell the world that ...”
On the opposite end of the spectrum from the “fame-seeking” writer is the “message” writer. If the intentions behind your script are to deliver a message that will change the world, take the advice of the late, great producer Samuel L. Goldwyn: “If you want to send a message, call Western Union.” Save your deep philosophical musings on the nature of life, love and loss for your fanfic novel or, better yet, a bumper sticker. At least no one has to sit through reading a long, boring, self-indulgent bumper sticker.

“I want to tell a story no one has heard before.”
I got three words for you: No. Such. Thing. In his book The Seven Basic Plots, Christopher Booker holds that there are as few as seven unique stories in all of literature. In Save The Cat, Blake Snyder narrows it down to ten, including “Monster In The House” and “Dude With A Problem”. Since you can't tell a unique story, you have to know how to tell an old story in a unique way. That's why you'll often need a script consultant to help you shape your concept into a story that has blends the familiar elements with your unique voice.

“I want to provoke an emotional response from the audience.”
If you're writing a comedy, you envision the audience howling with laughter. If your script is an action-packed shoot-em-up, you dream of the audience cheering the Hero when he vanquishes the Big Bad. If horror is your genre, you want to see the ticket-buyers scream, jump, and cover their eyes at the frightening images your writing has conjured before their eyes.

BINGO! Now you're getting somewhere! The reason we write for the screen is to sit in the back of the darkened theater, watch the audience, and know we're taking them on a ride through our sick and twisted imaginations. Novelists get more praise as “writers”, but they don't get the immediate feedback from the reader. Directors get awards for bringing the images to life, but those images had to come from our fevered minds. Actors get the red carpet treatment for their performances, but they'd still be waiting tables without our scripts.

So, dear fellow screenwriter, the next time you sit down at your favorite writing spot and ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?”, remember that audience. They're waiting for your script to make them laugh, cry, cheer, boo, and take them on an emotional ride.

If you want to create a script that tug at the emotions of producers, directors, and agents, get in touch with us at StoryIntoScreenplayBlog [at] gmail [dot] com. We work with new and experienced screenwriters in developing their characters, story ideas, and concepts through in-person and online consultations tailored to your needs. Check out out us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and check out our YouTube channel.

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