In his 24-minute viral video "Wrestling Isn't Wrestling", writer/director/comic book nerd/pro wrestling fan Max Landis offers a masterful rebuttal to those non-fans of “sports entertainment” who criticize the genre for its lack of “reality”.
The video, a combination of epic fanboy rant and satirical takedown of a billion-dollar industry, uses beautiful women in place of the muscular grapplers, with Landis' funny and foul-mouthed narration serving as dialogue. The video also contains a number of celebrity cameos, including Seth Green, Macaulay Culkin, Josh Peck, Haley Joel Osment and David Arquette.
Missing the PointLandis observes that critics of pro wrestling who say, “You know it's all fake, right?” miss the point. The point of a pro wrestling show is not to depict an actual athletic competition, but to use the format of an athletic competition to tell compelling stories with a fascinating and diverse cast of characters. While the members of a pro wrestling troupe are often exceptional athletes, most of them have no more qualifications to compete in “legitimate” wrestling tournaments than Sylvester Stallone did to step into the ring against Muhammad Ali in their respective primes.
So what does all this have to do with screenwriting? It means that writers, readers and other arbiters of what makes “good writing” must understand that the purpose of screenwriting is not to provide “good writing.” The people who view screenwriting as an avenue for brilliant prose, sparkling dialogue and intricate plots are missing the point of screenwriting, just as much as those who want to view pro wrestling through the lens of an authentic athletic contest.
Punting the Purple ProseWriters attempting the transition from novels and short stories to screenplays often have are more difficult time than those jumping straight into screenwriting. Novelists see the page as a canvas on which they can paint “word pictures” that capture the reader's imagination. Many famous novelists can go on for pages of description involving a flower in field, a woman's beautiful figure, or a rivet on the hull of a submarine.
Screenwriters must learn to use an economy of language that would make the ghosts of Mickey Spillane, Dashiell Hammett, and Raymond Chandler jealous. Writers of feature scripts must learn to tell a riveting story, within a very specific format, in 90 to 120 pages. This format leaves almost no room for purple prose, lengthy speeches or colorful descriptions.
Time Is MoneyThe standards for “brilliant writing” and “brilliant screenwriting” are as different as UFC is from WWE. Novels are meant to be read at leisure. A novel can require several hours to several days for a reader to finish. Novel readers seldom feel the need to rush through a book, no matter how much some chapters or sections may drag down the action.
Screenplays are less about creating a wonderful reading experience and more about outlining the viewer's experience. Techniques that create memorable moments in a novel can kill a screenplay. Screenwriters must keep in mind that the only people who routinely read screenplays are those who do so as part of their job, such as agents, producers, directors and actors.
Novels tell a story. Screenplays give directors, actors, and crew members the blueprint for a story. To paraphrase from the end of the Landis video, screenwriting is drama, screenwriting is action, screenwriting is a template for the most powerful means of storytelling.
The only thing screenwriting isn't – is writing.