Putting aside the blunder during the Best Picture award presentation, the multiple Oscar wins (including for Best Adapted Screenplay) for Moonlight carries some serious meanings for aspiring screenwriters.
The success of this film during awards season shows how so many rookie writers ask themselves the wrong questions. In too many cases, writers new to the craft ask themselves, “Is this hot in the marketplace?” or “Will this sell to a big studio?” or “Will this get me an agent?”
As a screenwriter, the questions you ask yourself as you write your story should revolve more around the story and less around the marketing hype that propels the Hollywood machine. In fact, every part of this script and its process sets itself up in direct opposition to the “conventional wisdom” of the marketplace.
- The script tracks Chiron through three periods of his life (early teens, mid-teens, early twenties), rather than limiting the scope to a few days or weeks.
- The main character is a “double minority” (African-American and homosexual), not exactly a “hot seller” in the traditional sense.
- The script is based on an unknown, unpublished, unproduced play written by a drama student, with no “pre-sold” audience who would be familiar with the material and rush out to buy tickets.
- Co-writer/director Barry Jenkins had only one other feature-length screenplay credit, 2008's Medicine for Melancholy.
- Jenkins and co-writer/playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney were based in Miami, more than two thousand miles away from the Hollywood establishment.
So how does this little film, with a largely unknown cast and a budget of under $2 million, beat out the betting favorite (La La Land), the redemption story (Hacksaw Ridge), the big-budget sci-fi epic (Arrival) and the gritty modern western (Hell or High Water)?
Tell your story. Tell it as well as you possibly can. Don't let trends or money or “the market” tell you what you should write. The only one who can tell your story is you, so you'd better get to it.
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