SCREENWRITING NIGHT SCHOOL 101: MOVIES ABOUT SCREENWRITERS
I used to manage a video store for most of the 90’s, not really much of a surprise since a lot of my produced films have gone direct-to-video.
Wait, is ‘direct-to-video’ even a term anymore? It’s very outdated, but I still see films referred to as ‘DTV’ in some blogs. I guess it’s just easier to say ‘DTV’ than ‘Direct to DVD/Netflix/Amazon/YouTube/Piracy/Hearing It Through My Neighbor’s Walls’. Regardless, my movie ‘Security’ was released in ten theaters before the other markets. That movie was actually my first theatrical release! On the marquee, it was right above ‘The Dark Tower’. And yes, I am not joking when I said more people were in the theater for ‘Security’ than ‘The Dark Tower’. Granted, I packed the theater with my friends and family. I’m sure Akiva Goldsman could have done the same, but he was probably busy.
While I was working in that video store, I was also discovering the wonderful world of speculative screenwriting. And I thought: ‘Why don’t I mesh the two?’ I embarked on a screenplay about a mild-mannered video store clerk who loves movies, and was also an amateur screenwriter. He was surrounded by his wacky co-workers and wacky video store patrons. Also, it had tons of movie references. I guess it was funny. But more likely, it was awful. I was 16. I don’t have a copy of it, because it was ten thousand years ago and written on a computer that they no longer make. It was written during the days of Kevin Smith and early Tarantino. So, yeah, it was one of those screenplays. It probably made ‘Ready Player One’ look restrained by comparison. I wish I could find it just for the cringe-gasm.
Screenplays about screenwriters rarely sell as first-time specs. They’re the kinda movies that a writer can get away with when he/she is a hugely successful scribe with millions in the bank and constantly turning down jobs. You can probably get financing for your little passion project after you did on-set rewrites for ‘Star Wars V Star Trek - Dawn of Money’. But, until then, no one really wants to read your cutes-y sorta-autobiographical slice-of-life comedy/drama with oodles of nods to your favorite cult films. Trust me, they’re fun to write...but you probably won’t set one up. It shouldn’t be the first thing you show to an agent or a manager. It might place in a contest or two, and that’s really where it should stay until Christopher Nolan is your kid’s godfather. Execs notoriously hate ‘insider’ scripts - especially ones about writers. They barely want to meet with you, let alone read about you. Bottom line: it’s not a good sample. We all think this job is interesting to other people, but really - it isn’t. Like computer-hacking movies (I’ll get to those in another post) the life is mostly this. Typing away on a keyboard. Fun, right? Complaining about not setting something up. Thrilling. Googling things for a project that might end you up on a FBI watch-list (ok, that could be a movie). But, really, it’s better to write about stuff other than writing. For some reason, novelists can get away with it. But those are novelists. Books are, like, 350 pages. They’re hard.
Yeah, I’m gonna get the ‘But what about ‘Adaptation’?! argument. Sure, ‘Adaptation’ is a great movie about a screenwriter. But it’s Charlie Kaufman. Charlie Kaufman can do whatever he wants. So until next time: I’m the opposite Josh Olsen. I will read your effing script.