Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Tip O'Day #428 - Bite Your Lip...

Guest blogger Mike Snyder on “A Cautionary Tale.”

Someone once said, "Writing is the loneliest profession." Let's not kid ourselves, so are accounting and nuclear physics. We just like to feel more tortured because we're creative. Well, maybe...

As authors, writers, bloggers, screenwriters, doodlers, dreamers, what-have-you, we are the masters of our fates ... much like that Seinfeld episode (and often, amounting to the same thing). For any of us know who have come up against editors, publishers, producers, directors, our moms -- name your poison -- it suddenly becomes a lot more crowded up in here!

I'm primarily a TV & film writer, but a lot of my friends are novelists (or recovering screenwriters, as I like to think of them). Some of them have had, or are in the process of having, their novels turned into films. One has even reverse engineered the process: she wrote a script that no one wanted, turned it into a best-selling novel featuring a winning heroine, which became a three-novel deal, which became a further three-novel deal, which then brought Hollywood sniffing around her door wondering if she'd "ever considered turning her novel into a script."

Ah, karma is so sweet sometimes...

I've been fortunate enough, and curious enough, to develop a skill set in other capacities on movie sets, which offers me a more unique insight into the screenwriting process, so I'm rarely asked to stay away when it's my script that's being eviscerated.

In other words, though it's often painful, and occasionally I still get bruised and battered, I know how to play the game. Novelists may have editors, but screenwriters are fair game to everyone who comes down the pike, so you may as well just relax and enjoy the ride. Filmmaking is the most collaborative of professions because everyone feels entitled to a kick at the cat, as my Canadian friends say. The producer who buys your script, certainly, especially if he's putting up the money and has a particular direction in mind for the project; the director, who wants to put his creative stamp on it; the actors, who want to make it their own (which is a whole 'nuther blog); and various network, studio or assistant underlings who need their presence known to justify huge paychecks.

All this requires that you bite the bullet. Hard. You're not going to win every argument and a lot of your darlings are going to be gutted, so choose your battles wisely and have *really* good reasons when you dig your heels in. Most writers are banned from TV or movie sets because they insist every last word is deathless prose. That's just not gonna happen, at least not in North America.

So, you've gone through development - a euphemism for obliterating anything creative from your script - and your Precious is going into production. Now you have every other department, down to the guy in crafts services, whispering in the director's ear because 1) they have an idea to make the script better, which is usually because 2) they have a script at home that's ten times as good as yours and they're obviously much more creative.

At this point you've suddenly begun praying the director has a strong vision, even if it's not *yours* simply to keep the wolves at bay.

Lonely profession indeed...

So, your bottom lip raw from biting it so much, you've managed to remain on the set as, day after day, you see something begin to emerge and take shape that may or may not have anything to do with your original piece.

Huzzah, consider yourself a true survivor. Out of hundreds of thousands (really, seriously, hundreds of thousands) of scripts that get submitted each year to studios, networks, production companies, producers, directors, actors, et al, yours was chosen. It was strong enough to withstand the vagaries of development and is being filmed. Or taped. Or pixeled. Whatever, it's getting made!

So whenever that little voice in the back of your head begins whining about your lovely vision and integrity to self and other silly, non-filmmaking words, sit on it. Hard. Stomp it down somewhere deep in the recesses of your soul where it will remain until you begin to write your next script.

Because ... this time it'll be different.

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