As a beginning writer you write ‘by the book’, with an ‘exciting accident’ happening in the first 10 pages, with midpoint ‘elevation’ and ‘all is lost’, etc. Because of that structure demand is why we get endless films where we know what happens next, while Hollywood is still wrecking their brains trying to figure out why people stop going to the movies.
But then look at a few movies/series that have broken the mold and became iconic in their own way: The Room – the worst movie ever made; The Big Lebowsky – unconventional; Twin Peaks – incomprehensible, self-indulgent. I almost want to read a hypothetical review of The Big Lebowsky’s script if the writer wasn’t Coen Brothers but some no-name: “The main protagonist is missing a goal and thus lacks a development arc. It’s a meandering script in need of a more a solid structure and conflict elevation. What propels him to act?” Fuck! Can people be propelled to act by lesser stakes than the world coming to an end or having an incurable cancer? But as soon as you, keeping with the industry demands, come up with a fantastical, contrived set-up they are ready to throw another complaint: the character is not relatable enough. So, if the first 10 pages have to grip you, a generic industry gatekeeper says, someone has to be assassinated on page 2 or a nuclear warhead has to be stolen; AND it has to introduce an average guy, preferably an accountant, but who nonetheless possesses special skills and can stop the coming mayhem. That’s what the prevailing structure, the modern script conventions are asking us to write. That’s how we get crap scripts and crap movies.
But back to unconventional scripts: Imagine that all of those films were written and/or directed by a woman. Imagine bringing a script that features a backward-talking character that is neither dead or alive (Twin Peaks) to a studio reader. You’d be accused of inhaling too much cat urine to be writing something so incoherent and self-indulgent. The use of allusions and obscure references is like an inside joke – only select few are allowed to use it. Maybe I’m missing something but please name a movie or a script by a woman where she employs a passing reference to some obscure cultural phenomenon. I can’t think of any, but I don’t think that’s because she wouldn’t think of one. It’s because she doesn’t want to risk it. So we see women directors avoiding the designation of ‘crazy cat lady’ by making movies about ‘relationships’, or ‘you go girl’-types – straightforward, unambiguous topics that gatekeepers and critics can delight in and eventually greenlight. Kathryn Bigelow found another foolproof way to make it as a director – make movies about war. Another topic lacking ambiguity (war is bad) and thus a reliable vehicle to build a career as a female director.
But hey, if that’s what it takes to break through… If that’s what will pave the way for my mushroom-induced stream of consciousness to be brought to a screen near you, then, hell, I’ll take it. Maybe at some point there will even be a movie about a movie with James Franco in it.
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Or maybe you have to play by the rules for a while to get enough of fan following that you get to make your own rules.
Well, I do at this stage. All my scrips are ‘by the book’ now.