Welcome to the 1st edition of “Comments of the Week” on Scriptshadow. This is where I turn it over to you guys, the readers of the site, to do my job for me! “Best Comments” will not be a weekly thing, but rather something that pops up every now and then. If you want to be included, offer a strong take on an interesting topic. You guys often say things way more profound than me, so it’s only natural that we share these comments with the masses.
We’ll start with a great exchange after my review of the TV Pilot, Rush, courtesy and Gyad and Larry.
I have to say I’m getting burnt out on morally dubious protagonists. Sure, as script readers the “edgy” character appeals to our jaded palates but there have been so many of late that seeing a morally upstanding hero in a (non-network) series is becoming unusual.
This is a good point. I’ve been telling people that this kind of character is the way to go when writing a television series. But are we becoming so inundated with them that they’re losing their luster? Either way, I liked what commenter Larry had to say about it…
Agreed. What makes shows like Breaking Bad or Walking Dead awesome is that people do bad things but for GOOD/honorable reasons. This Rush guy seems just to be out to make some cash.
I hadn’t thought of that it that way but it makes sense. Morally ambiguous or not, we like these characters better if they’re doing these bad things for good reasons. Though it should be noted that Walter White stops doing what he does for good reasons in the final two seasons. Then again, because we took that long journey with him, we still wanted to see him succeed, or maybe come back from the edge.
This leads us to our next observation from Adam Parker, a response to my review of The Martian. The discussion had to do with Mark Whatney being a flat character and did we care about his journey enough to stick around for the whole ordeal? Some commenters said we did because Mark’ life was on the line. To which Adam responded…
The main conflict (or narrative question) can NEVER be “Will the Main Character survive?” the answer is always YES.
While Adam’s statement isn’t true in all respects, the point he makes is a good one. 99% of the time, the main character will survive. So it isn’t enough to ONLY hinge your movie on that question. Instead, you should try and ask a deeper question. Like with Gravity (as some other commenters brought up), the question wasn’t only “Will she survive?” it was “Did she want to survive?” She’d lost her daughter and she was struggling with whether life was worth living. You’re always trying to find that deeper question to explore to give your story that added layer of depth.
Moving on to something way bigger in scope is the question of, what the hell is going on with the spec market? I honestly think Transcendence really fucked us. That was going to be the one original property that had a chance to stand up against these monster IPs. When it tanked, it scared the crap out of everyone. I still think the spec market will come back, but let’s not forget that there are new options being presented to writers. You have the ability to write something and publish it within 30 minutes on Amazon. That’s huge. Here’s Logline Villain’s thoughts on the matter…
Instead of adapting another’s book, one might consider writing his/her own book and then holding firm on scribing the adaption (e.g., Gillian Flynn – “Gone Girl”). Granted, the work has to be scooped up first, but that is always the requisite for breaking through in any writing platform.
Has it reached a point where penning a novel may be the aspiring screenwriter’s best opportunity to break through with ORIGINAL material? With self-publishing, the ‘net and Amazon, there are more avenues than ever to promote one’s novel – it worked out swimmingly in the case of today’s featured “The Martian“…
I suspect a market correction will come one day – where spec scripts are again in vogue – but is it worth crossing one’s fingers until then? I know, if it’s the next Chinatown, it will sell as a spec…
In the meantime, what’s more important? The end result or how one gets to the end result…
The egg must figure out a way to become a chicken. And the lion’s share of these adaptations are going to established chickens…
There’s more than one way to skin a cat.
But before you close Final Draft forever, heed PmLove’s response…
I remain unconvinced. We can spend our lives chasing our tails over a breakout novel or script, either way it’s still tough to be the goose that lays the golden egg. There are so many $0.99 self-published books it’s hard to see the wood for the trees – I’d want more compelling evidence to say that self-publishing a novel is more likely to lead to a screenwriting breakout for original ideas. I’d say you might be barking up the wrong tree.
A great point. The grass is always greener on the other side. I’m sure there are writers over on NovelShadow saying the same thing. “There are so many books out these days, it’s getting harder and harder to stand out. I should just go to Hollywood and write a screenplay. All the movies there suck. I know I could do better than them.”
We’re going to finish with a couple of thoughts from Nicholas J, who always seems to have well-thought-out takes on the days’ article. The first is a reminder of the importance of concept, which is easy to forget.
I think there’s a very good argument to be made that concept trumps all. Given the choice between a great script with a ‘meh’ concept and an average script with a great concept, I have to think the majority of people who make movies will take the high concept. You can improve the execution of a great concept, but you can’t really infuse a great concept into a script that doesn’t have one.
That last sentence is the golden nugget. I was just dealing with this recently with a writer. We were doing everything in our power to give his logline more kick. But the reality was, his story wasn’t unique enough to create a compelling logline. That’s not to say the script won’t be great, it just makes things harder for him since he’ll get less script reads. This is why I tell people, if you have a choice, give us a hook in your concept, something you can write a logline around. Because once you dedicate yourself to something and the months (or years) go by, you’re less inclined to give up on it, even if you know your concept is weak. You have too much invested to move on. All of that could’ve been avoided with a simple two-minute decision at the beginning of the process: “Is this a good concept?”
And here’s Nicholas’s negative take on last Thursday’s article about “Exceptional Elements.”
It’s not that the average writers have accepted mediocrity, it’s that they are average writers.
That’s kind of like saying a college quarterback that never reaches the NFL is worse than Peyton Manning because he’s accepted mediocrity. Sure, Manning worked hard to get where he is, but so did the other guy. Manning just has the better combination of skills necessary to succeed. Manning is just better.
It’s the same thing with writing. There’s a reason that a microscopic percentage of aspiring screenwriters find worthwhile success. Writing something great takes an exceptional combination of unnatural skills. But the most important skill to have is creativity.
Creativity can’t be learned. Have you ever played a board game like Balderdash or one where you write photo captions? Some people, no matter how hard they try, are never able to come up with something good. Their minds just don’t work that way. Chances are their minds are better suited for something else like mathematics or memorization. I have a friend who is a genius when it comes to how things work. He’ll take one look at an HVAC system, tell you what makes it inefficient, and what possibly could be done to improve it. (Though I have no idea if he’s right or not since I don’t understand a word of it.) But ask him to look at a photo and come up with a funny caption and his brain short circuits.
This is what results so often in those average scripts. It doesn’t take a creative mind to love movies. And it doesn’t take a creative mind to love writing. So a lot of people attempt to write movies despite not having an ounce of creativity. This is why you see so many knockoffs in the amateur pile.
The writer loves mafia movies so they think, “I’m going to write a mafia movie!” They sit down to write and think of all the mafia movies that they love. They pull elements from each, whether consciously or not, and end up writing a paint-by-numbers version of Goodfellas. They’ve failed to put any actual creativity into it, and yet they don’t even realize it.
On the other end, you have those crazy scripts that don’t make a lick of sense. I mean, it’s great that you came up with a movie idea about a dog that goes to shark heaven, but that idea is fucking stupid. You see this a lot with amateur scripts where the writer throws crazy elements at the page, thinking it makes their script original and awesome, but it just ends up as a confusing mess to everybody that isn’t the writer. This is a result of the writer forcing creativity when they have none, or having a lot of creativity but not knowing how to harness it into something sensible.
So not only do you have to be creative, but you have to find the right balance of your creativity. You have to know how to fit it into a genre, or at least something that people will understand and want to see. You have to know how to dial it back and amp it up when necessary. You have to give it structure.
And I’m sure there are plenty of pro writers out there that don’t have much creativity either. But chances are they won’t continue to be successful for long, and may find other opportunities in the business that suit them better. And once you’re in the business, as we all know, you don’t have to write the next ETERNAL SUNSHINE to make a sale. But if you’re still looking to break in, you better be on your A-game, and your A-game better come with a rollercoaster of balanced creativity. Nobody breaks in with paint-by-numbers Mafia Movie #253.
Or, you could know somebody important. That works too.
What do you guys think? Do you agree with Nicholas? This comment led to others asking, “How do you know if you’re exceptional or not?” Doesn’t everyone think they’re exceptional? Isn’t that why so many bad scripts get submitted everywhere? I guess by breaking things down into manageable chunks, I was hoping it would be easier for writers to see what their strengths and weaknesses were. But if you’re new to the craft, it’s hard to have any reference for what “exceptional” is. You don’t know what you don’t know. So I’ll leave it up to you guys. How does one know if their work is any good outside of the obvious (impartial feedback)? If you give us a good answer, you might find yourself featured on the next “Comments of the Week!”