I co-ordinate a Wellington writers group, and tomorrow night the topic is:
"Why have you decided to be a screenwriter/playwright/whatever you are? What makes that particular medium special to you?"
Why this topic? Well, longer time readers of this blog will know that I am narcissistically fascinated in my own desire to write. This blog began as ‘Why I Write?’ and many of the older posts are explorations of answers to that question.
So getting a bit deeper than that, I think I’m interested in why we choose the mediums that we do. I see our choices as a complex mix of contemporary forces and personal expression. Screenwriting in particular is a modern phenomenon, and in that respect a desire to be a screenwriter strikes me as almost faddish. If we were in the 18th century, none of us would be screenwriters. Screenwriting appears to me to be the young popular medium that has overshadowed all others, at least in the circles I move in (novelists/playwrights/poets/comic book artists/graffiti artists/Hallmark card writers feel free to blow me out of the water...) So I look at my own embrace of screenwriting with a certain degree of distrust; do I do it just because it’s the popular choice, or for more intrinsic reasons?
Well, there’s certainly some things I enjoy about film as a medium (I’ll talk about film, rather than TV, which I have also written for, but I’ll try to keep this post under control by dealing just with film.)
Film is fast – stories tend to be less than two hours long. That encourages brevity, which actually plays to a key strength of mine; I’m too lazy to write long. And I admire brevity – I like condensing material to its essence. I’ve never forgotten Hix telling me about what he did with the earlier drafts of Hopeless before I came on board as a co-writer; he talked about how he combined multiple characters into single characters, giving the single characters the strengths of the multiple ones. I like that kind of work - boiling things down to create a headier brew. Film demands you do that because you don’t have time.
Film is a collaborative medium, and I like others to read my work and get behind it. Film requires that I get a team around me; and if I can get a team around me, that feels validating for the work I’ve created. One of the reasons I started writing screenplays was because others were doing it, and that meant that I could do it with them.
I do love watching films, though I don’t think a great film stands above reading a great novel for me in terms of enjoyment. There are plenty of films that are etched in my brain though; and so I do feel a debt of love for the medium. I want to excel within it because I know how great it can be.
And finally film is something I’ve had some success in, and I know something about how to write screenplays. That doesn’t answer why I started screenwriting, but it does go some way to answer why I continue in it.
There are downsides to screenwriting too: most commercially minded cinema no longer especially interests me so I have trouble picturing a place for myself in the industry; the collaborative nature of film-making has the downside (as well as advantage) of being dependent on others for success; film is expensive and the competition for funding is tough.
Other mediums interest me too: theatre and novel writing are both starting to whisper to me. But I’ll stick with screenwriting in the medium term at least; I know it and love it, and want to consolidate the lessons that I’ve learnt.
Plus I need to finish something – so it might as well be that screenplay I’m in the middle of (Run), and then that other screenplay I’m in the middle of (The Gap)… That should keep me going for a while.