Screenwriting: Please Stop Telling Me to Make My Own Movie

Cross posted from PepperWords.

The latest hot advice to would-be screenwriters is: Go make your own movie.

I understand why. I really do. The chances of getting your script read, much less noticed by anyone with any clout in the industry is nearly nil. It's even less than it used to be, if that's possible. Studios have become increasingly risk adverse, unwilling to take chances on new writers or unproven ideas. They want known quantities: Writers who have a track record and/or properties that have built-in fan bases (like all those comic book superheroes).

So what is a writer to do? Go indie, naturally, and prove him- or herself by getting noticed on the smaller circuit. And this should be easy, right? Since there are so many would-be directors and acting hopefuls just looking for the right content? Except . . . Not really. A lot of those would-be directors, and some of the actors too, are also writing their own stuff and have little interest in yours. OR, alternatively, what you write is not what they want to film. So as a writer you are back where you started: Nobody wants your script.

And here's where the DIY advice comes in. "So film your script yourself!" And we're told it's easy, or that there are resources to help us or whatever. But for those of us who aren't prepared to take on that kind of project, surely there must be another option? What I'm saying is, even if producing your own film isn't a bad idea, surely it can't be the only one.

I, for one, am not ready to wade into the Kickstarter waters, nor am I able to put up a bunch of my own money to make a movie. While I'm sure I could find willing crew and other help, and while I'm quite capable of managing large projects (I have a project management background), going and making a movie is no small, quick, or simple process—at least, not if you're hoping the movie will be a good one. You want it to look a certain way, namely professional. You need equipment, good sound and lighting, and later editing and music. You need locations, which may involve permits. Making a [good] movie takes time, and it takes money, and it takes people who know what they're doing.

And when all that is done and you have a finished product that you are hopefully proud enough of to share with the world? You then have to try and get people to notice it. Maybe you put it on YouTube and beg people to watch it. Maybe you submit it to festivals and hope for acceptance. But the bottom line is: Even if you go through all the trouble of making your own movie, there's no guarantee it will launch your career. You continue to swim upstream and against the odds.

Yes, it's easier to sell something that is finished than something that is not. People still prefer to watch movies rather than read them. The arguments are all valid, but that's not really the issue for me. Telling a writer to produce/direct/film his or her own movie is like telling a nurse to do brain surgery—she may or may not have an idea of how to do it, and she'll still need a surgeon, an anesthesiologist, and all the rest. And maybe she's eager to have a chance to try brain surgery. If so, good for her (perhaps not so good for the patient). But for those who are not so eager . . . Can't you just refer us to a good doctor?

I write all this knowing full well I am very fortunate to have a script of mine in post-production. A short film that I did not have to make myself. Admittedly, I have no idea how it turned out; as a writer, I labor under the knowledge and understanding that once the script leaves my hands, my control over it is diminished if nonexistent (depending on the circumstances). And that's fine. I am not one of those writers who insists on it being just as I envisioned it. Because if I were . . . I'd make the movie myself.

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