Movies: Tales from the Script

I was told that, as a screenwriter, I should see this little documentary. But I have to say, while it was interesting, it didn't really tell me anything I didn't already know, either from personal experience or from having heard similar stories at conferences or in screenwriting books.

The film talks to a swath of screenwriters—Shane Black, John August, John Carpenter, William Goldman, Frank Darabont, Paul Schrader to name a few (and a couple token female writers, including Guinevere Turner, which made me wonder whether they either couldn't find any others or didn't try?). And just as at so many writing conferences, these screenwriters told anecdotes to illustrate the life of a screenwriter, the process, just how difficult it can be on various fronts, from selling the script to working with actors and directors and so on.

I've said it before, that there's only so much one can take away from these kinds of stories. Because every writer has them (or, starting out, hopes to have them) . . . And how much they apply to others is questionable. Because everyone's experience is going to be different. What worked for one person won't necessarily work for another.

I wish I could remember which of the screenwriters said this last night, and I think it perfectly encapsulates my thoughts on the matter (paraphrasing): That there is a wall around where you, as a writer, want to get to. And there are tiny cracks in that wall. And everyone is feeling for a crack. And once you find it and get in, the crack you used closes up behind you, and no one else will ever get in that way again.

So it's very little use to try what's worked for others because the system—the wall—has gotten wise to that technique and won't fall for it again. The problem being that it's becoming increasingly difficult to find any cracks; the wall has been shored up, patched, reinforced. And meanwhile there are more people than ever before trying to get through.

The documentary touches only lightly on how studios no longer make smaller movies (a matter of concern to me, as that is what I write). Nor does it really explore independent outlets as an alternative. This is a discussion of screenwriting at the mega level, even if some of the screenwriters are known for scripting dramas rather than blockbusters. A couple of them say, "Well, my movie would not be made today," and that is the extent of it.

The bottom line is, no one can say, "This is how you break in and get your script sold and produced." Because there is no one way that it is done. Hollywood is a machine that no one is entirely sure how it works. When you're on the outside of it, it's all grinding gears, and you have to be prepared to run the gauntlet. Once you get in (if you're lucky enough to get that far), you're still surrounded by threatening machinery that can grind you up and spit you out again. But at least it's a little easier to navigate. More space between the gears, more room to stand and move. And, weirdly, the goal seems to be to stay in rather than get out. It's sort of messed up that way.

My only other issues with Tales from the Script are technical: the sound was a bit muffled, and some of the transfers of clips from other films were not great.

On the whole, it was an interesting little documentary, but not actually all that helpful or informative. Maybe it's simply for complete and utter newbie writers. I mean, I know if I sell a script it will be changed. I'm fine with that. Otherwise I'd tell that story in prose instead. And I know there's no such thing as "made it." Because in Hollywood you're only as good as the last thing you wrote. You're hot off a blockbuster? Great. But then you think you can write some little film that no one will want? You're outta here. You have to prove yourself over and over again. It's not one hurdle, it's hundreds.

But the first is the highest and hardest.

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