Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Why do you Write What you Write?

Lucy e-mailed me (and everyone else she knows!) wanting to know what it is us aspiring writers write Spec scripts about, and why, and that got me thinking…

looks upwards thoughtfully, swirly flashback effect…

The 1st full length script I wrote, way back when, was a semi-autobiographical tale about unrequited love and repeated mistakes. I wrote it because I had too (don’t ask!) Ok, it wasn’t very good - it was too close to real life for one thing (i.e. loosely structured, unresolved, and fucking depressing!) but at least it was good therapy, and I learned a lot writing it.

The main Spec I worked on when I got made redundant and started to write full time was an Epic Fantasy Blockbuster about Dragons and Wizards and Heroes and Princesses - not something a first time writer has much chance of selling, especially to the British film industry! But in this case it was something I really wanted to write - it was (and still is!) a film I wanted to see, which is perhaps the best reason to write anything. Again, I learned a lot from it, and I loved writing it, so I’m kind of glad I wasn’t clued up enough to try to write something more producible!

Ed Blum (Producer/ Director of Scenes of a Sexual Nature) told me that Scenes was written specifically as something that could get made on a low budget with big name actors (by only using them for 2 days) after he couldn’t get a more ambitious project off the ground. So maybe that’s the way to go. Perhaps I should try to write something that is sexy, fun, exciting and generic (and cheap!) for my next spec?

The first draft of my fantasy epic - DRAGONS - did get a full read from BBC writersroom. The report, amongst the many constructive and helpful comments, said that “the writer should consider a less generic story, and one that reveals more of his own voice and concerns” and that annoyed me a bit, ‘cos I thought I had! I grew up on Dr Who and Star Wars and Douglas Adams, and I suppose they’re still my main influences - as the late, great Douglas Adams once said, reality is for people who can’t handle Science fiction!

Hemmingway said “Write hard and true about what hurts,” but that seems to contradict the usual advise to write to an audience, and to write in a specific, marketable Genre. On the other hand, as someone at SWF ‘06 said (Justin Trefgarne? Simon Van Der Borgh? I can hardly rem SWF '07!) the trick is to “Make your personal the audience’s personal,” and London to Brighton (or Dirty Pretty Things) are great recent examples of (low budget) generic films that actually say something.

Not that there’s anything wrong in just entertaining, of course - I love Blockbusters (Read BLOCKBUSTER by Tom Shone if you agree! Or even if you don‘t) I love films like Airplane, that just want to make you laugh, or something like Psycho or Blair Witch that just want scare you, or something like The first Pirates of the Caribbean (or it’s great granddaddy The Adventures of Robin Hood) that just want to take you for a ride.

In Preston Sturges’ unutterably wonderful Sullivan’s Travels, John L. Sullivan, a big shot Hollywood director, wants to make a serious film that speaks to “the common man,” but discovers on his eponymous travels that said common man just wants to be entertained.

(I know not everyone would agree that this is as a good thing! Audience comments from the notorious preview screening of Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons, included “People like to laff, not be bored to death,” and “Make pictures to make us forget, not to make us remember;” and the dissenting minority views “It is unfortunate that the American public, as represented at this theatre, are unable to appreciate fine art” and “It seemed too deep for the average stupid person”!)

I mean, I like serious films, I like Citizen Kane and Wild Strawberries and Vertigo for example - the world would be an infinitely duller place if there was only room for one type of film. Perhaps we should be aiming for the a massive grey area between Ingmar Bergman and The Zucker Brothers? To balance art and entertainment, and to balance what we want to write with what the audience wants to see, and with what the film industry wants to (and can) make?

I think your own concerns, your values, your personality, and your influences inevitably come through anyway, whatever you write...

And I could go on (!) but I also think that writing stuff like this is a distraction from the actual scriptwriting!!

So no-one email me any questions that make me think about anything for at least a week!

PS An even more interesting question is Why do you Write?


I’ll leave This old blooger to answer that one.


potdoll said...

I think you've just written half of Lucy's article for her Martin! You should give old Julian a call and offer your services!

martin said...

Don't think I'm finished, yet Mrs Potters, oh no!

Offer my services to Julian? There are some things I won't do to suceed! Might try to write an article for him tho!

potdoll said...