I started writing a treatment for a feature-length screenplay yesterday. Why? Hell if I know; it’s hard to imagine a piece of writing with longer odds on ever earning a paycheck than a screenplay. My zombie colleagues have been talking about what it would take to make an ultra-low-budget feature hereabouts, and you can’t start without a script, but that’s not the reason. It just seemed time. I’m not one of those loony fiction writers who just claims to be a medium: “the story chose me to tell it,” etc. But every so often you get an itch, and it needs to be scratched.
Here’s what I like about screenplays, though — the structure. A good script is a trip down a well-traveled road, but every drive is different. Unless you’re Charlie Kaufman or Quentin Tarantino, there are rules of beginning/middle/end that must be heeded. There’s not nearly as much time for meandering; in fact, meanders are strictly discouraged. Scenes need to climb a tidy staircase toward a climax. The plot must be moved along. As a writer, I get far more of a sense of forward motion writing a screenplay than I ever do with just plain fiction, as evidenced by the fact I have one completed feature-length script in my drawer and several shorts, and zero finished novels.
Also, writing scripts helps you appreciate movies. I still remember the night I came home from my rewrite class at Michigan, plopped in front of the TV, and found “The Fugitive” just getting underway on HBO. The class that night had been about the challenge of raising the stakes with every scene, and it’s hard to think of a movie that does it better than that one. Each turn of the action puts Dr. Kimble in greater jeopardy and goads him closer to the climax. Every question the books say a writer must ask and answer — what does the hero want? what is standing in his way? — is evident. My favorite scene is the one where he saves the kid in the ER with the broken sternum. Totally implausible, but so well-acted you don’t notice, and even it raises the stakes, as Tommy Lee Jones is left to consider that this wife-killer he’s chasing risked arrest to sneak a dying kid off to emergency surgery. Not that he says so; you just see it on Tommy Lee’s smart, craggy face.
What I hate about screenplays: The rewrites. It’s like giving birth, then stuffing the kid back in and doing it all over again. Although I must say, my rewrite prof, who was a working screenwriter himself, had a wealth of fascinating teaching material. Did you know that the early drafts of “The Truman Show” had the story taking place in New York City? That Truman was a fat, sweaty creep whom we see having sex with prostitutes? Now recall Jim Carrey making his way through Seaside, Fla., in the opening scenes. That was a movie that had some rewrites, I’d say.
Anyway, I have the first act down. Now comes the hard part: the rest.
Quick bloggage before I drag my lardass off to the gym:
Via Kevin Knuth: Stay classy, Harlan, Indiana! You ignorant putzes.
Richard Cohen on Jane Mayer on you-know-who:
Until two cruise ships steamed up to Alaska two summers ago, the record for the silliest statement by a journalist had been held by Lincoln Steffens, in his time a famous American radical. Sent in 1919 to see how Russia was doing under the communists, Steffens supposedly reported, “I have seen the future, and it works.” In 2007, several conservative journalists got off their cruise ships and met Sarah Palin. They saw the present, and she was a babe.
The cruises were sponsored by the National Review and the Weekly Standard, journals of significant influence in conservative circles. The ships disgorged some top conservative editors and writers, who on two occasions were invited at the governor’s mansion. Almost to a man, they were thunderstruck.
Who thinks the story of the call-center walkouts is legit? Discuss. I’m off to work my flabby ass.