Tuesday, January 11, 2011

We Make Our Own Movies

By Jay Stringer


Couple things up front today. Firstly i'd like to take another chance to thank everyone who took part in the flash fiction challenge. It was a great collection of stories. Some of them were from established 'friends of the site' and some were from first time callers, but they all added up to something fresh and interesting over the holiday season.

Don't worry, we haven't forgotten the FREE STUFF. That's what we'll be sorting out at the next DSD tree house meeting, and you'll be hearing more about it soon.

Second up I'd like to point you in the direction of a new podcast involving another friend of the site (See all these friends? Sheeesh. It's like I was never arrested.) Paul Montgomery is part of a rotating panel of writers over at the deceptionists, and the show is now on its second episode.
They're still feeling out the shows shape and form, but what more do you need to know than it involves four very different writers coming together to discuss the craft. Click on over and check it out. Ask for babs.

(I did the Babs joke twice in 2010. How many times will I drop it into 2011?)

Aaaaaaand while I'm talking podcasts, I listened to an interview with David Seidler about The Kings Speech. I haven't seen the film yet to comment on it's quality, but the interview was a great listen. Mr Seidler has a fascinating story to tell about how he came to write the story, about living with a stutter, and about writing in general. It was filled with the kind of details that make my writers brain start whirring and clicking with questions and ideas, and now I need to tackle a character with a speech impediment this year just to explore that mind set and the effects it can have on your life.

Okay, It's clobberin' time.

(And yes, by 'clobberin' I may also mean 'swearing.')

Some days you just want to play nice and have intelligent conversations. Those days are fun and all, but on the better days something is stuck in your paw and you want to tell the world. Whilst listening to the interview with Mr Seidler I scanned back through the list of previous podcasts. I noticed one that I'd forgotten about, for the film NEVER LET ME GO. Again, a very interesting interview, full of questions about exposition and character and structure. One thing in particular though gave me a nervous tick.

The producer of the film is quite a famous novelist. He had a very big hit a while back and I think everybody and their mum has read it, and seen the film adaptation starring mr grumpy face DiCaprio. This is all a long way round of saying I don't think it would be fair to name Alex Garland here. One of the questions he's asked during the interview is if he'll write more novels and he says, no, he only wrote novels because he couldn't make movies, and now he can make movies.

I guess the pragmatic thing is to say, well done. It would be to recognise that he saw books as a means to an end, and he got where he wanted to be, so it worked out for him. Sure, there's logic in that.

And maybe I'm the only one who's back goes up at this kind of thinking.

It's not just a novel thing either. As a comic-book fan I see plenty of people cashing in -there are a couple of high profile examples- and producing a comic simply by way of getting a film deal. They're easy to spot; some high concept idea that's wafer thin, one or two issues of a series or mini series appear, then it all goes silent while they work on the megabucks movie.

It all seems to flow in the one direction. There are people who write books in order to write films. There are people who write comics in order to write films. There are probably people who write parking tickets in order to write films.

I get that we all have mortgages or bills to pay. And, shit, that ransom isn't going to raise itself. But is money all it's about, or is there some deeper issue that drives the race toward the screen?

Just to be clear, obviously I'm not against movies. I love movies. I'm the guy who writes love letters to Raiders Of The Lost Ark and quotes Chinatown like a bible. In the DSD tree house i'm often throwing around screenplay ideas with other folks back here, and looking at what ideas we could make work. I was a film student, and someday I'd like to take another crack at writing one. But if you want to write a movie, here's my brainwave suggestion; Write a damn screenplay.

Maybe it'll sell and you'll make millions. Maybe it'll sell and never get made. Maybe it won't sell and you'll have a brand new draught excluder and that wonderful mixed feeling of achievement and shame. But you'll have done it.

Each different medium has it's own craft. They all have some common ground, sure, but one shouldn't be the convenient stepping stone to another. Something I've been working on with a couple of friends is a pitch that could be a TV show, it could be a novel, it could be a film, it could be a series of ebooks. Part of the fun from my end is getting knee deep in the story and the character and seeing all the different forms it could take, and which one fits the story better. There's also the thrill of this new age, of finding if there's a new way of telling a story to add to the list, of modern technology is blurring the lines between the old boundaries. But it's about the story, and it's about the craft.

The world keeps opening up new avenues. In the modern age there's no reason that anybody should stick to one medium like a monk, we can try a bit of everything. But again surely it should always be about the story first? And none of the different branches of this big ol' media tree should be any better than any other.

Except that we have a world that does just that. If you want something to be successful, you need to have it be a film. Unless hollywood points its golden finger in your direction then you just aint it.

And again, to be clear, I'm not railing against adaptations. I don't always see the point in them, but I also thing that If a writer has worked hard on their story and written the best comic/novel/parking ticket that they can, then there's nothing wrong with letting someone turn that into the best movie that they can. Because you've already done the work, and because you'll keep on doing the work.

And you can move between the two. Both Richard Price and George Pelecanos have shifted gears a few times between the different formats, and they've enriched their work because of it. Would pre-Hollywood Price have written CLOCKERS or LUSH LIFE? Would Pelecanos have delivered a novel as brilliant as DRAMA CITY if he hadn't spent some time wiring it up? And yet it's also key to notice that they came back and did those works.

If you have a film in you, write a screenplay. If you have a novel in you, write a manuscript. If you have an album in you, go on a reality TV show. But don't treat one as a convenient route to another. Don't decide to slum it in one simply to abandon it when it's served a purpose.

If you have a story, then find out which format that story needs to be told in, and go for it. In the words of Randall Graves, "don't pine for one but fuck the other."


Dana King said...

I don't know. I look at it as more of a "If you're with the one you love, love the one you're with" kind of thing.

It's not unusual for musicians to teach as a way of paying the bills while they try to build a performing career. Doesn't mean they aren't good teachers, or that they don't take the teaching seriously. It also doesn't mean they can't be perfectly happy if all they ever do is teach. It's just how things came out.

I have no interest in writing screenplays, because the things I like best about writing novels and shorts don;t come up in screenplays. On the other hand, if I had trouble with dialog and getting quickly into scenes, I can see where I might write a few screenplays to work on those issues. Since I wrote them, I might as well try to sell them.

He took an unorthodox route and it worked for him. Good for him.

John McFetridge said...

Yes, I agree withnall tjis, Jay. i've had many a drunken evening complaining that too many movies - especially anything seen as remotely 'serious' - are always adaptations.

But besides the final product - book or comic or movie - there's the process. Movie making is a social activitity, it's a collaboration. Sure that can be frustrating as hell but mostly we're social animals and it can be very tough to spend so much time alone writing books.

Or maybe I'm just trying to justify spending the lastbyear and a half trying to get back on a TV show instead of doing the hard work of writing a novel.

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

I've long harbored an interest in trying the screenplay format. What is the best software program to use?

John McFetridge said...

Sean, I think right now the industry standard is Movie Magic Screenwriter (http://www.screenplay.com/) having taken over from Final Draft (some people will say one is better for features and one better for episodic TV).

And there are a few free Word add-ons and other freeware formatting programs available and I think that's a better way to go at first.

Remember, screenplays are different in books in that it's almost impossible to mail away a screenplay to someone you've never met and sell it.

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

John- Thanks. The last time I did some recon on the subject ( a couple years ago) Final Draft seemed to be the preferred app. Looks like things have changed. My interest is purely a curiousity / challenge myself thing. Compared to the recording and movie industries, writing does seem a bit easier to get your work into someone's hands.

seana graham said...

Jay, whenever you've finished up that book of parking tickets, I'll be happy to develop into a screenplay for you. Something along the line of Short Cuts, only, well, shorter. Much much shorter.

I was thinking we could call it Time's Up!, or if it's a little grittier, maybe The Boot. Nothing's written in stone, of course, but I hope you come to the end of the, uh, manuscript soon.Time, as you know, is money.

Especially when it's expired.