Too many times I see it. Young screenwriters fretting about their story not fitting into some predefined template. I'm guilty of it at times. I mean who can resist the siren call of act one finishing near page thirty? When you hit it, you feel like a screenwriter. You feel like you have a handle on things. Maybe even like you belong.
The fact is that in movies you are a storyteller first and a writer second. You have to be able to tell a story without looking over your shoulder at what beats you are or aren't hitting. You need to feel the pulse of the story and instinctively know where the peaks and valleys are. You can't rely on some book or some system as a yardstick any more than you can type jokes into a computer program to determine if they are funny.
Throw away the books and the scholars and write. Write your story. If you truly understand the nature of movies. If you understand why they work and how they work and your intention is to make a movie then the story that comes forth will be a movie. It's really not that hard.
Except that it is hard. It's exceptionally hard. Thus the reason for all the books and the teachers and the beat sheets. They have their function, and that function is in learning about story and analyzing your work trying to figure out why something doesn't work. Like a lot of creative professions, you have to learn the rules, understand the rules and why they are there, and then ignore the rules trusting they will surface naturally.
I write a lot of sentence fragments. A lot. More than maybe I should. It's not that I don't know the rules of grammar (I know most of them, I swear), I just choose to ignore them on occasion because I think it promotes the ideas I'm trying to get across in an informal and entertaining way. Maybe you think it makes me look like an uneducated, talentless hack. While my mom has a right to her opinion* I have to hope against hope that at least 51% of the remaining people feel otherwise.
Here's the main problem with all of this. The problem that pretty much cocks everything up. The people with the money to make your movie aren't storytellers. They are gambling their reputation on the voodoo that you do, and that gives them ulcers. So what do they do? They read all those books and listen to all the teachers. That makes them feel like they know what you *should* be doing. And when your inciting incident doesn't happen on page 12, they demand that it be there. And unless you can convince them otherwise, hello Cookie Cutter Action Movie 12: The Sequel. Or so I've heard.
But you can't worry about that. You have your imagination and a blank page. For now it's the movie you want it to be. Be a storyteller. Be arrogant enough to know what's interesting, what the audience wants but doesn't know it yet. When you are finished writing, go back and read your work. Use the books,beat sheets, and teachers to analyze the parts that are broken and fix them.
When in doubt, be interesting. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Stay tuned for part three: Keep It Interesting.
* My mother doesn't actually think that, but it was a joke I couldn't pass up. Sorry Mom.
Labels: Screenwriting Manifesto