Last night I went to a screening that should be required viewing for all aspiring screenwriters.
The film is “Tales From the Script”, a fascinating documentary put together by two other aspiring screenwriters, Peter Hanson and Paul Robert Herman (take note, Paul and Peter are writers who haven’t yet found traction, so took the initiative to shoot their own film. Through that decision these guys now have access to some of the best, most experienced minds in H’wood film writing, and a wonderful doc with THEIR names on it that is now showing in selected theaters!).
The doc features interviews with some of H’wood’s top screenwriters — Shane Black, William Goldman, Zak Penn, Frank Darabont, Jose Rivera, David Hayter, Billy Ray, John August, David Ward, Larry Cohen, just to name a few. The purpose was to get a picture from seasoned screenwriters about the lifestyle and challenges all screenwriters face, and how to navigate those challenges. Most of the film was horror stories about writers being treated badly, but the cumulative effect was actually quite inspiring — against all odds, these guys did it (just like your protagonist)!!
There was a post-screening Q&A panel as well, hosted by Peter (the Director), who asked some very insightful questions. Jose Rivera, Zak Penn, Adam Rifkin and David S. Ward were among the panelists, and all shared intimate, fascinating, insightful and inspiring points of view. Truly an invaluable gift for aspiring writers like myself, so thanks, Gents.
Among the writers who made a huge impression on me was Billy Ray (writer of State of Play, Breach, Flightplan, etc.). Billy has great passion and enthusiasm for storytelling, despite all the travails he’s had to endure throughout his impressive career. Billy sticks to his intent as a screenwriter against all odds, and consistently produces thoughtful, socially significant films.
For me, the most inspirational speaker was Larry Cohen. Larry’s been in the business since the late 50’s (!) and has been working the entire time. Aside from the impressiveness of a 40 + year career, the true inspiration Larry passed to me was when during the Q&A portion of the screening, a writer asked WHY writers don’t have much power.
Larry’s answer was “Bullshit”! Writers are low on the totem pole simply because they set themselves up for it! Writers tend to characterize themselves as beaten down, trod upon, disrespected and powerless, so of course, that’s how we’re treated. But if you stand up for yourself, stand up for your point of view, people are bound to listen — after all, who’s the story expert in the room? YOU ARE! So have some self confidence and speak up! This doesn’t mean to be combative, what it does mean is simply to stand up for your ideas.
And although most insights were about the difficulties of writing for H’wood, Larry made a great argument for how wonderful the life can be, if you chose to focus on the positives instead of the negatives: you get paid large sums of money for films that more often than not don’t get made, films that directors, actors etc. didn’t get paid for, but YOU did; a director works maybe 2 years on a movie, shooting in the cold, on mountaintops, away from their families for months at a time, dealing with actors, producers, studios, financiers, marketers, etc, while you’re sitting poolside contemplating your next story; directors can’t direct whatever they want, and actors can’t have whatever roles they want, but you can write whatever you want, whenever you choose; the list goes on.
There’s too much to write about what a great impact hearing all these stories and points of view had on me, but I highly recommend you seek out “Tales From the Script” and watch it, repeatedly. Harper Collins is also releasing a “Tales…” book in January which features all the above interviewees, plus a bevy of others who weren’t in the film but still wanted to participate.
After experiencing the film and the invaluable advice these guys are imparting to us for the low, low price of cost of admission, for me, the upcoming book is a must-have.
I have great respect for all the ladies and gentlemen who participated in the “Tales…” project in book and/or film. To take time out of their busy careers to impart their hard won wisdom to those aspiring to do what they are doing is a priceless and generous gift that can ignite careers and change lives. These folks – and certainly the filmmakers – are truly paying it forward (backward?), so a big thank you to any of them who may be reading this, and an especially large thank you to Peter and Paul for putting this all together.
If you’d like more info, just go to www.talesfromthescript.org