What makes a scriptwriter?
Have you really got what it takes to be successful?
In this third contribution to The Story Department, Jack Feldstein gives us his honest advice on the matter.
Confessions of a Scriptwriter (1)
Confessions of a Scriptwriter (2)
21. IF YOU ASK FOR AN OPINION YOU’LL GET ONE
A scriptwriter sometimes needs unbiased advice about a script. But from whom can they get it? Most people have some sort of agenda when reading a script. Very few are neutral. But it’s the neutral reader a scriptwriter needs.
The best way to get advice might be to ascertain from whom the advice comes. In other words, is the reader a frustrated scriptwriter him/herself? Then perhaps beware of the bite of bitterness. Does the reader disagree with the script’s premise? If so, beware personal agendas. Does the reader want a job from the script? Then don’t be fooled by flattery.
For those who have never written a script, the process, from the outside appears easy. But if it’s so easy, where is their script?
Perhaps, opinions from those who have attempted scriptwriting might aid in the valuing and respecting of hard work that goes into it.
The best way to get neutral feedback about a script is to give it to various different and eclectic readers. If, independent to one another, the readers agree on certain points, then those issues should be considered. Otherwise, opinions must be taken as subjective only. In a way, it’s ‘the wisdom of crowds’ that might count.
22. DO SCRIPTWRITERS (AND OTHER WRITERS) HAVE TO SUFFER TO CREATE?
Firstly, no-one HAS to suffer. Ever. If a person chooses to suffer, then one question begs to be posed. Is the person an emotional masochist?
Are scriptwriters and writers emotional masochists? Do they have to agonise on the inside (where it counts) to create truthful writing?
The only thoughts that I personally have for that is, if a day with the doona over one’s head is necessary. Then take that day. And the next day get out of bed.
23 THE CULTURAL RELATIVITY OF SCRIPTS
Some say that the greatest art knows no cultural boundaries. But is this true?
Is a scriptwriter forever chained and ensconced in the cultural sphere from which he/she is born? For instance, are Japanese scripts understood in an Anglo world?
What might be some universal themes that transcend the limitations of one’s own culture? Love? Sex? Happiness? Death?
And as a corollary, the taboos in every culture must greatly affect what can and cannot be written in a script. How does this manifest?
In Australia, for instance, a true hero is liable to be chopped down by ‘The Tall Poppy Syndrome’. (And be cognisant that ‘The Tall Poppy Syndrome’ is really just a fancy term for jealously.)
So it’s very hard for Australians to have true, clear heroes in their films, for that cultural reason and this impacts on Australian films because it’s at odds with dramatic principles.
24. PEOPLE RECOGNISE THE TRUTH BECAUSE IT’S RARE
A good point to recall when aiming for authenticity.
25. SENSITIVITY AND TOUGHNESS
To write a script, a scriptwriter must possess emotional sensitivity and vulnerability.
But the scriptwriter must also have the toughness and calmness not to burst into tears, have a nervous breakdown or fly into a rage when their script is criticised or rejected.
These two necessary qualities in a scriptwriter are paradoxical. They’re at odds.
My subjective advice in this area is, when faced with a negative response, to write the following draft or the next script. And put one’s energy into that.
26. CAN A SCRIPTWRITER INFLUENCE HOW PEOPLE THINK?
Either benevolently or malevolently?
Is to think that a scriptwriter can influence how people think a case of delusional ‘magical thinking’?
Does the viewer on some level already think that which the scriptwriter highlights?
In the case of propaganda, for instance, does the viewer already want to think (or thinks on some level) that which the propagandist presents?
Many benevolent scripts with well meaning messages are ignored.
Whereas, for example, in Hitler’s time, particularly malevolent propaganda scripts were eagerly received.
What’s certain is that a scriptwriter is no fortune teller/magician. But often, his/her guesses can be pretty accurate. And if they’re not, the film is a flop.
Thankfully, the world is a big place. And somewhere, out there, is a market for one’s work.
How does a scriptwriter find or write for markets? By actively pursuing and researching them.
Should a scriptwriter write for a market? Well, if a scriptwriter doesn’t want to end up feeling like Munch’s ‘The Scream’, the answer is yes.
28. THE WIZARD OF OZ
At the end of the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy finds that the wizard is merely a man behind an impressive machine.
In commercial scriptwriting, that is who the scriptwriter is.
29. INSIDE A SCRIPTWRITER’S HEAD
Does a scriptwriter dictate the thoughts inside his/her head? Is that their script?
Firstly, there are many different types of scripts. Including stream-of-consciousness scripts which would seem to be described that way.
But usually the answer to the above questions is a definite “NO”.
Often beginners get confused between the thoughts in their mind and what a script is.
A script is in most cases, a clear representation of a narrative. The thoughts in one’s mind, in most cases, belong in a therapist’s office.
Sure, scriptwriting can be good and useful therapy. But it might be preferable to just have the therapy instead.
30. WORKING FOR OTHERS: THE COMMERCIAL NATURE
The ability to work for a production company or network or industrial filmmaker or corporate videomaker is not inherent in everyone.
The recompense is, of course, money.
But the facility of putting one’s own opinions aside, to promote others’ viewpoints, is an ethical concern and also dependent of a scriptwriter’s character/nature.
Plus it relies much on his/her need and situation.
As a pragmatist, I believe that certain people are born with (or are born to learn how to have) the ability to write for others.
Others should consider playwriting and becoming auteur filmmakers.
31. WISDOM FROM THE PAST
Andy Warhol noticed that people sitting on their front porches can seemingly watch the world go by for hours. But that didn’t apply when viewers watched a film. More seemed to be required. (And if you watch his experimental films, like, for instance, ‘8 hours of the Empire State Building’ you might agree. )
“If you are talking and not listening, you’re not learning”. (Old Sicilian proverb)
“Writing is feeling”. (Arthur Laurent, scriptwriter “The Way We Were”)
“If you don’t entertain, no-one’s listening”. (Budd Schulberg, scriptwriter ‘On the Waterfront’)
It was said that Euripides wrote how people are. But Sophocles wrote as people should be.
A scriptwriter should know if they tend more to being a Euripides or a Sophocles. And learn from past brilliance.
32. A FEW WORDS ABOUT BEING EXPLOITED
If a person is desperate for something, they are blind to being exploited.
A scriptwriter (or anyone) should never be desperate.
Accepting the shifting sands of the film/TV business, and learning to flow with the changes in one’s predicament can help. Scriptwriting is an art, not a science. And an artist needs to possess a certain amount of Zen thinking.
Otherwise, beware of bitterness.
33. THE HEISENBERG UNCERTAINTY PRINCIPLE
The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is a scientific principle that says, put simply, ‘the thing being measured is changed by the instrument that measures it’.
I believe this applies to scriptwriting.
A scriptwriter may write a script with a very clear idea about what he/she is saying…in their own mind.
But the interpretation of that script by the reader, director etc. and ultimately the viewer may be completely at odds with the initial intent of the scriptwriter.
And that is quite a challenging, albeit truthful, principle to accept.
In the business of scriptwriting, rejection is common.
To learn not to take rejection personally, and realise it has to do with rejecting the script, and not the scriptwriter, is a good lesson.
The separation of one’s work and oneself, like the separation of church and state, is a particularly useful attitude to attain.
35. IT’S HARD
Scriptwriting is a hard business. If the scriptwriter finds him/herself spiralling into some black hole vortex, pounded by their own thoughts,
TAKE A BREAK!
Do something else for a while.
And come back to scriptwriting refreshed.
Jack Feldstein is a director, playwright, scriptwriter, script editor, series creator, interactive scriptwriter, filmmaker & lecturer in Sydney. His short films including ‘The Ecstasy of Gary Green’ and ‘The Great Oz Love Yarn’ have been shown at festivals around the world and have received acclaim for their originality and humour.
I studied acting for three years and hold a graduate diploma in writing from Sydney’s UTS. My interest in film and writing was solidified through interning at The Story Department and gave me the opportunity to fine tune my skills. I’ve been involved with several film projects, the most recent of which was shortlisted for Tropfest.
With the knowledge gained from university and my experience at The Story Department, I’m now specialising in professional feedback on short films and documentaries.