So you saw a few movies and you’re ready to write one of your own. Awesome! Here’s why you might want to rethink that one:
1. People have seen it all.
Not really, of course. As long as there are humans, or David Bowie, there will always be invention. Sure, there are plenty of porn-addicted psychopathic snot-faced delinquents out there that think there’s nothing new under the sun. They’d snort bath salts before they’d paint or pick flowers in a field, and that just ain’t healthy. (Unless you’re allergic to pollen or something, which is frankly just a little bit sad.)
This impressed-by-nothing mentality means that when something genuinely beautiful or inspired comes along, people will be too busy shitting on it to realize that they just missed another opportunity to salvage their humanity. That’s why so many movies are loud, graphic, and/or fast. In the Age of Now, there’s no room for subtext (unless the subtext is that everything and everyone is awful or untrustworthy). Which brings me to my next point:
2. Whimsy is out of style.
Remember the Wizard of Oz? Mary Poppins? Willy Wonka? Even Amelie, just a little over a decade ago? These were colorful, quirky movies with a lot of heart and musical numbers and memorable characters. They didn’t rely on shock or nihilism or gore, they were windows into elaborate fantasy worlds, as delicate and otherworldly as they were hopeful and optimistic.
It makes sense that our culture evolved the way it did. Progress has made us more interconnected but less attached, passive viewers of an increasingly complex world. We consume media more frequently and when we revisit the stories that once delighted us, we do so with critical lenses. Trust me, I’ve got examples: 2013’s second look at Mary Poppins, Saving Mr. Banks, revealed its real-life creator to be an uppity control freak whose dad was a self-destructive alcoholic. Sam Raimi’s Oz prequel, Oz: The Great and Powerful, re-imagined The Wicked Witch as a heartbroken harlot who embraced her darkest, most hate-filled ambitions and devolved from a white-washed hottie to a green-faced nottie. Then you have Tim Burton sucking the blood out of classics like it’s his job. Which, yep… it is. Seriously, did this do it for anyone:
Even the world of animation is getting darker by the minute. The brilliant Pixar is a beacon for creativity in contemporary Hollywood, but the plot-lines of Wall-E and Up tread on decidedly sad territory. Meanwhile, Laika’s Coraline and ParaNorman fully embrace the macabre, while adult-geared gems like Mary & Max and Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist are downright morose. These movies usually end well, but they’re not shy about showing audiences just how effed the world can be. I can’t fault them for their sincerity, but wouldn’t it be great to see a handful of well-crafted movies in 2014 that were just unabashedly naive? For the children?!!
So okay, cheery, smartly crafted stories would be nice. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s remember that:
3. Studios Don’t Want It Unless It’s Familiar.
Harry Potter, The Avengers, Hunger Games, Man of Steel, Twilight, Dark Knight – these had surefire box office appeal, because every one of them already proved lucrative. So here you are, laboring over your quiet indie with multi-dimensional characters and relatable problems that’s a totally NEW take on the same old shit, but hang tight, what’s the backstory? If it ain’t 3-7 books’ worth of stuff, and hasn’t topped the New York Times’ Best Sellers List, then good luck!
Let’s say you somehow strike gold with an original idea. Chances are, it is not especially innovative or abstract. Some Corporate Lug-Head decided it was close enough to a story he’d already seen, with enough key differences to make it not-an-infringement-of-copyright and you got the green light. Let’s be real: do you think Tyler Perry became a multi-millionaire by having an uncompromising artistic vision? No, he became a household name because it’s scientifically proven that men in dresses are funny. No matter how good or bad they look, no matter how accurate or distant their impression of a woman may be. Whether you’re RuPaul or Wesley Snipes, it’s funny. Always. Perry knew this and went all in.
The moral of his story: resign yourself to the fact that what fulfills you isn’t necessarily what makes you shit-faced rich, and you’re one step closer to success. But even so:
4. The Odds of Making It Are Way Against You.
Realistically consider the fact that there are maybe tens of thousands of people who pursue this path every year. How many make it? What did it take for them to get to that place?
I’ll give you a hint, raw talent alone didn’t land them the spot. It was writing. Rewriting. Writing. Editing. Rewriting. Networking. Finding Opportunity. Finding Feedback. Writing. Re– You get the picture. It’s a lot of work that demands a lot of time people don’t have. Especially people straight out of college with $100,000+ in debt; forget the disadvantage of not living in LA. Young dreamers such as myself just aren’t statistically in a very good place. Nor are we actually. I guess that’s why modern media is so cynical. Not that I can really knock it. Being perfectly honest, I didn’t watch Breaking Bad for its elaborate song-breaks (though I totally would have if Vince made that a real thing).
Speaking of Vince and his brand of nothing-goes-right storytelling, let’s get to our 5th and final Reason that it Sucks to Write a Screenplay in 2014:
5. It’s Tough As Balls.
Just like that story you’re writing about the guy or gal who faces insurmountable odds, there’s nothing easy about this career. If you really REALLY want it, you’ll get beaten up and spit on and face a TON of rejection. If you believe in your ideas and you are determined to preserve them, it’s gonna take an even bigger dose of some Queen Bey fierceness. In that case, calling yourself a screenwriter might not be enough. You may have to band together with a group of likeminded merry men and take the reigns yourself as director. Auteurs may be rare, but the good ones are most certainly in fashion – creative giants like Guillermo Del Toro, James Cameron, Christopher Nolan, Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, and Alfonso Cuaron are just a few happy dissenters in a largely uncreative mainstream. They are all visionary, whether it be as storytellers, art directors, or tech-innovators. And above all, they have TREMENDOUS authority over the outcome of their work.
Nobody said success would be a sure thing. But the reward for wholly devoting yourself to your passion must be indescribable. I’m only now making realistic steps toward my greater goal of becoming a successful storyteller, but it pays to remember: you have to start somewhere. Even if I’m only just now in the infant stage.
Here’s to hoping for some big leaps in 2014.
Enjoy it, my lovelies! Now’s the time.