The Reality of Screenwriting

MARCH 6, 2016

I watched this video this morning, and if you have any interest in writing a screenplay, I highly recommend you take five minutes to watch it as well.  Let me know when you’re done, then come on back…


Finished?  Good.  Now, let’s talk reality.

While this video is wonderful and inspiring, I can also see how it would be intimidating and daunting. So let me say to you now: This is not a very realistic idea of how most screenwriters work. It’s how most screenwriters would WANT to work, given unlimited time, creative freedom and financial resources.

Most screenwriters work on weekends, nights, and on precious days off. They work in Starbucks using software that mocks the index card process and a forty-foot long table.  They do their research on Google and at used bookstores.  They scramble to assemble a movie between taking their kids to school and working ten-hour days at their crappy job.

Screenwriting, like any creative endeavor, is a passion.  You can do it without having a kitchen the size of the Getty Center, and you can do it without having 12,000 index cards that are color-coded and typed out in meticulous detail (I don’t even know how one types on an index card).

Screenwriting does involve research, and organization, and time, and revisions upon revisions. But it also involves day jobs, and kids, and producer notes, and studio changes, and director changes, and actor changes, and modifying to budget, and modifying to location. The core story will hopefully always be pure, but those precious note cards, as seen in this video, are not something the people financing, marketing or acting in your movie will really care about.

Have a great idea with an original hook, create amazing characters that shine and have REAL dialogue that defines who those characters are, challenge the audience with your story-telling, and then be FLEXIBLE, because your baby is about to be pulled a hundred different directions by people whose job it is to finance a movie, market a movie, and bring your vision to life.  That’s YOUR team and they’ll be in that giant kitchen with you, moving your cards around in order to bring your story to life.

All this to say that we all have our own process in bringing our ideas to life.  Each one customized especially for us, as individuals, catering to our time, and schedule, and desire.  And there are realities beyond the writing itself that involves the realities of the film-making process that every screenwriter needs to be ready for.  Because screenplays are not novels, they are frameworks showing other people how to do THEIR work, blueprints that you will be handing over to a director architect who will put their own spin and vision on your story, hopefully creating something even better than what you’ve already dreamed up, hopefully making your story shine.

So find a Starbucks, fire up the internet, and get to work.  Sell your hook to someone, anyone, that wants it.  Then be ready to hang on while your story is pulped and re-created as a glorious new creature, one that even you, the writer, could have scarcely imagined.

Because that’s reality.  That’s how it works.