Earlier this week I attended a talk by Richard Krevolin, the author of the book ‘Screenwriting in the Land of Oz.’ His presentation focused on story and how it is used to retain information. This was my first time hearing an author speak, and the first lesson on screenwriting since I graduated film school. I’ve always shied away from listening to authors talk, especially screenwriting professors. I can think of two reasons why this is so, and I can’t tell which one is true.
1. I enjoy finding things out on my own, not being taught from the experience of others. I want my own experiences to teach me.
2. If they’re so good at writing why are they talking to me?
Both are true, in some respect. I do enjoy learning from my own failings and there should be a healthy dose of cynicism when listening to an ‘expert’ in a creative field. If you read enough books on how to write and sell your work or spend enough time on blogs written by screenwriters, a wall slowly builds around you, one of stone and each little rock is a weight engraved with a reason to give up. A high failure rate. No one reads scripts. Short stories have no market value. No one wants your ideas. You’re not good enough and even if you are, you just aren’t. There is no winning.
Slowly this wall builds high enough that you can’t see the reason why you even started writing in the first place. Your goal as disappeared. Out of sight.
This week I have a stack of scripts written my aspiring writers to review. I break their work down, the good, the bad, and the useless. I’m harsh but I always try to find a glimmer of hope in their writing. Usually I’m reading first drafts, where the story isn’t as tight as it needs to be and random characters come and go with not much affect on the overall story.
I do struggle with my role as reviewer because I always think, ‘Why should anyone take advice from me?’ I don’t have connections. No film in the history of the world has my name anywhere in the title sequence. I’m just a guy. So I have to sell myself as that. A guy with an objective point of view who will read and re-read the script and give detailed notes on what works and what doesn’t. I’m not right. I’m not wrong. I have my own tastes but I try to find the writer’s perspective and help keep them on track to tell the story they want to tell.
There’s a saying floating around about those that can teach something that they aren’t successful at themselves. Like a batting coach who can’t hit, or a screenwriter who hasn’t sold a script. I’m that guy. Richard Krevolin’s talk helped me realize the value of what he is doing and what those books and blogs are trying to do. He’s trying to inspire and encourage. His advice is solid but really what amateur writers need sometimes is someone to enthusiastically say, ‘Don’t give up. Writing is awesome.’
So with my stack of scripts I have to review I always search for, and can always find, a nugget of gold. Something to tell the writer, ‘This element right here, this is your story. Lose the rest and focus on this. This works. This is awesome.’
One thought on “Life as a Professional Amateur”
I also sometimes shy away from listening to successful people, because it is usually more of a “how I made it” rather than “how to make it”. And how they made it is sometimes just a matter of luck, let’s admit it.
The early moguls of Hollywood weren’t literary demons either, but they knew their audience and how to reach people. So I think your role as a reviewer is perfectly legit. You respond to a story the same way anyone does. If something appeals to you, it probably appeals to others – we all need that initial someone to bounce ideas off of.