I have a lot of things in the works this year to take my writing to the next level. For starters, I finally put together this portfolio — something I’ve been trying to do for years. I’d buy variations of EvanPorter.com (some asshole has been squatting on the real EvanPorter.com for years) and play around with WordPress themes but eventually get bored and let it wither away. This time, I went simple. No domain name or hosting. Just a cool place for me to put my work. It doesn’t hurt that free WordPress themes have gotten amazing since the last time I looked.
I’m also trying to grow my portfolio by getting published everywhere and anywhere that I can, which means being confident enough in what I can do to have a voice on anything from culture to sports to whatever the hell else. I’m not trying to start a freelance business or anything — that actually sounds awful — but I do want to get my name into places like Slate and Salon in particular. Maybe eventually into magazines like The New Yorker or something more fun like FHM or Maxim. By the end of the year I want to have a killer portfolio with a ton of awesome clips I’d be proud to show.
But the project I’m most excited about to work on this year is B AVERAGE, a screenplay I’ve been working on since 2013.
I’ve written scripts before. A bunch of them. At one point I wanted to be a professional screenwriter, in the sense that I wanted to be the guy writing all the huge Hollywood blockbusters and going to those parties you always saw on Entourage. But B AVERAGE is a totally different deal. It’s small. It’s personal. And it’s being written with a really narrow budget in mind so that, if it’s good enough, I can produce it myself.
I thought it might be worth writing about why I decided to go that route.
1) The more I learned about what it’s like to be a professional screenwriter, the less appealing it became.
That guy I mentioned, the guy that writes all the Hollywood blockbusters — guys like David Koepp, Orci & Kurtzman, Steve Zaillian — that guy is incredibly rare. The amount of breaks you need to get to that level of success are astounding. And that’s assuming you have the talent and the work ethic those guys have. Which you probably don’t because those guys are one in a million.
“Real” screenwriting has been written about to death, notably by Justin Marks, but in reality it’s a lot of working with shitty producers and taking crap money for scripts you worked really hard on and having to do rewrites you don’t believe in and taking assignments writing scripts that you probably will never love and ultimately never seeing any of it produced. That’s probably where most of us will end up. If we’re lucky. And I’m sure the payoff can be glorious, when it all comes together and you see your work on the screen and you actually get a nice paycheck in return. But that doesn’t quite sound like living the dream to me. It sounds like a job with ups and downs. I already have one of those. And I like it. It’s steady and I work with great people and I have no burning impatience to leave it all behind any time soon. Not for that life I just described.
But I’m probably skipping ahead a little too far. The above is what happens when you’re a really, really good screenwriter. When you’re among the top 5% of all the aspiring writers out there, but …
2) … it can take years and years and years, even decades, to become a great screenwriter.
Which is fine. Screenwriting is an INCREDIBLY challenging craft and, like anything worth doing, it can take a massive amount of time to get good, or even decent at it. That’s to be expected.
But what bothers me about screenwriting is that you can hole yourself away for ten years working at the craft, writing script after script, trying to get better… and still never be good enough. The cold hard truth is that most people will just never be good enough to make money as a screenwriter. And then what do you have to show for all that time you put in? A bunch of scripts that no one will touch, is what.
I decided to try the low budget, DIY approach for this script because I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a great screenwriter. Not yet. I want to get there someday, but I also acknowledge that I might not ever get there. So I want to have something to show for my effort. I want to make a movie, even if it’s not amazing or doesn’t win any awards or make me any money. I want to have something that I made and that I’m proud of. And if one day the world decides that I’m good enough at the craft to deserve to make lots of money for the scripts that I write, well, that’ll be great. But if not, at least I’ll have this.
And why shouldn’t I at least try? Because…
3) There seems to be a huge discrepancy between great scripts and great movies and bad scripts and bad movies.
Some of the best screenplays I’ve ever read have been made into below average or even awful films. And there are a lot of possible reasons for that, but I still think it’s alarming.
Sometimes a script will draw you in with kinetic, colorful language and an edgy voice, but then when you see it play out on screen without the italics and the flashy verbs, you realize the underlying mechanics were broken all along. Sometimes dialogue will jump off the page and make you laugh out loud, but on screen it reads flat and awkward despite solid effort from the actors.
And sometimes a script will seem too plain, too cliche, too “by the numbers” — but on screen it just fucking works.
There are just too many factors at play — no one can really say for sure what will make a movie great. And the worst part about it is that the people who decide whether your script deserves representation, or deserves to be bought and made, are people who read scripts. All. Day. Long. They’re experts in story, character, and voice. They’ve seen every major movie over the past twenty years and have read thousands of scripts. They’ve seen it all, so surprising them is pretty much a Herculean task. And I think what happens to a lot of writers is they start trying so hard to show readers something they’ve never seen before that they lose sight of telling a great story that real audiences — ones that see a dozen or so movies a year, not hundreds — will love. I’m just not sure that’s the best way to make a great movie anymore.
People in this industry, I believe, have the best intentions. They want great material. The best material. They want to make movies that will win awards and make a ton of money. But there are still so many terrible movies. And not just the money-grabbing sequels and airhead comedies, but real, serious movies that are trying to be good. A lot of them suck.
Do I think I can do it better? Doubtful. But the thing is, if I’m going to suck, I can go suck on my own. I don’t need anyone’s permission to go make a crappy movie.
I guess what I’m getting at here is that, once you’ve reached a certain level of competency, maybe it’s time to just trust your own voice. Write what you’d want to see and write it to the best of your ability. And once you do that, who really has the authority to tell you that it’s not good enough? The people that fail regularly at doing what you’re trying to do? I’d rather sink or swim in front of an actual audience instead of letting other people decide when my work deserves to be on screen.
Reading this back, maybe I sound a little bitter at having my scripts rejected or hearing No a few too many times. But that’s not it at all. I definitely don’t think I deserve any kind of massive studio deal or representation from one of the big Hollywood agencies. I’m the first to admit that what I’ve produced thus far hasn’t been good enough.
But B AVERAGE is going to be my chance to show myself what I can do. To gauge my own abilities and find out what happens if I just go for it. Because I’m not going to just sit around and wait for the universe to tell me that I’ll never make it.
I’m not saying that it will definitely happen. I’ve written a draft or two of the script and, while I love the way it’s taking shape, it still needs a lot of work. My goal this year is to get it to a place where I’d feel comfortable going out on a limb to turn it into something real.
I guess we’ll see what happens.
Image courtesy of Flickr user dorkomatic