Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Notes On Screenwriting


I have the distinction of having been paid to write four screenplays for four very large companies. None were ever made. This gives me the freedom to say the following regarding screenwriting: I'd rather have a barium enema.

Now, some of you may aspire to screenwriting and I say, "bully for you." Enjoy. Perhaps you are made of better stuff than I. Actually, you probably are made of better stuff than I. So go for it. 

The last screenplay I was hired to write was for a very, VERY large company. When I turned in the first draft, I was given various kudos like, "Wonderful!" "It's sooooo good!" Having not written many screenplays I made the mistake of believing them. 

After some notes, I was sent off to do a second draft. Upon turning in that draft I was told, "We're close." "Not really what we had expected." And perhaps my favorite, "It doesn't have that IT yet." I don't know what IT was but it didn't have it. I was ashamed for having written a totally it-less screenplay.

I was sent off to do a third draft. The third draft made me cry. Really. I was sitting there and I just started crying. I wanted to throw the computer out the window. I was following their notes and I had no idea what to write. (Note to aspiring writers: not knowing what to write is a bad sign.)

Anyway, I turned that in. I was told that I had, "Missed it." "Made it worse." I didn't have the guts to tell them it made me cry. Everyone agreed the first draft was the better of all three and they wondered why I didn't just do the first draft again. Which I already had. Two drafts ago.

Anyway the family and I went off to Hawaii a few days later. When we got back, I got a call that the producer wanted me to start in on a fourth draft. A fourth draft.

I went to the meeting. I sat there listening to how the fourth draft could be so much better by being like the first draft. Only it should be better than the first draft and that's why it would be called the Fourth draft.

As I listened, I remembered that the third draft made me cry. I could only imagine what the fourth draft would do. Writing should be fun...or at the very least...challenging. There should be no crying. I'm pretty sure of that. When it came my turn to speak, I said something that stunned even me.

I became very contemplative. I think I started to channel St. Benedict. Rather than directly answer them, I told a story. This was my story:

There's a beautiful woman. Only, you can't really see her. She's wearing a long flowing dress. She's running up a side of a mountain. You start following her. Running after her. The mountain is made of really sharp lava or something. So, you start getting scraped and bruised and bleeding. But it doesn't matter, because you are following this beautiful woman. Anyway, she climbs higher. You climb higher. The rocks dig into your skin. Now, you're really bleeding and hurt...but you follow her.

She's now at the top of the mountain and you finally make it up there. You are a mess. You are bleeding and have broken bones. You walk up to her. She has her back to you. You turn her around. And she's super...SUPER ugly.

That's this script. It's super ugly. And I don't want to bleed anymore.

With that, I said good bye, got in my car and smiled all the way home.



  1. Geez, between you and Bill Corbett, I get the impression that writing a comedy script for Hollywood is like having your soul taken out, beaten to a bloody pulp and then left to die on the side of the road.

    You make it sound so cheery, it's a wonder any comedy films or made (or they are made by soulless beings. Seth Rogen, I'm beginning to suspect...)

  2. Hmm, this whole mountain/woman/bleeding thing of yours sounds fantastic. I mean, I am blown away. I'm thinking, Matt Damon as the bleeding man. Or who else is hot now? Will Ferrell? Nah. That other one with the scalp? Colin Hanks, for sure.

    And the girl, of course it's got to be Reese Witherspoon. I mean, Reese, right? Totally. This is so her thing, she's like mountain woman already, she'll make it beautiful. Or, who's that other one? That not Reese Witherspoon? Is it Reese Withouterspoon? Ahaha, that's my little joke! Ahaha. No, really, Reese all the way. Also, she'll be CGI, and sing a duet with Pete Wentz. The 18-24s love the Pete Wentz. He'll be played by Coolio.

    So yeah, punch that up a bit and get us the next draft by Thursday, m'kay? Here, let me validate your parking.

    Oh, and one more thing; lose the mountain. Mountains didn't test well at all. And see if you can give Reese a funny sister, or maybe a dog. A sister/dog sort of thing, who wants to be a doctor or a lawyer. And tone down the blood; we're going for the tweens with this one, and we want something a bit more upbeat. Shelley Long could be the mom.

    You're beautiful, kid! Seeya Thursday.

  3. I'm sorry they made you cry Paul, but don't take it out on us ugly women. That's why we climb the mountain, Paul. We're ugly. We have to find a secluded place to hide from society. Who asked you to follow and get all banged up anyway? There was a safe trail just off tot he right. You're silly. Silly and shallow.

  4. I love your story.

    It is so true as to make one cry.

    As you know.

    I have had similar experiences.

    I would not want to go through them again.

    I, too, would rather have a barium enema.

    Wait, check that.

    Could I have a coffee enema instead?

    Oo! Even better: a mocha enema!




    I feel better already!

    Best regards,

    Mr. Ray Truffle
    House of Truffles
    Connoisseur of Fine Enemas Since 1947

  5. My Advice Paul:

    Don't let the people in big chairs at the network give you, an actual creative person, Notes on a screenplay.

    The sad thing about networks today is, Dentists,Mailmen and Tax collectors are being put in charge of Entertainment, and squandering actual creative entertainers.

    Jeffrey Katzenberg recently made an arbitrary decision to make what was supposed to be a pure 2D animated film into typical CG lifelessness, much to the dismay of the entire creative team behind the movie, who SHOULD be the ones in the big chairs giving everyone orders.