News, opinion and announcements from Stowe Story Labs
ARE YOU WRITING A SCREENPLAY?
SIX THINGS TO THINK ABOUT
As part of the follow-up to a tremendous lab we wanted to share some thoughts about the vagaries of this industry. We must always re-center ourselves in the work because the industry is fickle. There is no guarantee of income let alone success. Rocchio named his company .03 Percent Films for God’s sake. If you do not plan to hunker down, work like mad, buck the odds and do all listed below, you should move into another sector with security (yes, that means a government job). If you are like us, however (yes, that means insane, unstable and relentlessly focused on the absured) follow along with the notes below.
We hope the labs offer insights and authentic value to those that aspire to succeed as writers, filmmakers and/or creative producers in this industry. Many of you are, indeed, already doing the work to a high level of success. None of us would take the time and make the serious effort to learn more if we did not want to improve.
Beyond the tangible, think about these six values to help you move from emerging to established in this world:
1. Be absolutely sure that story you want to tell is a movie. More specifically, make sure it's a long form, narrative film. And be honest. Is it something else? A play, a short story, a novel, a nonfiction book, a documentary, a poem? If it’s not truly a feature film don’t try to make it a feature film. We want to write movies and shows because they are today the premium storytelling apparatus for all humanity. Problem is, we may not be properly considering the needs and expectations of the audience. In other words, we are not 100 percent committed to entertaining people the way they expect filmed entertainment to, well, entertain them. And this is, after all, a business first and art fifth.
2. Find your voice. Being a technically proficient writer is important but not as important as having a singular, particular, meaningful voice. Is there anything "odd" about you and the stories you want to tell? We do not mean this in a stylistic "gimmicky" way, but in a compelling storytelling fashion. You may very well know the "rules" of structure cold, but must still unleash that final, most critical, factor in screenwriting: YOU.
Your sui generis philosophy about the world, based on your experiences, must be in every sentence. If it is not, put it there.
3. Find your humor. In life, you may be a funny person with a good sense of humor, but you must effectively transfer that to the page. Regardless of genre, seriousness of subject matter -- whatever -- to make the leap to the next level all writing (yes, even comedies) must contain meaningful, genuine, visceral humor.
And here’s the trick: Real, genuine humor, in any piece of writing, requires risks most writers are too frightened to take (see number 2). Being safe = swift rejection.
4. Find your network. If you have devoted all of your faith and trust into the belief that, one day, being invited into some mythical "industry" is going to suddenly swing open magical doors forevermore you shall be wickedly disappointed. If you rely on the merit of the word on the page, which will be judged solely based on the art (fifth most important element in your work) to propel your career you will become bitter and angry.
Screenplays do not make movies, people do. People invest in you, not the writing (which of course must be good). Learn how to build and nurture genuine personal relationships before expecting anything from them. If you are only building relationships to get something you are not building relationships, you are using people. People, even hardened, calloused film industry types, don’t like to be used.
So, hold off asking a favor until the moment when you almost don't need the favor. Think of people you’d like to work with and ask them what you can do for them, not because it will come back to benefit you but because you truly would like to befriend and engage that person. The relationships will develop if what you have to offer is so damn good, it almost doesn't matter who decides to help you. At that point you’ll be in the envious position of working with fantastic people you love on projects you would do for free (actually, already are doing for free). You will then love your life almost as much as should a professional baseball player (but that is a different story).
Be yourself. Be confident in the value you bring. Enjoy life and the industry. Don’t drive after a late-night party at Karen’s house. Relax.
5. Do the hard work. Finding success as a full-time writer is a slog. It never gets easier -- only much, much harder. That's because you will always take on, and balance, more and bigger challenges. Real artists don't have a "cruise control" mode where they settle in to a smooth working life, filled with satisfaction. (Okay, a few do, but ignore them.) Every single project (no matter what you convince yourself of on the front end) leaves you battered and bloodied as a prizefighter -- with that same psychotic compulsion to get right back into the ring for another beating.
6. Become lucky. Find the mojo. Buy a four-leaf clover, a horseshoe, a rabbit's foot (though, it wasn't lucky for Mr. Rabbit). Surround yourself with lucky bastards, or have your pencil blessed by a priest. Luck is a real thing and, while you must do all the above things to put yourself in the best possible position to be lucky, this business requires truckloads of karma and magic dust. Make it.
Chris Millis & David Rocchio