Is it really a "sacrifice"?

I was just perusing one of the screenwriting bulletin boards and stumbled across a posting from some guy who asked why screenwriters “sacrifice” their lives simply to write movies. Gee, would he feel better if we sacrificed our lives selling insurance, or selling cars, or driving a forklift? So I replied to him with this quote from screenwriter Phil Alden Robinson:

“…All over America and all over the world people will sit in dark rooms and watch something that only existed in your head. And they’ll be moved, or entertained, or enlightened, or touched…and a part of it will stay with them and become a piece of their memories, a piece of their life. And this movie that you imagined, and that is the product of so many people working hard for so long, this movie that against all odds turned out pretty good, this movie that bears your name, will outlive you. You will have succeeded in leaving something behind with this power to touch people. Something that says I was here. And I tried. And this is what I did when I was here… To have even a chance of accomplishing that is the prime reason we create.”

Thanks, Phil, I think that sums it up pretty well.

They steal ideas, don’t they?

I hear it all the time: “I’m afraid to share my script idea with other people – they might steal it!” Oh, c’mon, do you honestly think your idea is so good that someone will take it for their own and turn it into a script? Sorry to be the one to tell you this, but odds are pretty decent your idea isn’t that good. (They say “ideas are a dime a dozen.” Actually, bad ideas are a dime a dozen; great ideas are one in ten thousand.) But OK, let’s say you do have a pretty decent idea. Let’s say you post a logline on some website bulletin board, or you share this idea with members of a writers’ group. Then let’s say someone takes your idea, makes it their own, turns it into a fantastic screenplay and sells it to Warner Bros. for $350,000. Now you’re calling me on the phone, sobbing hysterically, “See, Jim, I told you so! Someone stole my idea!” Here’s what I’d say back to you: “So why’d you sit on the idea for so long? Why didn’t you write the script? What talent did the other guy possess that you didn’t? In fact, I’d like to find that other guy and buy him a drink. Good for him!” Look, this is a business where only the strong survive. If you’re not smart enough, talented enough, and/or motivated enough to get your scripts written and thrust out into the world, don’t get all bent out of shape over the guys (or gals) who are. As far as I’m concerned, if someone is clever enough to get a creative spark from your germ of a half-baked idea/premise, craft a storyline that can fill a 90-minute movie, and then spin it all into 110 pages of Hollywood gold...well, my hat is off to that person. And no, don’t get it into your head that I’m condoning script theft. Not on your life. I’m talking mere ideas here; or perhaps a handful of your script pages that someone has read. So, if you don’t want your ideas stolen, don’t share them with anybody. That’s right, keep all those nifty ideas to yourself, tucked away nice and safe...where they’ll more than likely die a slow, moldy death in the dark, web-surfing/video-game-playing recesses of your brain.

Truth be told...

I was recently on one of the screenwriting bulletin boards (ugh) and I saw where somebody had posted a question about honesty when it comes to critiquing the work of a friend or associate. In other words, if you read a friend's script, and the script sucks, do you tell this friend what you really think, or do you keep it to yourself? Well, I usually get paid to give my opinions of scripts, so I tend to be brutally honest. After all, telling some lousy writer, “Oh, your script is really good!” ain’t gonna do him much good. (Sadly, based on past experience, actually telling him what’s wrong with his script ain’t gonna do him much good, either.) If I'm doing the critique for a friend, I'll still be honest, but I'll do it with a smile. But anyway, this honesty question got me to thinking about a meeting I had with a producer a few years ago. Nice guy; I liked him. Anyway, he had produced a handful of movies, one of which had recently been released to DVD. In fact, I saw this particular movie about a month before the meeting. It was a truly awful, awful movie. I mean, I don't mind a movie with some flaws, a few bad lines of dialogue, some not-so-great camera work...but this was baaaaad. So anyway, this producer asked me if I had seen his flick. I said, "Yeah, actually, I just saw it a few weeks ago." He asked, "So what did you think of it?" I sort of shrugged and told him, "I can’t say I cared for it much." He looked at me for a moment, and I thought maybe he’d be a little ticked off, but then he said, "Yeah, it wasn't very good, was it?"

And so it begins...

I'm not entirely certain why I decided to start a blog. After all, I already have three websites -- and pretty much anything you can know about me (at least that I'm willing to tell you about) is there on those sites. But hey, maybe this blog will be fun. Anyway...

As some of you might know, I'm a screenwriter in Los Angeles. To date, I've had a couple of movies produced. I've done quite a bit of assignment and rewrite work, too. I've currently got several projects in the hopper. I think I'll see at least one of them go into production in 2007. This particular project has been a real roller-coaster ride the last few years. Yup, it's a crazy ol' business, but I sure love it.

While I have your attention, I'd like to invite you to visit my other blog—a blog for the pre-pro screenwriter. Lots of tips, lots of newbie questions answered. You'll also find info about my new book, Q & A: The Working Screenwriter -- An In-the-Trenches Perspective of Writing Movies for Today's Film Industry. If you're a screenwriter -- or if you have plans to become one -- I hope you'll pick up a copy (available online at virtually all fine booksellers).

Well, there you have it, my very first blog. To be honest, I have no real plan to publicize any of this. But I hope you've found me....and I certainly hope you'll stay tuned for future blogs...and the continuing adventures of The Working Screenwriter.