NO PASSION = LOUSY WRITING

Several years ago, a producer I had had some dealings with asked if I would pen a screenplay about Edgar Allan Poe. Since this producer actually had a line of produced films with his name on it, I saw a very good opportunity. He was also offering a halfway decent paycheck for my efforts. So I listened to his idea for this Poe script, which was about a very specific period in Poe's life. It definitely sounded interesting, but deep down it wasn’t exactly my subject of choice. I mean, I’m not really into stories about 19th century poets/short story writers. But hey, Poe was a troubled guy and he married his own cousin, so I figured it would probably be an interesting story to tell. In other words, I psyched myself up and tried to come up with story points that I could really sink my teeth into. So meetings were held, contracts were signed, I deposited a nice commencement check…and I went to work. 

The next eight weeks were sheer drudgery. Yes, there was material I had fun with, material I found quite interesting, but this just wasn’t a story I was much interested in telling. But I slogged my way through, ultimately producing a 110-page, “first draft” screenplay. (The reason I put quotes around “first draft” is because a first submission draft is rarely ever the writer’s actual first draft; it’s more like a third or fourth draft.) I sent this draft to the producer and waited for notes. Deep down I knew he wouldn’t be thrilled with the script. What can I say—my heart just wasn’t in it. 

Several days later the producer called and said he’s like to take me out for lunch. (This producer loved meeting at restaurants!) So I met the producer the following day, we had a nice lunch...and he told me how dissatisfied he was with my script. He said there was plenty of interesting moments, lots of good dialogue…but overall the script just wasn’t “heading in the right direction.” So I was off the project…but hey, no hard feelings. (Months later he hired me to do a rewrite on a contemporary thriller. Now that was a genre in my wheelhouse.) 

I suppose what I’m saying here is: If you’re gonna write, write what you love. Write what you have a passion for. If you don’t, you’re fooling yourself and you’re kinda wasting your time. If you’re lucky enough to be getting paid for the work, you’re also kinda ripping off the guy who’s signing the check. 

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APRIL 2015 ANNOUNCEMENT: My debut novel, Luigi's Chinese Delicatessen, is now available in paperback from Amazon.com and Kindle e-book! (You're gonna love it cuz it's all about Hollywood and screenwriting!)

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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Man, I disagree with you. Yes, if you write your own script , then you are passionate for a few months. But, for example, adapting a novel for a good pay takes discipline and the passion might come later or never. As a screenwriter we have to make money. Forget passion. Just work hard. It's a job. Passion and motivation is made up as we go along in life. Screenwriting is hard work. Sure there must be passion in the first day. But after that it's hard work. We have to shut up and forget our ego attitude and baggages an just work like a worker. JUST WORK HARD and make money.

Jim Vines said...

I've been in the screenwriting game for 20+ years, so yes, I know screenwriting is a job and it's hard work. As for book adaptations, I've adapted several, and have never had any problem getting the work done--and I've always turned in scripts producers were happy with. But this particular "Poe" project just didn't get my engines revving. Not exactly sure why that was, but there ya go. I'm a firm believer that you don't write simply for the paycheck. Why spend 3 or 4 months working on something you're not going to enjoy? I think it's important to work on projects you want to work on, that you know you can sink your teeth into and do a solid piece of writing. But hey, that's just me.