Only A Hero Can Save Us
I’m currently reading Tales from the Script by Peter Hanson and Paul Robert Herman. It’s a great read that I would recommend to anyone who is a working screenwriter or who is hoping to someday become one. The book has numerous interviews with professional screenwriters and shows each of their viewpoints on the craft of screenwriting and how screenwriting fits into Hollywood. The let downs of being a screenwriter is consistent with every one of them, no matter if they’re selling screenplays for $1 million or $20,000.
The screenwriters all talk extensively about the abuses that come with being a working screenwriter. The list of abuses include:
- Having no creative control or rights to the intellectual property that they created.
- Having to do multiple rewrites and revisions for free.
- Being fired from projects and replaced by other writers.
- Having to implement notes from producers and sacrificing artistic integrity.
The list goes on and on. As I read the book I asked myself why screenwriters have it so bad in Hollywood. I would rationalize the screenwriter contributes just as much if not more than the director or lead actor since the screenwriter created the blueprint of the film, but the difference in treatment is stark in comparison. Then the answer hit me. The reason why screenwriters can be treated so poorly is because no one knows who they are.
Last week I started my fall semester of teaching screenwriting at Fullerton College. My morning class was filled with 35 new students whom were all-aspiring to become successful screenwriters someday. I mentioned Shane Black during my lecture and not a single one of them knew who he was. I’m talking about Shane Black here, the highest paid screenwriter in the business who gave us Lethal Weapon!
Directors and actors get bad treatment too, but not to the same degree as screenwriters. The reason why is because people know who they are. Mention a successful actor like Al Pacino or a successful director like James Cameron in any room and everyone will know whom you are referencing. The same cannot be said if you mention a successful screenwriter.
Writers by nature are very introverted and studious people. Our greatest asset, the ability to be isolated from the world to concentrate on our work, may also be our biggest detriment. We spend so much time researching material and being glued to our computers crafting our latest tale that we don’t get out there and sell ourselves. Anyone working in this business can tell you that networking is just as important, if not even more important, than being good at what you do.
Coming from an MMA background, I have been there plenty of times to see fighters who were nobodies become international superstars overnight. The way the fighters do it is they’re always constantly selling themselves. They do everything that they possibly can to get their names out there: sell T-shirts, do interviews, make appearances on TV shows, etc. I think screenwriters can take a page from the fighters’ book if we want to have more power in Hollywood.
If we take a look at the book-publishing world we can see how different that business is for writers. In that business, the writer is the star. Stephen King can write whatever the hell he wants, own all of the rights to it, and have all of the creative control he wants because people know his name. If he writes something that the publisher doesn’t like, he can say, “screw this guy,” and go with a different publisher. He has that power because his name itself can sell.
What we as screenwriters need is a champion for all of us to get behind. We need a hero who represents us and is a household name.
Look at what Mike Tyson did for boxing in the 1970s and 1980s because he was household name and champion for the sport. I’ve read articles proclaiming Diablo Cody as being the celebrity screenwriter who shows the most potential of being the hero that we need, but only time will tell if she’ll be able to fill those shoes.
Torture Chamber Productions
August 29, 2010