Over The Rainbow? The Writers' Lament
Pity The Poor Writer
I've written under all circumstances for over twenty years - scripts, short stories, novels, industrial videos, blogs, articles, etc. Modestly speaking, I'm pretty good at it. I know that because people pay me for that particular skill set.
Yep, lots to learn (emphasis on 'lots'") but let me make this point at the top - I study storytelling for a living. That's what I do. So, I should know a little more about it than your nephew, girlfriend, stranger off the street, right? Oh you agree? Then why are you changing my story, characters, themes and plot based on their opinions? In fact, why are we having this conversation at all?
You think I'm being a dilettante writer? Fair enough. Let's talk about that.
Chill, Dude. It's just Your Flipping Career
Let's get the big points out of the way. First, I do get that these are gray areas and that I am over-simplifying for the sake of making my point - it's called...writing - where have you been?
With that out of the way, let me talk directly to all the so-called producers in the world.
Dear Mr., Miss, Mrs., Ms, Other Species, Producer-Person,
- Yes, I do understand that film is a collaborative process. Do you? Collaborate doesn't mean (or shouldn't mean) just do it my way.
- No, I do not think that I know everything there is to know. Do you?
- Yes, you can make good points at times but when I say it won't work, you should respect that since I am "the expert" you hired to write your story.
- Yes, I do respect you. Why don't you respect me?
- Oh, and I do get that there are many ways to be right. Do you know how many ways there are to be wrong? You should. You live it every day.
- No, I do not really want to shove my fist in your stupid face and kick your ass down the... ahem. Nevermind.
Would you go to a doctor and after he or she diagnoses your problem then suggest that you know better how to cut that cyst out of your neck? How about a mechanic? He says you need a new transmission, based on twenty-odd years of being a mechanic and actually having studied and understanding how a car works (do you?) - and you say "no, that's not the problem." Computers? iPhones? Airplanes? You gonna want to tell the tech who's designing, building or diagnosing that he or she is wrong or that in your opinion it should go this way or that? Do people tell cops how best to chase a bad guy? Firemen how to fight a fire?
Oh, you do think that it's okay to do that under certain circumstances?
Great. Here's my problem...
Why did you hire them in the first place? Next time just read a book, watch some YouTube videos and do it the hell yourself.
I mean, even fitness coaches get more respect than most writers.
A Little Cheese with That Whine?
This problem is most irritating when it comes to film because everyone thinks they can write or make a film. They think that watching movies on Netflix, knowing some trivia about John Sayles films, or understanding that film noir came out of the German Expresssionist movement, makes them experts - or "good enough" to make a movie. Siderant: Potentially the worst are MFAs (Masters of Fine Arts) who imagine that after a few semesters of film theory and film history, and some in-class writing, they can tell you how to write. Pah! Only writing makes you a good writer. Get that? Only writing makes you a good writer.
In music, you don't get to be a world-class musician unless you practice every day, for hours a day. Sure, anyone can plink and plunk "Chopsticks" or play "Michael Row The Boat Ashore" on the guitar (or perhaps even the opening to "Stairway to Heaven") but it's those pros, those men and women who put in the bloody-finger-time, hours after hours who are the true maestros. If that's true of musicians, mechanics, techs, doctors and even fitness coaches why would anyone assume anything differently from a writer?
Let's just take me, for example. Tens of millions of words written in all forms of narrative. I've watched thousands of movies, TV series, short films and broken down on paper at least 1,000 of those. I have them in my files here in my office. I write, write about writing, and teach writing so I've studied film and writing from every angle I can find. When I hear a song, I don't think "nice tune" I think "nice story" because I've even broken down the structure of well-written songs like a film. If, as Malcolm Gladwell states in his book "The Outliers", it takes 10,000 hours to become "an expert" then I am an expert conservatively times two. I live, eat, drink and breathe story.
Can I be wrong? Can I write a bad script? Can I be so full of myself I don't see obvious problems in my work? YES! But here's the important part. If you ask me to change something and I say it won't work and give you well-informed reasons then YOU SHOULD LISTEN! You should listen because I am the expert - not you. Saying, I'll know it when I read it or I know what I like is not reason enough to take what you're saying and change things. You've had some success at making movies? So have I or you wouldn't have called me in the first place!
Why don't you get that?
Baby, Sweetie, Love Bug...
The best producers I work with have strong, competent opinions about the work they do. They have a vision, a way - they're not casual about their work or opinions. They don't sit by the pool and "baby, sweetie" the world. They're in their offices early, stay late and have no personal lives because they are as obsessed with their careers as I am with mine.
And here's the most important part of what they do: They listen to the people they hire; the experts. They may ask and probe and suggest and contribute but they listen. They know that story is not a simple thing. If it was, every movie, every TV series, novel and short story would be a work of enduring genius.
In Which I Excuse My Bad Behavior
You wonder why writers are drunks or drug addicts? It's because we've given up trying to make sense of arbitrary and idiotic notes, opinions and mindfarts that you think smell sweet because they came out of your brainhole. We've gotten used to (read as: capitulated) being vetoed and our stories re-envisioned according to puerile sensibilities. I mean, why fight it? I might win that battle and lose the war being tagged as an unresponsive writer and not find work again. It's a small world after all in the film community - hah, now you can't get that ditty out of your mind. Would you like to know why? I can tell you. And I'm sure the writers of that song could have also because they STUDIED music.
I'm off-tangent. Happens even to us "geniuses." (kidding, I'm kidding - it never happens to us geniuses)
Am I or any other writer Pope-like in our literary pronouncements? No. But we are right a great deal more than we are allowed by an industry populated by l'enfant terrible, idiot-savants who switch opinions about as fast as a child in a room filled with toys. They have the focus of an ADHD dog ("SQUIRREL!") and yet they think that they know best and finally what your story should say.
Sigh...where's that bottle of vodka? Time for breakfast.
I don't think I've seen a more salient argument for letting the experts do their thing than the brilliant Christopher Guest short that played during the Academy Awards. Although it indicts focus groups as bad guys, look at "the man" behind the curtain as to the real reason why Hollywood is in so much trouble.
Over the rainbow, indeed. Let me buy you a ticket there - and the end of my foot.