by Rona Edwards and Monica Skerbelis|
Ask anyone... The screenwriter is the backbone of the industry. Sometimes they are cast aside too soon, replaced by others, used and abused...but without them, there would be no movies. Writers are the ones who start out with a blank piece of paper and fill that page with story. From that one blank piece of paper is born a screenplay. If it ain't on the page, it ain't on the stage. Directors might rewrite them, actors may challenge the dialogue, a producer may offer strong suggestions or changes to the material, but through it all, it always starts with the writer. This truly collaborative medium kick starts with the writer's words, which are then handed over to a producer and/or director to fully realize on the silver screen.
With over 40,000 screenplays registered at the Writers Guild of America every year, and 5,000 scripts submitted to each studio, not to mention the production company submissions, the question always comes up-how do writers get their scripts noticed out of the myriad of stories that pass through an executive's hands on a weekly basis?
Writers usually believe their material is ready to be shot. However, they are not always the best judges when it comes to their own stories. They're just too close to the work. Enter a producer and/or development executive who helps mold and shape the script into a "shootable" movie. It's not always easy and it might even take more than one writer (and many drafts) to get it in front of the camera.
A lot of times, writers can be defensive when given notes, and either shoot themselves in the foot by ignoring the development notes or get bogged down arguing over minor details that often don't even affect the outcome of their story. In return, the movie doesn't get made. Screenwriters can be too accommodating as well-when the writer follows the notes explicitly without standing up for specific points that work best for the story, thereby caving into others' opinions and going against the writers own inclinations and creativity...and the movie doesn't get made! It's a delicate balance. So, in giving and receiving notes, how do the writer, producer, and executive achieve a delicate balance of being able to recognize what is:
· Good for the studio or production company;
· Good for the screenplay;
· Good for getting the movie produced;
· Good for the writer's career;
· Good for the producer's and/or executive's career.
Writers tend to forget that the studio or indie finance company is ultimately footing the bill and if the buyers can't get what they want, why should they pay for it? Again, this is not to say that a writer should just be "a lamb trotting along to the slaughter," but rather that screenwriters need to know when to fight what battle, and when to try and make the script work to satisfy the powers that be (who sign the checks).
If a writer does not want to take notes or make changes; if he simply does not want to rewrite his material, then he should be a playwright. The film business is not for him. The Dramatists Guild (which governs writers in the theatre) is very clear that no one can change a word, a line, or even a punctuation mark without the writer's permission. In contrast, when it comes to the medium of film, it is always about the rewrite and a writer has to be resigned to that fact or change professions.
So, how should a writer approach taking notes from executives and producers? One of the key components is "listening" and having an open mind. Be flexible. As the writer, you don't have to agree or disagree to anything up front. Take it all in, then if some things stand out as a problem, you can bring it up with an eye toward brainstorming for solutions. Sometimes a studio exec has no time for this and the writer should be able to recognize this and take up his or her concerns with the producer or the production company executive. Sometimes out of that brainstorming comes an even better idea, so it's important, if at all possible, to engage in this kind of scenario in order to dig deeper into the script to bring out more story possibilities. The writer should not over-analyze the notes, especially in a meeting. We've been with writers who have to discuss every note and the meeting lasted for hours when it should have only lasted maybe one! No one has the time and everyone expects the writer to just "get it." If the writer receives a note they strongly disagree with, or maybe even sounds ludicrous, it is important to understand where that note is coming from-the rationale behind it and why it is necessary to change it. Of course, "bad" notes are always difficult to handle...no one wants to hear negativity. So, how do you refuse the note without insulting the source? The best way is to engage that person in a conversation in order to get to the core of the note and, hopefully, the note will then start to make sense. Sometimes it's just a "bad" note. However, more times than not, through discussion, notes become clearer to all involved.
Producers, directors, actors, and studios need writers. It all begins with the written word. However, writers need studios, producers, directors, and actors to bring about the complete realization of their stories. They need development executives to find their material, to bring it to the attention of the powers that be, and also to recommend them for open writing assignments. It's not enough to just have a good script; you need a good team to help bring it to the silver screen. And that is the ultimate goal for everyone.
You can contact Rona and Monika via their website: www.esentertainment.net
Rona Edwards and Monika Skerbelis are the co-authors of "I Liked It, Didn't Love It: Screenplay Development From The Inside Out" from Lone Eagle Publishing. They have worked as development execs and producers, and collectively have 25 years worth of experience in Hollywood.
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