I wrote short stories for a long time, and then two things happened; I watched the series The Wire, and I was lucky enough that the director Petar Orešković became interested in one of my stories and made a short film based on it. I want to use that cliché now – and the rest is history. But clichés are so cliché, and a good screenwriter avoids them like the plague and seeks a better idea. And now we come to the mousetrap of a good idea.
At first, I thought everything I needed for the script was a good idea. This is undoubtedly one of the prerequisites, but it is not enough for a GOOD scenario. Namely, it takes an immense amount of craft skill that comes with countless trials and errors. But how to acquire it?
The most important thing is the romantic vision of a writer/screenwriter who writes in a secluded place, preferably in a house by the lake, and with a bottle of fine Chianti and a box of cigarettes in a rush of inspiration.
It does not exist. In case I wasn’t clear, I will repeat. It. Does. Not.
It is the imagination, the escapism of these same screenwriters and writers who, in reality, struggle to cover the white page with words and deliver the text in time, while the environment wants them to find a real job. I’m not exaggerating; as I write this, my baby is crying in the next room, and I would love to be teleported to a cottage with a lake.
Secondly, this is not Hollywood. And by God, not Bollywood! To be completely honest, it’s not even Nollywood, but a small Balkan cinema province. Nothing is impossible, but this fact should be kept in mind and adjusted to your fairytale and dreams accordingly. One should not stop dreaming but needs to be aware of the market situation.
Further more, despite all the above, some things are universal and apply to all screenwriters, no matter how small the market. And the most important is – you are worth as much as your co-workers are! A screenplay is not prose, a screenwriter is not a writer, a film or a series are team activities, which means you need other people to make your idea come to life. With enough effort, you will find collaborators who will appreciate your input and help you improve your skills. Then together, you will create a mega-successful project and conquer the audience and critics!
But let me go back a little to the skill and how to acquire it.
It is crucial to read other people’s scripts, and some manuals on writing them. Many colleagues often mention Robert McKey’s “The Story” or Syd Field’s “Save the Cat” as their Holy Bibles. There are many different manuals on the Internet, and to add a few more, “The Art of Dramatic Writing” by Lajos Egri, “Write a screenplay” by local screenwriter Jasmina Kallay and “Poetry” by Nicolas Boileau. The latter is a seventeenth-century French drama theorist. Namely, the guy wrote two verses (be careful, it was still written in Alexandrian at the time) that stuck in my memory.
The first verse:
“Blessed be the poet who can smoothly, go from sweet to sad and from bitter to sweet”
He is referring to the art of writing twists. What’s the deal? If there is no turnout in the scene, there is no scene! No one wants to watch characters whose moods, or the situation they are in, don’t change. Shit, there are, but all five of them live in France. And yes, their compatriot Nicolas Boileau is turning in his grave. Anyway, a scene is a film in miniature, and for the film to function as a whole, the scenes also need to function. Observe your favourite movies, and you will see that it is so.
The second verse is worth quoting:
“Hasten slowly, and without losing heart, put your work twenty times upon the anvil.”
What did the poet mean? He wanted to say DO NOT GIVE UP and rewrite the text if necessary twenty times. It’s not a joke; if you’re not ready to rewrite the text twenty times faking it, don’t even think about writing a screenplay. There are so many other nobler, more lucrative and more effortless occupations.
Prize question, how many times do you think I rewrote this text?
He would add another universal wisdom – value your time and choose carefully which project you will spend it on.
It seems strange because what the hell then to endlessly refine the text if, on the other hand, you need to value your time? But here, in that bush of finding balance lies the rabbit of wisdom. Fuck, I just ended up with a cliché. But the rules are there to be broken if there is a justification for it, and I found my own in this example to demonstrate it.