How do you know you have it in you to be a scriptwriter?

I have a friend who is a mechanical engineering graduate. Now he is planning to move to Mumbai to become a scriptwriter. Naturally, when the countdown has begun for the shift, the self doubt is creeping in. On one of such moments, he asked me- How do you know you have the talent to become a screenplay writer or for that matter, any kind of creative writing?

The truth is, you never know until have made your first sale or your first film. And often, your script getting produced is not an enough validation of your actual writing talent. Especially in our film industry. But still the question caught me. We make drastic and risky career choices based on the conviction that we can write. We spend a lion share of our spare time writing, shutting ourselves off from our family and day job. Often a little bit of objective perspective can save us a lot of loss and despair.

So, below are certain points that I could think of, which may help. But the standard disclaimer is, these points could be indicators of talent, but not necessarily that of success. More than that, these are points which should guide some one to understand how important writing is to himself.

The motive talks for itself

Are you into scriptwriting because you believe it is the easiest and least expensive way to break into film industry? Or because you absolutely love writing? Most of the other aspects of film making requires technical expertise. Expertise in screenplay writing can be acquired by sitting at home and writing. If that is why you turned into writing, be careful. Writing is learnable but the progress is much slower than learning to edit or capture a shot. And there are much less objective measures for your improvement (if any).

Have you written anything in the last 3 years?

Writers write. Talking and debating about writing, reading script gurus, analysing the scripts of recent films, writing blogs about scriptwriting- all these don’t amount to writing. Writers have this itch to punch out things- even if they are not on a grand scale. It doesn’t have any logic. But they go on doing it in some form or other. If you have not written anything for a long time, it is much more likely that it is a dispensable habit for you. Then why all this trouble because writer as a career is one of the most volatile, insecure, stress inducing and unpredictable professions.

 Is your writing appreciated by strangers?

Friends and family members don’t count. Also if the appreciation comes from a stranger even without your seeking for an opinion from this particular person, it counts more. Someone buying your script is the best and honest form of appreciation. Unless it is your parents.

 How much does success matter to you?

Imagine this. Your guardian angel appears in front of you and tell you that if you pursue writing as a career, you are not going to succeed at least for the next 10 years. Now be completely honest with yourself. Would you still continue to write now? If answer is an emphatic ‘no,’ one needs to reevaluate one’s options. Because the truth is, even if you are talented, probably you are going to take that much time. If you can’t the enjoy the process in the mean time, then what’s the need for the suffering?

Can you survive the scissors?

What makes script writing different from so many other forms of writing is that, unless the you are the writer-director-producer kind, your script will go through changes many of which you are not going to like. If you want to be the autocrat hermit, it is better to write a novel where the interference is much less. Producing scripts is about being good in the room, articulating your position and being willing for compromises. It may sound easy. But it is not. Because everyone involved with a film loves to give opinion on the script. But sometimes the writer has to sacrifice the pawns to save the king.

Some indicators of your flexibility are- 1)Does your script undergo drastic changes after first draft, based on feedback? I mean a page 1 re-write with complete restructuring because you liked someone’s advice? 2) Have you got into heated arguments with the person who gave feedback on your script?3) Is your co-writer still in talking terms with you?

 Ability to give intelligent feedback is not equal to talent.

Many of us are very good in breaking down and analysing films/screenplays. It doesn’t mean the scripts that we write are going to be good. A good script is not only about getting ‘things right’ and ‘avoiding mistakes.’ It is also about consistently good execution in every page and line. In a good script and film, good writing may appear deceptively easy and simple. Don’t get fooled by thinking that ‘it should not be that difficult to write something better than that film that got released last week.’ Because our judgement about a script is heavily coloured by the quality of the final film.

 Do you finish your projects?

Occasionally losing faith in a project is normal. But if the pattern is persistent, say out of the last 5 scripts none were completed, you need to be careful. A possibility is, your ‘shit detector’ is decent enough but your writing is very bad. Sometimes our mind knows even though we don’t want to openly accept it. Also it is possible that you are not able to sustain enthusiasm on a project for long. Writing a tweet and a script are different. There is no instant gratification while developing a script. You have to hammer on without any guarantees or encouragement. Is your temperament suited for such a process?

Photo by It’s a Keeper

Giving feedback: To hurt or to lie?

The Birds by Phillie Casablanca

One of my friends called me a few days back. He was drunk. He was very excited about this idea which he was planning to develop into this 30 minute abstract drama. It is always very tough when some one asks your opinion about something which they are really excited about. And it becomes even more tough because they call you because they expect you to be honest with them. So I told him the truth after coating some sugar on it. But the sugar coating wasn’t thick enough. Or so he felt. It ended up in a (one sided) polemic about why screenwriting is about selling out compared to writing for theater.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I don’t have any specific commitment or love for truth. If I am given a choice between hurting someone and telling a lie, I would always choose the second one without batting an eye. But sometimes you make a mistake about how much pain you can cause. You misjudge about the level of rejection some one can take. And often it is very unpleasant to think about the amount of effort someone is going to put into a ‘nothing’ because you also said ‘yes.’

It made me think about subjectivity and objectivity in relation to art. It is really tough at times. Especially with screenwriting, Continue reading

5 reasons why you should co-write a screenplay

Co-writing is an exercise every writer should try at least once. May be you feel that you are not a ‘team person’. You may have certain fixed priorities and personal preferences in mind and you don’t want to be steered away by a writing partner. But still, you should try co-writing on at least an experimental basis. Reasons? I will give you 5.

The learning curve is steeper

Believe me, we all have our own strengths and weakness. Having a co-writer helps to improve that self awareness. What you would learn by writing 3 scripts by yourself, you would learn by writing a script with a friend. It is because many mistakes we make, we know in a instinctive manner that we are doing it wrong. But the problem is, to openly accept the judgement of such an unconscious ‘shit detector,’ it takes us more time. But with a co-writer who is honest regarding the worthiness of your concepts and process, the duration to enlightenment is cut short.

You will feel guilty if you don’t write

Almost all of us believe that we have some ‘great’ ideas for movies in our mind. But an average idea which you have put down on paper is better than thousand brilliant ideas that you are never going to write. With co-writing, you actually improve your chances of really getting things done. Writers are notorious for their tendency to procrastinate. But if you have a co-writer, it is much more likely that you will keep the ball rolling as otherwise you will be wasting the time of another person.

Learn the team game

What really makes scriptwriting different from other forms of writing is the collaborative process which is the crux of film making. Even if you wrote a screenplay which was wrenched out of the intimate parts of your heart, it is going to undergo scrutiny, invite comments (including many outrageous ones),  and you will be working and modifying it relentlessly until the point it becomes a film. It is all about taking feedback with composure, defending what you really believe in, examining your own ideas objectively and being able to articulate the abstract issues in the script. Now if you have a co-writer, you are a step ahead. You have some one to engage and challenge your ideas even at the concept level. There is a lot of back and forth which gives you time to sharpen your axes and be ready. Also it teaches you to accept disagreement, realise that some one out there may be able to contribute a better idea than yours and to work towards a consensus by bringing in a third, even better idea.

Throwing more darts

Every co-writer brings something unique to the table which is not only about plotting or dialogue or characters. Some may be good in networking and some in getting the work done. Also the catchment areas of different people may be different in terms of pitching your finished screenplay. Some may have technical expertise or past experience which may be helpful in getting your script made. The trick is not in writing your screenplay but being in a better position to really make it into a film. With co-writing, you are widening your net.

There are many roads to the same place

Different writers use different processes in writing. Some outline a lot. Some like to plunge into the first scene and let the characters surprise you. Some believe in structural templates while some love to experiment. Some like to know their characters while for some, attributes of a character develop according to the needs of the theme and plot. Some research while some doesn’t. The problem is, for most of us, our process is set within one or two screenplays. There are different methods in writing a screenplay but it is unlikely that a person will experiment much. But if you have a co-writer, it is much more likely that you will be exposed to a different method, which who knows, may be even better than that of yours.

Photo by ratexla

Untitled Karthik Krishnan Project

Finally when I caught up with UKKP, it proved to be a worthwhile experience. Ideally, behind-the-scene stories of a film should remain behind the screen only. Also judging a film should not be influenced by a concession for the limitations of the film makers. But UKKP is one of those films where knowing the back story can make a lot of difference. With this film, I learned an important lesson. No film stands in isolation of the physical realities of its making. Be it a big budget studio project or an indie project, the logistical realities will heavily influence the story and theme. In UKKP, this issue takes a much more radical realisation; thats all. Continue reading

Short film script ‘The search’ sold

To all those friends and acquaintances out there who were asking about the status of ‘The search,’- it has been sold. The rights were bought by a film maker friend from Canada whose previous short film was screened at short film corner in Cannes 2011. We have worked on ‘The search’ together to develop it further. I think the current version is much better.

 Photo by Jeremy Brooks

To tweet or not to tweet?

The question is: to tweet or not to tweet?

Well I resisted the temptation until now. The main reason was that I didn’t want to leave a trail of half finished/ abandoned ventures behind me. I am having enough trouble updating this blog. And that too while trying to maintain a steady trickle of writing. I was sure that twitter would lead to another chain reaction of surfing, reading tweets, finding friends etc which would put another dent in my time. Strongest thing in favour of twitter was that it is much more easier to do. How much trouble is it to do 140 letters? And obviously the networking opportunities that it offer. If I had to utilise those opportunities I had to jump into the bandwagon before its too late. I am quite sure that the tweeting frenzy will also dip down one day just like blogging revolution did. Only thing is that tweeting is more easy than blogging so I guess it will last a little longer. So if I had to take the plunge, I had to do it now.

With a final push from a writer friend, I finally started my account on twitter three days back. I have given permission to myself to abandon it if  feel bored with the ‘140 word sweet nothings.’ And not to take it too seriously or invest too much time on it. My twitter account is this.

Photo by luc legay

Then who will read my fucking script?

JoshOlson-thumb-200x296

Shahul sent me the link to an article named ‘I will not read your fucking script’ by John Olson, the writer of the adapted screenplay ‘History of violence.’

Basically the article talks about issues regarding some one requesting to give notes on their scripts. Appears that some ‘mutual’ friend was not happy with Olson’s take on his script which lead to a fall out. The essence of his argument is that reading some one’s screenplay takes a substantial amount of your time with extra time for making notes on it- why should some one waste time on it when in the end most probably truth will be rewarded with grudges? And he raises the point that no one really understands what it takes to read some one’s (bullshit) script and comment on it. A struggling writer is asking for a professional opinion. But do you ask a doctor for a medical opinion in between a party?

Well I can understand Olson. It also gives an inkling regarding the dynamics involved while offering your script to someone to read. We take it for granted that this should not be much of a trouble. ‘It’s only 120 pages.’ But what a budding scriptwriter doesn’t understand is that a celebrity (film maker) gets thousands of such requests in a week. So though a refusal may appear rude, showing any kind of consideration will be devastating.

So how should a budding writer approach such a situation? Continue reading