During the nearly 5 years I’ve run this blog, I have been privileged to do one-on-one interviews with a number of screenwriters, especially this year as I set a goal to post a Q&A per week for 2013.
Over the course of those interviews, it’s been fascinating to learn the variety of approaches to the craft, yet at the same time how certain themes recur.
Recently I was struck by five personality traits and five skill sets that keep popping up. So I thought it would be helpful to do a series, a checklist if you will, of aspects of things we should be mindful of as we develop as screenwriters. Today:
Screenwriting Trait #3: Consistency
Consistency. Pretty boring word, right? Very left-brain. Perhaps conjures up images of accountants and bankers. But we’re talking screenwriting. Why is consistency an important trait for practitioners of the craft?
Another word that begins with “c”. Comfort. As in comfort level. And that works on 2 levels as well.
There is the comfort level of the buyers. Remember: Studios executives operate from a primal level of fear. Justifiably so. Movies that fail to generate greenbacks and end up in with red ink have a way of creating pink slips.
Every major studio is owned by a ginormous multinational corporation that cares almost exclusively about profits. Yet as William Goldman famously noted about the business of making a movie, “Nobody knows anything.” So every single project that funnels into and through the script development process gets assessed on multiple levels to make some business sense of out what is essentially a mysterious undertaking. So the most fundamental thing to happen for someone on the other side of the desk to muster up the guts to utter “yes” and green light a project is hitting their comfort level. That means story concept, talent, budget, genre, marketing, and yes… the screenwriter.
One of the all-time great screenwriters Dalton Trubmo
The screenwriter needs to have talent.
The screenwriter needs to be a team player.
The screenwriter needs to be able to communicate well.
The screenwriter needs to be a problem-solver.
But a screenwriter also needs to show consistency.
Primarily that means a consistent level of quality in scripted projects. A sense that s/he will deliver the goods this time like they have before. But also consistency in how they interact with everyone involved with the project.
They want to believe they can rely on you. If you have demonstrated consistency, along with all the other traits noted above, hopefully you can hit their comfort level.
There is another way that consistency comes into play… and that is for the writer him/herself. For you need to hit your own comfort level. You need to know that you can deliver the goods on a consistent basis.
Imagine this. You write a spec script. It’s a really good script. It lands you representation. The script circulates around Hollywood. You do the bottled water tour. In one meeting, they toss out an idea. Suddenly the heavens open, the Muses shine down on you, and you start spitting pearls of creative genius. The story unfolds right there in the room, exciting everyone on the other side of the desk. Before you know it, they are on the phone with your reps and holy crap, you have landed a Hollywood writing assignment!
Cut to your lawyer’s office about four weeks later. You sit staring at a contract for your writing services. The sum you are to be paid is six figures. Sweet! But then there is this other set of numbers, the due date for your draft: 10 weeks from now.
10 weeks. 70 days. 1,680 hours.
Do you have the confidence you can meet that date?
If you have learned your craft… and practiced it writing multiple scripts… and tested out various approaches to prep and page-writing… and have zeroed in on your writer’s voice… and have established work habits when it comes to your writing… if in other words you have demonstrated consistency as a writer… then hopefully you will hit your own comfort level, empowering you to write the hell out of that project.
A few observations by writers about the value of consistency:
“You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it.” — Harlan Ellison
“I write only when I’m inspired. Fortunately I’m inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.” — William Faulkner
“It doesn’t matter what we write so long as we write continually as well as we can.” — C.S. Lewis
“Being a real writer means being able to do the work on a bad day.” — Norman Mailer
“If I waited until I felt like writing, I’d never write at all.” — Anne Tyler
Tomorrow: Screenwriting Trait #4: Flexibility.