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 #1: Passion
I like to start off my interviews by asking how and when the writer caught the movie bug. And not surprisingly, almost all of them say they have been fervent movie fans since they were children. Often it was the influence of older siblings or parents who exposed them early to films. Or their living circumstances were such that their primary source of entertainment was attending a movie theater.
Whatever the scenario, it’s remarkable the degree of passion these writers convey about movies, a longstanding love affair with this particular story form. In effect for these writers, movies are more than just entertainment, they represent something deeply personal and there is a powerful emotional connection to the medium.
Speaking for myself, I cannot imagine my life without movies. Some of my most important, even transformational moments have come about as a result of watching a movie. If I go out with friends or even strike up a conversation with a stranger, it’s virtually certain that I will bring up a movie reference or quote a line of dialogue to make a point, they are that much a part of my language system. Perhaps it’s because I’m a military brat who moved around a lot as a youth, but no matter where I was living — California, Alabama, North Dakota, Virginia — the movie theater was a sanctuary, a place I could go to participate in one story universe after another, creating a vast reservoir of images, sounds, and psychological associations in my mind.
In other words, I love movies.
Everything I hear from the screenwriters I interview as well as from my own personal experience tells me that to have any chance of succeeding in this business, first and foremost you have to have a deep, powerful, even irrational passion for movies.
It is passion for movies that provides the energy to even believe you have what it takes to succeed as a screenwriter.
It is passion for movies that sends you down the path to watch them, study them, analyze them, and learn as much about the craft of screenwriting as possible from them.
It is passion for movies that compels your butt onto a chair to write, even if it’s last goddammed thing in the world you want to do.
So my question to you is this: Do you have a passion for movies? An authentic, powerful and empowering fervor for film?
And this: How is it possible to know one has that obsession? What signs does a person exhibit to suggest they have an all-encompassing passion for movies to propel them toward success?
Here’s a simple test: Do you actually watch movies? I’m frankly shocked by the number of aspiring writers with whom I interface who talk about movies, but don’t actually appear to watch many of them, at least on a regular basis.
If you have a genuine passion for movies, this shouldn’t even be an issue. As part of the 1, 2, 7, 14 approach to the craft I posted some time ago, I suggest you watch 2 movies per week. But honestly, you are better served if you’re watching more than that. If you want to stand any chance of competing against top professional screenwriters, you need to immerse yourself in the world of cinema, and that means – in part – watching a ton of movies.
Yes, we’re all busy. Yes, watching a movie requires a couple of hours of precious time. But again, if you have an obsession for movies, you will find the time… because your passion will keep pulling you to watch them.
So that’s one way of determining if you have a fervor for films: the frequency with which you watch them. What are some other indicators? Please join me in comments with your observations as well as your thoughts about how important passion for movies is related to the possibility or likelihood of success as a screenwriter.
Tomorrow: Screenwriting Trait #2: Courage.