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As is not uncommon, I too did an end-of-year review for myself, about this past year. And of course screenwriting has had a big part in it. I actually became a member of the Screenwriting page on FB at the very beginning of this past year as a New Year’s resolution, an active step to do more with my passion for storytelling, film. And then on February 1, I decided to start this journey of writing my first screenplay. And look at where I am now? When I started, being clueless about the speed of the writing of a screenplay, I of course had no idea where I would be at this point. I remember asking someone on the page, in the very beginning, how long it took him to write a screenplay and I think he said something in the lines of 3 months, or even less, I don’t remember exactly. But that was of course before I knew about all the different stages of the development of a story, and then the screenplay itself. And that person’s background also and what not.
There is this quote that we often overestimate what we can accomplish in one year, but underestimate what we can do in 5 years. Did I think I’d be much further by now with the screenplay itself? Of course. Did I highly underestimate how difficult the art of screenwriting is, despite being forewarned by Robert McKee in such a compelling way at his Story seminar a few years back? Absolutely. But did I also underestimate how much I would know by now, having gained so much in knowledge and understanding of this amazing art, and the practical side of it too? And it really becoming part of my DNA, and would never have imagined that that was possible within only a year. Even more so.
And although there is still so much to learn and I still have not written my own screenplay, I am no longer on that uncertainty platform I was still on a year ago. This element, this part of filmmaking has its own universe. I’m not saying that the other elements of filmmaking are not important, quite the contrary, I have elaborated on that many a times already, but what I mean is, that I had no idea how much there is involved in this part of the filmmaking process. And how many skills one needs to get this right. And some talent very welcome too. Only now do I really feel the truth that screenwriting is indeed the most difficult job there is. Not just of filmmaking jobs, but all jobs. Nothing, and I mean really nothing is as difficult. Advancing in Lajos Egri’s book The Art Of Dramatic Writing on the subject of the character, has made me even more aware of it. And it’s partly for this reason: stories are about us humans and how we function on all levels. Everything of us is incorporated in this art of storytelling. As a screenwriter, you are expected to not only understand humans, but also assemble them together in one story and make that work. So that we, those same humans, will relate to that story and recognize what we see and are touched, affected by what we see displayed on screen. We humans, who are so complex that we hardly ever understand ourselves and our own motives and actions completely, put this burden on the screenwriter. Strangely enough, we expect that a screenwriter does grasp this all. And then orchestrates something we never fully are able to orchestrate ourselves. The screenwriter is like a puppet player, with an almost God-like view, and hovers over the earth and places people together, often juxtaposed, so conflict will emerge. And an attraction. And not based on random luck, but on truth. Do you have any idea what is needed for that? For centuries already we are trying to discover the secret of human relationships and why they work or don’t work. When we have a conflict at work or with a friend, our spouse, or even in politics, we rarely even scratch the surface of the real motivation and background and reason for such a falling out, such a conflict to happen. Or an attraction for that matter, despite our attempts to. And yet, it is expected of the screenwriter to just whip this up, and in a believable way, because let him not dare to present it in a way that does not look convincing to us, even though we have no idea of the exact science why it does not convince. And we are then quick to judge, despite having no clue how to really do it ourselves, even though we all say we do, myself included in the past.
Job: screenwriter. Requirements: to know everything there is to know about how humans behave and why. And how the brain works, how it perceives, understands and is able to take in and remember stories. How the brain’s gratification system works. What attention span is and how that works. Just to name a few minor things. Oh and of course, being meticulous as heck, attention to detail, but have an exquisite talent for keeping a good overview as well. Also mastering the correct formatting, of course, this being no small detail either. And on top, this the difference between a novelist and a screenwriter, being able to write it all in a concise, compelling way, fit for the screen. And I’m going to leave aside for now what comes after writing the screenplay itself, getting into the lion’s den trying to get it to the screen. Remind me again why I want to do this? And how it’s possible that I actually feel confident I can do this (and for the first time without the oblivious, ignorant ‘I actually have no clue what it contains and what I am getting myself into’, which befalls almost everyone trying something new and often ignorance is bliss in it, because most of us would fold immediately if we knew how difficult something really was, this in any job and anything in life for that matter), despite struggling with this phase 3, writing my own screenplay now, by the lack of a good idea or so I thought, which turns out to be much more complex, as I wrote about in the last weeks. But who knows, perhaps I will only end up becoming a master in understanding it all and explaining it (neither small accomplishments), and not writing any myself. I don’t think I would mind so much in fact.
I am now also fully convinced that those who say there are no rules and no one knows what works, just do whatever OR those who claim to know the formula, that they are both wrong. And like with most things, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. You cannot just apply some rules and formulas and your story will work. And neither should you just write anything, whatever you want, and disregarding the principles, which are not formulas, that have proven to work well. That much I really do know now. Apply yourself. Gain understanding how it works. Of humans and the craft itself. You can’t do this without either.
When thinking of writing this end-of-year review, the feeling ‘ruined for life’, but in a good way, was actually the first thing that came to mind. I now know so much more of this very difficult craft, that it has become impossible for me to think about and watch movies without this education about storytelling and screenwriting in my mind. My brain can no longer look at and take in stories in a ‘normal’ way. And I expect it to never leave me again. And I don’t mind that. In the beginning somewhat, because the gap between the good stories and the bad stories became bigger and more noticeable. What before I could still just watch and tolerate and enjoy even, some of those are now becoming almost unwatchable. Where before those stories could still hide from me, staying undiscovered and trying to divert me with their pretty images and effects, no longer can a bad story now stay undetected from me. I have X-ray eyes now and where I at first thought of it as a shame, because sometimes you simply want that mindless entertainment, my brain doesn’t accept that anymore and literally feels unsatisfied and then wants something good to wash that bad experience from its mind. I’m serious. When I come home after seeing a great movie, I am full. I need not watch anything else. But with a bad movie, I must have something good after. It’s like eating an exquisite meal and you’ll be content for the rest of the night. Or vice versa.
I remember in the beginning of this journey (on Day 12) that I was afraid that knowing more and pursuing this could possibly ruin my love for storytelling all together, because I would know too much about it. I am so relieved that I can safely say now that that’s not the case, because I am well passed that point of knowing enough about it already to determine that and I still love it to bits. So, no matter where this journey will go and what I will do with it eventually, by diving into it I luckily have not ruined my life-long love for it. A big reminder to seriously explore and discover whether something is for you professionally or not, when you love it a lot, but are unsure you should take it to a next level and whether you can go back to ‘just’ loving it and not doing anything seriously with it after all. Having said all this, I of course am bluntly reminded that I am not in the business of screenwriting seriously yet. But I see that as a different part of it. My fear was more about taking apart the craft itself, how stories work or don’t work. Thankfully, we can lay that aside.
I am grateful for all these great developments in this past year. Where I will be on this particular journey one year from now? I haven’t the faintest, honestly. I do know that I want to know and understand even more about storytelling. And share that understanding with others. It is too much of an amazing and valuable art to not share it. To speak in Oprah’s words: that I know for sure. So, let’s hang on to that positive note. But concerning this particular screenplay, however optimistic I was in week 42-43 of this journey only a few weeks ago, I am actually not that confident now. Will this first draft of the screenplay be written within the course duration still? I don’t know. Technically I still have 30 days now, in its grace period. Will I grasp a right idea at all? Have the right premise? Have that convincing story in my mind? And then just write that first draft of it? Will I be able to kick that perfectionism out the door and stop beating myself over the head with it? It has to be possible. It just has to be. Come on. Maybe not in the course duration, but surely in this coming year, subject to unexpected circumstances of course. I know for sure (of course I do not) that I will eventually be able to tap into those right ideas, multiple. And then just write them out. I really do know too much about this craft now not to. Now I really don’t have any excuses on that front anymore. I just have to do it. Even if it’s only this first screenplay. You owe it to yourself and this journey you’ve been on. Shall we say then, apart from understanding the screenwriting craft even more in the coming year, to at least aim to having finished the first draft of this first screenplay in 2017? It feels itsy bitsy small, almost too small, but yes, let’s aim for that, at the very least.
Here’s to the new year 2017 then. May it be filled with creative & other beautiful developments and may we become even more who we are meant to be, in every way.