Saturday, December 11, 2010
Screenwriting is hard.
That’s hardly a news flash. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first draft or thirteenth. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t sold a single script or have a list of credits as long as your arm. It’s hard. There’s a reason why Academy Award winning screenwriter Matt Damon chooses to act instead of write. Not that acting isn’t hard. It just isn’t as hard as writing.
Awhile ago, I wrote about how much more difficult it is to write screenplays today given that the prime movie-going demographic represents the most experienced “story receptors” in the history of mankind (see Story Receptors). Well, I was thinking the other day of something else makes it hard.
Every semester in my introductory screenwriting course we do a script-to-screen analysis of the film Witness. As we were watching it recently, it occurred to me how differently that story would have to be written today than it was just 27 years ago. At one point, I asked my class a simple question: how would this scene change for today’s screenwriter given the existence of cell phones and the internet? There was silence for a moment, then the answers started flying. The consensus was that entire scenes would have had to have changed. In which case, so would the story.
Go ahead. Give it a try yourself. Watch any movie from fifteen years ago or earlier. I’ll bet there are countless moments where you would be forced to question the writer’s choice back then had the technology been the same as today’s. Indeed, there are entire movie plot lines that can’t really be written today given our technology and how connected we all are. Looking for a lost love? Yeah, log onto Facebook, make a few keystrokes. That’s one short movie. Sleepless in Seattle? Apply Google and watch it change entirely.
Today’s writer has to not only consider technology when thinking about their movie’s premise, but has to take it into account in every scene along the way. Want to disappear these days? Good luck. There’s GPS in your cell phone. And just try negotiating today’s world without a credit card. Need cash and think you can do so without leaving a trail? When is the last time you asked a bank teller for a withdrawal from your account. Hell, when’s the last time you saw a bank teller. Everything has changed.
So what to do about this technology angle, beside whine? Well, for starters, recall that we have the most experienced story receptors in history ready to read your script and they will have iphones on their nightstand and Facebook open on their laptop and they will be thinking about technology while reading. So you best make sure that you thought of how Google, Facebook and cell phones might affect your scene and story choices.
Then again, you can look at this as an opportunity. We have technology today that even Blade Runner hadn’t envisioned. And that provides you with story possibilities that didn’t exist outside the sci-fi genre just fifteen years ago. So use it! Remember those cells phones and the internet when you write your rom-com or drama. Make them an essential part of your story.
Of course, remember also that in about fifteen years, that film you write today will look about as dated and quaint as Witness does now.