“I am working on a number of projects at various stages of productions.”
That’s what they tell you to say when someone asks you, “So, what’s your next project?”
When I go through and count the number of story ideas I have started, partially completed, awaiting some form of re-write, or simply “boxed” for the time being, it’s close to 50 (plus or minus a few). It kind of depends on where I happen to start the project, in what file type I begin it, and where I saved it. I have several projects that I started in Notes on my phone because that’s when the idea struck me and I just started writing it then. Most of the stories are started on my desktop computer and saved in Dropbox. Some I started as Word files, some as Final Draft, some, more recently as Highland files.
I go back to these ideas now and then, pick up where I left off, or sometimes start editing again only to Save & Close again and move on to something else. I’ve found that the ideas that I come back to over and over tend to have the most staying power – but, of course, that can not be confirmed until actually seen through to completion and subsequent review. Admittedly, most will never see the light of day.
I heard an interesting take yesterday while listening to a favorite podcast. They were discussing the merits of live music by recognizable bands in smaller venues vs. bigger concert shows. They were talking about bands that put on fantastic shows even when they know they are not going to make a lot of money in a smaller setting; the bands that put everything into their performance but still know there is no payday at the end. So why do they do it? For the love of it. Because there is something that continues to drive them to do it. Regardless of if they are getting paid or not.
Often times I feel like that is the position I find myself in. I can not by any means say that what I write is – as I put it above – fantastic, but nonetheless I feel compelled to keep writing whether it becomes something or not. Much like someone feels the need and desire to draw, or color – it’s an outlet. I want to approach it in a professional manner and perform well – if only for myself and knowing I gave it my best effort and, in the end, achieve what I set out to create. I haven’t found anything more difficult than or more rewarding than writing.
I know there are a lot of people out there writing stories, screenplays, scripts, plays, etc. and all would love to “make it.” I can’t say that I’m not one of those people. Professional speaking, I can’t think of anything that would be more rewarding than to create a unique story – something from nothing – and have it create meaning or value or even provoke feeling in the world.
At the same time, money is not a requirement for me to keep writing nor a reason to stop. Not everything we do has to fit into the construct of being accepted or valued by “society.”
Many times I feel like what I am watching is just a re-telling of something I’ve watched before. I begin to wonder, Are there any new ideas? Or I watch something and think, How did THAT get made?
In particular, “good screenwriting” is formulaic. There’s this proven method and structure that clearly has worked for American cinema. As an audience we’ve come to rely on and find comfort in a certain structure. And, for screenwriters, I think we have to admit there’s some comfort in the structure and seeing a path forward. But at the same time, when we get so accustomed to a well-worn path that path eventually becomes eroded and more of a rut. It becomes a mater of balancing out the pattern of structure and managing the expectations of the “audience” while at the same time deliberately trail-blazing a bit.
An analogy, at least for me, can be found in rock climbing. In climbing there are direct routes, there are sit-starts, there are girdle traverses, there are eliminates, variations, and there are link-ups. There are flashes, red-points, pink-points, on-sites, etc. There are all these different approaches to “new-routing,” repeats, and various styles. It’s really up to the climber and what they want to achieve and how they want to achieve it.
I feel like in screenwriting it would be nice to see more of that. Sure, we have short films and feature films, narrative, documentary… But structurally speaking, we are fairly tethered to the 3 Act Structure (arguably, sometimes a 4 or 5 Act Structure). We rarely are accepting of much outside of this construct. We are all basically trying to re-create a new variation of the same type of film told again and again.
In some sense I want to push against what the market wants (“because it worked before”) and offer something different – whether it works or not. Maybe that’s presumptuous of me to think that way. I suppose taking my lumps and getting anything “out there” would be a better start before trying to break the very thing apart that I’m trying to be a part of.
On the other hand, I’m probably just overthinking it.