By Mark Borchardt on 11th December 2014
I own a number of screenplay books. Nonetheless, on occasion, I like to peruse the shelves of our wondrous library system to engage the world of chance and discovery. To borrow a book is a temporary flirtation with another world and not of the specific lands of your own shelves. And it was on one of those magical perusals that I came across “Tales from the Script.” It was one of those “experience and advice” books on screenwriting that’s accommodatingly broken up into very doable segments.
Cut to the present. Again I found myself in the good company of an embracing library. It was the rebirth of the Milwaukee Eastside branch. Once a low-lying ode to days gone by, it has since been succinctly demolished and on the exact site has been wondrously reborn. This time it has taken the form of an ethereal cathedral with a high ceiling and expansive window walls allowing a large view to the outside world and all the light of that world to fall back in. Description enough?
Moving on, a man of business, I eagerly and diligently scanned the documentary shelves and if you had an fMRI hooked up to my calculating mind at that point, you’d see it light up in brazen excitement as I came upon some titles that noticeably piqued my interest. And one of them happened to be “Tales from the Script” directed by Peter Hanson. A documentary, it turns out, in adjunct with the book itself. The tides of coincidence struck.
So, now to that film. This isn’t one about the techniques and craft of writing but rather the Hollywood reactions that you’re going to encounter once you‘ve got that script to bandy about. But before you proceed further: if you’ve got the psychological resilience comparable to the substance of mush, you may not want to tread the waters of this film just yet. Or, on second thought, maybe you should. Maybe you need that blatant and impact-ful wake-up call that awaits you if you dare to enter the Hollywood ring. Make no mistake about it, if you do decide to walk out onto that precarious mat, script in hand, you’re going to take some heavy-weight punches, and the robust assembly of hardened scribes collected in this film will thankfully do a little warm-up sparring with you.
This is a string of talking heads, but a fascinating, if not necessary one, as one screenwriter after another allows you the privilege of imagining the dutiful horsewhipping you’re about to get if you go the Hollywood way. Enter at your own risk – you’ve been dutifully warned. And these are all hardcore writers present, so the quotable aphorisms they provide are ubiquitous to the extent that I’ll skip the lot and let you enjoy the cavalcade yourself.
Notable bigwigs check in: Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption), Ron Shelton (Bull Durham) and Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) to name a few. They’ve made it to the top but they know where they came from and still appear feet planted firmly on God’s green earth. But, hey, where’s Joe Eszterhas (“Basic Instinct,” “Showgirls”) in this bombastic mix? I had the distinct pleasure of reading his thick tome regarding his wild adventures in the Tinsel Town screenwriting trade, “Hollywood Animal.” A Hollywood warrior through and through, and if I were you, I’d dig into those sordidly hard-won yet always insightful pages.
And those big boys can inherently warn about Hollywood but they are of Hollywood, like it or not – for they are as deeply entrenched in the game as anyone else is in the impetuous business; they’re just coming at it from a different vantage point – as the ones doling out the words.
And make no mistake about it, Hollywood screenwriting is not writing for yourself, you‘re last on the list on that one – you may think differently in a flightier moment – but the clamps of ironclad groupthink will come down hard on you with a resounding “thunk.” Makes that poetry book you’ve always wanted to write sound just a little bit better at this point, doesn’t it?
And other writers contribute with their humble origins, such as Antwone Fisher (“Antwone Fisher”) a security guard on the Sony lot before becoming a part of its hallowed halls, or Mick Garris, who was on food stamps before Steven Spielberg got him on board with his television series “Amazing Stories.”
Adam Rifkin (director of the forthcoming and wonderful peek at low-fi guerilla filmmaking, “Giuseppe Makes a Movie”) lets us know that you’d better take your writing career as seriously as a full-time job. Ain’t that the truth. Middling will never be a match for merciless.
Writer/Director/Cineaste Paul Schrader (former film critic and writer of “Taxi Driver”) is always an appreciated presence and guru William “Nobody knows anything” Goldman offers his prestigious insights and advice. Check out his “Adventures in the Screen Trade,” a benchmark book of tales from the front.
Amid the sage advice and harrowing tales are slight but juicy clips of films that relate to the trade: “Bowfinger,” “The Last Tycoon,” “In a Lonely Place” and such. Make a list of the many films they offer and check them out or give them a necessary revisit.
All in all, this (inspiring?) film decidedly lets you know that your script can be chewed up and spit out in the blink of an eye, and in some bizarre instances, only the title may remain. Yes, that has happened. It’s the furthest thing from poetry and playwriting, a form where every sentence, word and syllable down to the comma is sacred text and only the author – and only if they so choose – has the authority to change one previously indelible word.
It’s a wild gambit out in Hollywood land but the pay-offs can be incredible. Yet the reality of it is, you’re only hearing from those who’ve made it – the other 99% are the silent majority sulking in the unsung shadows with tails firmly returned between their legs.
So, warning shots have been fired. You can still take cover in the safety of your own living room, and avoid the volley of fire that awaits you out in the City of Angels. Or you can go for broke and either end up curbside along the road of disheartening rejection or find yourself at the top of the plaza thanking whatever god you got that you took the chance.
Personally, I’d recommend getting the sincerest amount of joy from writing for yourself first. If you expect that joy to come from others – you’d better check in with Vegas first.