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Stories from a seasoned screenwriter. Take heart! Your creative source is infinite and un-ending. Sometimes Hollywood just rips up the roadmap back to it. The bottom line is that Hollywood is not at all as bad as it sounds. Additionally, it's worse than you can imagine. Remember to pack a sense of humor.


I am a screenwriter living in Southern California. I've written screenplays for most of the Hollywood studios over the past 20 years. One of the uncredited writers of FANTASTIC FOUR, I wrote FIRE DOWN BELOW starring Steven Seagal, and the TV Movie 12:01 PM starring Martin Landau and MANEATER with Gary Busey. I have directed short films. I have written on numerous Hollywood studio assignments, some for big shot actors, some for small shot nobodies.

Saturday, August 05, 2006


What any screenwriter is faced with, on any given day, is the endless testing ground between rigidity and flexibility. Because it's the only art form that is endlessly collaborative. Your friends will give you notes, your wife, your gardener will have an opinion. And that's way before you get studio notes.

What note do you listen to? How much do you change something even if the notes are good? And how much do you have to change something even when you disagree?

You will undoubtedly have to make changes from your first draft through your re-wrties and polishes, through to shooting. That's inevitable. And cringe, whine, anticipate or hope as we may, that is the one constant in our lives. The script will change. M. Knight Shymalyan wrote - I believe - 14 drafts of the Sixth Sense, realizing only about halfway through the process that his hero should be dead. Sometimes writing reveals the answers, and sometimes 'answers' are foisted upon us without a question. "Change the male lead into a woman and we can make it," is a favorite note of mine. (And not one to me thankfully. The changes were made. The script is still not made.)

So the real challenge becomes how to stay inspired, how to stay connected to the material, how to keep the thrill of storytelling alive amidst a barrage of changes that may deconstruct your carefully modeled Architectural Digest home.

Well, as a friend of mine says:"There are a thousand ways to do something right. Just pick one." There's some real wisdom here. So how to guide your transformation into something that keeps its vitality?

You have to keep in mind what your 'big idea' was that started the whole thing. The bright jewel, the sun in the sky that made you smile every time you thought of that story. That has to be kept alive, even as the bookends, and surrounding story structure change to appease the notes. If you have to re-seed the story with new roots to make the new structure make sense, grow them all from that original big idea - fight to keep that intact. Because in the end you can't win every battle in notes warfare. But you have to pick your fights. So always fight to keep the big idea intact.

There is an old Chinese saying that says something to the effect of:"The reed that bends, doesn't break." Some writers don't tolerate notes and would prefer to walk off a project. I prefer to keep in the mix, keep the story alive with me as the guide, doing my best to shine my light through it for as long as possible.


Blogger Belzecue said...

Phil, I love your blog like my middle child. But for the love of God, man, do a second read through before posting. I counted five glaring spelling mistakes, with the first in the title! ("Fexibility?" The ability to curse in Irish?) :-)

Mitigating factor: you are a busy writer, granted, and you blogging about it is a bit of gravy for the rest of us writing-schlubs. Love the content, and I don't want to harsh your mellow here. But think of the children!... I mean, think of the words! I didn't want to say anything, but... the adjectives are starting to grumble about the working conditions on your blog, and I just saw a consonant slip a shiv into its sock. Watch ya back, bro'. :-)

Monday, August 07, 2006  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

belzecue: You're absolutely right! Spelling checked.

Monday, August 07, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Phil,

Serendipity! I was thinking about just this topic today, and asking myself how to know where to draw that particular line. A great chance for me to post some confusion of mine here. Thanks!

I'd had an experience of endless notes during which I rewrote diligently, kept hold of the bright, shiny_star_core that got me so excited initially, and although several of the lesser-core elements had changed, I was pleased overall. You'd posted an entry around that time about a friend who'd written a dozen or so drafts over a several year period, and was finally green-lit, which was encouraging. Love reading those success stories, btw!!

But I'm still looking for that elusive 'rule' that would explain when to cut bait and run vs when to stay in the mix and fight. Both can be painful, and rewarding, in their own ways.

The most frustrating and confusing thing about this process for me is that sometimes, even the ideas that seem like total crap at first look sometimes aren't, and sometimes spawn new directions that couldn't have been anticipated had the crap not been waded through. Ugh!

So, it seems the battle for me is between instinct, belief, and 'stinking thinking.' Which is a roundabout way of coming full circle, because I still have NO IDEA where to draw the line and when to back away. Hope is a funny thing - sometimes, in certain situations, it can be a disastrous come-on leading to wasted energy and time. And sometimes the challenge of applying a new set of ideas can be much too tempting.

Add to this that there's always something else to be working on...

Any thoughts or comments would be appreciated.


Monday, August 07, 2006  

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