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The Curse of Bad Cinema
After I wrote my first screenplay, I got busy with real work and couldnt really push it much and so it sat for almost a year. When I picked it up again and reread it, I couldnt believe how schmaltzy the dialogue was. I immediately did a rewrite and began to push it in earnest. I sent out query letters to every agent in the Writers Guild of Americas list and got one reply? by phone even. I used the two-day priority mail at the post office to send him my screenplay and within a week, I got a call from a producer. They both loved my script and wanted to join forces to make it their first feature. After several phone calls, I was encouraged to do another rewrite to make it more "salable" and after that, I was asked to send a copy to five different agencies, including one of their contacts at William Morris. I was very excited, but after a while things seemed to grind to a halt. I had written something that had nearly perfect timing, but I was totally unaware of the tremendous obstacles facing out-of-town writers. Maybe Ill share more about all that in the future, (I just reread this and realized I was rambling) but for now the important thing is, that I didnt even realize my dialogue sucked until much later. This got me to wondering: If I was so sure about the greatness of my script when I first wrote it, and it sucked; then how could I ever be sure of anything I wrote? And especially when it comes to scriptwriting. Scripts are a difficult read for anyone and unless you have a lot of experience, its hard to tell if what youre reading will translate well to the big screen. I needed unbiased and objective opinions on my work and no, you cant give a copy to your friends or your parents and think theyll be honest with you. You have to search out people who will respect you enough to tell you what you may not want to hear.
Which reminds me -- I watched a film recently that really "bit the big one" on so many levels I cant even begin to choose where to start in describing its failures. It hasnt been picked up yet, (thank God for his tender mercies) but a lot of peoples time and energies and resources had already been spent in making this colossal mistake. However, completely oblivious to reality, the Writer/Director/Star thought it was a masterpiece, an excellent film, destined for greatness. Luckily my opinion was never requested and I didnt know him well enough to offer it, but someone should have.
And thats my point. Please, if you know someone whos about to commit this crime of "Bad Cinema," find a way to let them know. Encourage them to have the script looked at by a professional. Beseech them to have more than their girlfriends opinion on it. Im a delinquent member of our citys screenwriting club and have yet to get one of my scripts read, but its such an excellent idea. Every few months they get local actors to rehearse and read a script and the membership gathers to hear it and give a critique on the work. It can be a revelation or an affirmation, but totally invaluable in helping the screenwriter grow in his craft. Another thing you can do is to pay a professional in the business to read your script, but here you have to be very careful. Take the time and do the homework. Make sure whoever is offering this service really has the credentials they claim to have. Look up their credits on the Internet Movie Database, and see if they are who they say they are, and have done what they say theyve done. Even just someone in the "biz" should have a better handle on what sells than most of the friends you might have had read your script.
The bottom line is, be willing to work hard to make your script all it can be before you shout, ?Lights, Camera, Action! We, the viewing public will thank you for it. With so much garbage being produced and sold, well soon reach a boiling point where a flashy video jacket and titillating loglines wont impress us anymore, because we will have been burned so many times, and well start demanding of the stores that they only buy good material?.. hmmmm? what a concept.
Bill Johns is a seasoned veteran cameraman, filmmaker and digital video commentator. Send him a note with your comments, or take a look at his website.
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