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Open Collection of Student Writing (OCSW)

Screenwriting

Think of the last movie you watched. Was there a plot? An in-depth analysis of the characters? Detail to the story? I wouldn’t be surprised if these elements all just happened to be absent in your cinematic experience. Movies aren’t written the same way they once were. Screenwriters are taking shortcuts and storylines are getting dumbed down. Nobody wants to think through their movie, they want to be treated like a baby. And the screenwriters know this. They write the story and characters as if their audience is a bunch of two year olds. You spoon feed your audience, burp them after, and then pay them down for a nap. Anything too extensive or too hard to follow is going to lead to a grumpy and ornery audience that does nothing but whine. Basically screenwriters and nannies are one in the same.

When you’re babysitting a child and they start crying for their toy train, you don’t give them a book instead even though you know it’s better for them and you want them to learn. You give them the toy train and accept the fact that the kid is going to do what he wants to do. That’s exactly how movies are written. You could write a deep, riveting and intellectual piece that changes a person’s way of thinking and challenges social norms. But that’s not what people want to see. People need their gunshots, explosions, and beautiful people. And that isn’t how it used to be. It used to be all about the writing. A movie was similar to a novel in how much work went into it. Michael Ferris, a hollywood screenwriter, says:

“If you read scripts from the 50s, for instance, it will be light years different from the type of scripts written nowadays, and one of those key differences is how the physical pages of the script look. Back then, they looked much more like novels.  Now, they look like someone took a chop shop to a novel, and left the body of the car on bricks.”

The script had to actually be decent. And that’s not the case anymore. Case and point, Spring Breakers. If you haven’t heard of it, don’t bother looking into it. It’s basically the story of a couple girls on spring break that decide to start robbing banks. Was there a decent plot? No. Were the characters well written? Of course not. You know what it did have? A script with a lot of nudity and an all star cast. Because that’s all it takes. The writing of a script isn’t half as important as it once was. Screenwriting used to be a craft, and it was hard. Screenwriting was comparable with writing a novel, but writer James Bonnet blames time restrictions for that change.

“The novelist creates and describes everything that appears in the novel — the characters, the emotions of the characters, their actions, their thoughts, the plot, the costumes, the atmosphere, the environments, etc. And many of the early filmmakers and movie moguls were like novelists in that they were the primary creative artists (film writes) who had the responsibility for creating everything that would become part of the film. But they didn’t have the time to do everything themselves, so they had to hire others to do the costumes, design and build the sets, act the parts, operate the camera, direct the action, create the special effects, and so on – all things which novelists would do on their own.”

These days anybody with a pen can write a movie. And they do. You can google “how to become a screenwriter” and you’re set. You take a thirty minute course and all of a sudden you’re  qualified enough to write a 90 minute film. But is that enough? Maybe I’m being particular but I feel as though you need to know more than simply how to use Microsoft word. A movie needs to make people think, and it needs to have people walking out of the dark theatre into the daylight and thinking they’re seeing the world for the first time. But most (not all obviously) screenwriters aren’t in it to teach and influence. It’s a money thing. And as long as money is the end goal, movies aren’t going to challenge and entertain us the way they once did.

When it comes to writing screenplays, most people think, “How simple, I might try my hand at that.” But screenwriting isn’t an easy gig, there’s simply a low bar that has been set and made the entire career look like anyone can do it. The problem is that there is such a high demand for screenwriter, we have hundreds of movies come out each year and thousands of tv shows on the air. But so few qualified writers lead to many mediocre writers getting hired. These mediocre writers really aren’t terrible, they’re just unaware of how hard screenwriting really is. It’s not simply writing down some dialogue for a tv show or taking a great book and changing the format. There are so many different elements that go into writing a script, as explained by the following script reviewer who receives drafts of scripts daily,

“Screenwriting is just REALLY HARD. A lot harder than it looks.  Moviegoers assume all screenwriting is is coming up with a cool hook and some witty dialogue. The most obvious of which is creating a seamless story. That’s something most people outside the business take for granted. They assume seamless stories are a given. However, when those same people come to Hollywood and give screenwriting a shot then send their screenplays to people like me, they learn the hard way that their stories are borderline incoherent and that it actually takes years of hard work to create a seamless story.  Not even a GOOD story.  Just one that makes sense from beginning to end.”

Honestly, I simply think screenwriting is underrated and so many be don’t realize the work that goes into it or the knowledge needed to write a screenplay. It’s not like writing a novel or short story, it’s in a category all its own. You have to be able to format, write dialogue, create an easy read, have a clear message, know your audience, keep it condensed, and yet still maintain an actually decent piece of work. But, with so many screenwriters wanting to take the easy way out, many are turning to novels and simply transferring that to the screen. Now is this a bad thing? On the one hand, they typically change the characters and stray from the original storyline which is always disappointing. But on the other hand, this has brought so much attention to books and written pieces that went seemingly unnoticed before their on screen adaption. So I’m not sure where I stand on that point. My issue is strictly with the bad reputation screenwriters have received, and it’s not unwarranted. I want the bar to be raised again. I need the writing to be improved and the work on screen to reflect the work being put onto the page.

Keywords: screenwriting, screenplay, script


Work Cited

Screenwriting Article – Why Movies Are So Badly Written And What We Can Do About It.” N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2017.

Writing Screenplays vs. Novels: A Tough Love Guide for Writers. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2017.

“How to Write a Script: 7 Ways Writing a Screenplay is Different Than Writing a Novel.”WritersDigest.com. N.p., 27 Nov. 2012. Web. 27 Apr. 2017.

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