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Hollywood dreams

January 18, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Among my many habits that provoke much familial eye-rolling is the daily trip to the mailbox, from which I return, muttering that Hollywood never effing calls.

Everyone knows that good news never comes by mail, of course. And Hollywood has no reason to call, seeing as I’ve never sent anything that way. It’s just an old inside joke around here, which goes back to a former job:


Employees of XCorp, including VP INFO SYSTEMS and SOMERSET, sit at a large table, drinking beer and eating steak. Laughter rings in the air; the mood is celebratory.


What about you, Andrew? Where do you see yourself in five years?


I intend to write a screenplay, sell it for a zillion dollars, and get the hell out of this crummy zoo.

Anyway, I don’t work there anymore. But I have always been interested in screenwriting.

In fact, when I originally scribbled out the idea for my upcoming novel, Combat Camera, I thought it would be a screenplay. But when I went to write it, a little voice said, “Somerset, you have no idea how to write a screenplay. Make a novel of it.”

(About 40,000 words later, the same little voice said, “Somerset, you have no idea how to write a novel, either.”)

More recently, I’ve been working on short stories. Short stories and I have not been getting along. For various reasons, writing these things has ceased to be fun. The ideas haven’t been exciting.

About a month ago, I ran into the kind of thing that does excite me, one of those things you run into surfing the web at random: what if you took this thing, and combined it with this other unrelated thing? (What if you took the greatest living combat photographer and put him in the pornographer’s studio?)

So I mulled this thing for about a month. And I thought, this could only really work as a screenplay. So on Friday, I told the little voice to shut up, and started sticking index cards on my wall. On Saturday, I fired the little voice that demanded a complete outline, and just started writing the thing.

And by Sunday evening, I had 46 pages and a rediscovered joy in writing.

This is a purely enjoyable form. It is, in a sense, the worst possible form for any serious writer; anything you do will simply become a blueprint for someone else to revise. Your precious words are worth approximately squat. But in a Zen sense, the journey being the destination, that’s irrelevant.

It’s worth doing because it’s fun to do while you’re doing it: watching the thing gain shape, watching characters take form, watching the whole thing accrete mass and grow richer. Nothing is firm; everything has the potential to grow in significance and redefine the whole idea. This richness is what attracts me to longer forms, I think; I don’t find it writing short fiction.

And the screenplay, I find, has its own special challenges. You don’t get to play with words here, except in dialogue. You don’t get to pull out all the stops and dazzle with your descriptive powers, etc. You get to do essentially two things, in a first draft: plot, and write dialogue. I like writing dialogue, but plotting … plotting is a bugbear for a lot of people, and I’m one of them.

If you’re writing, say, a sendup of the heist caper (who, me?), then you’re going to have to plot. So even if this project goes nowhere, I’ll be happy for that discipline.

And you have to dramatize everything. Unless you’re going to cheat with voiceover. This is also good discipline.

I’m wondering why I didn’t do this years ago. But I know the answer: that little voice.

Categories: screenwriting, writing
  1. January 19, 2010 at 8:42 pm

    It’s true that a screenplay is a form that can never fulfill its own promise. Pasolini put it more eloquently when he said that “a screenplay is a structure that is trying to become another structure.” It is quite slippery.

    There are some wonderful books out there on independent filmmaking, too, in case your script doesn’t get optioned just like that. Christine Vachon’s “Shooting to Kill” is a great memoir about indy filmmaking that actually gives great tips.

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