Now that I call myself a writer (it took years to say that) I find myself wondering what I’m about. Poetry doesn’t seek an audience, but screenwriting demands one. And years of not being published have taught me that while a writer needs to write, that compulsion is no reason for anyone else to applaud — or even pay enough attention to yawn.
Screenwriters in L.A. are chewed at the edges by whatever it takes to get a script optioned, bought, produced. That gets a writer inside the room for writing assignments (90% of screenwriter income, says the WGA). I see other writers (and have myself tried) to squeeze out the Killer Concept — cheap to make, familiar but different, all-ages audience appeal, with juicy roles to attract top talent. Put on a blindfold, and we might be brainstorming a new-and-improved toothpaste.
And so I find myself in revolt — uninspired by that exercise which degrades quickly to some lower/lowest denominator. I find myself steered less by where the studio money is than looking for people doing interesting work (“find your people and go forth only with them”). Actors, directors, audiences who want emotional logic and words that reward their time and attention with — if I do my job well — an iota of something new.
There’s an audience for everything, including schlock (which can be fun). I begrudge no one able to make a living at it, but I have zero creative time left for it. I hate the waste of the unmotivated and gratuitous – the writer’s equivalent of that fiery explosion out of which the hero emerges untouched. Anyone can lob a grenade and walk away. But writers should have the decency to stay and make sense of the mess they make.
Our culture is cracking open, and there are more ways than ever to get a story into the zeitgeist. That means we have a chance to see the world through something other than the adolescent hard-on that drives consumer culture and makes every relationship a transaction — a series of power plays dressed in politically correct words and giggly humiliations. What’s a writer’s place in that? What is my place in that?
Every time we engage with entertainment, there’s a chance to see — not just look, but see. And we can have a helluva lot of fun doing that. I don’t want to spend my time adding one more episode to the sleepwalking dream. I don’t know if I have anything useful to say, but if I’m not willing to try — to hold myself accountable for my own hypocrisy — to implicate myself in what I ask actors to inhabit — then I’m not a writer. I’m a shill for what’s broken in our culture.
*line from Closer by Patrick Marber