• Peter Clarke

Why I Started Writing Screenplays

I was skeptical when I first heard someone say that the best writers today are in Hollywood working on movies and TV shows. Then again, until recently, I subconsciously bought into the notion that actors and directors are the underlying forces behind cinematic productions. You just put these people on a set, give them a camera and a few million dollars, and then wait for the next summer blockbuster to appear, right?

Imagine someone seeing a stage production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and thinking, “Wow! I can’t believe that director and those silly actors created something so sophisticated!” The factor missing in this equation is William Shakespeare.

Once upon a time, the best writers wrote epic poems. Then came stage plays. In the 1900s, everyone wanted to write the great American novel. Today, if you’re up to speed with the times and want to reach a large audience as a writer, there’s a good chance that your name is Beau Willimon and you just finished writing Season 3 of House of Cards for Netflix.

Aside from Mr. Willimon, notable authors who have written screenplays include John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, Truman Capote, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ray Bradbury, Roald Dahl, and Dave Eggers, to name a few.

How I Found Myself Wring a Screenplay

I’ve been writing poems, songs, short stories, and novels for well over a decade. It never crossed my mind to write a screenplay. I’m a writer, after all — not a dabbler in vapid media creations.

About a year ago, I was taking my lunch break at work, walking along a path beside the San Francisco Bay, when I started thinking about a novella I’d recently completed. A particular scene flashed to life in my mind. It seemed amazingly cinematic. “I have to film that,” I thought.

Awesome! So (I figured), I’ll get some friends together; we’ll get a camera and some sound equipment, hike into the Santa Cruz Mountains, and make it happen!

I fantasized about this project for only a few minutes before I realized I would never be able to pull it off. There’s no way I could muster the resources, let alone the talent.

Giving up on my initial scheme, the next logical prospect was to get someone else to film it. However, to do that, first you have to write a screenplay. “No problem,” I thought. “I’ll just write a screenplay.”

I went back to my desk at work and started listening to lectures on YouTube about screenwriting. Over the next few weeks, I listened to dozens of lectures on the topic. I also purchased several books and started attending screenwriter Meetup groups in San Francisco. Finally, I felt committed enough to purchase Final Draft, the industry-standard writing software. Less than three months later, I had my first screenplay finished. I went on to complete a second screenplay, and I’m currently working on a television pilot.

Are Screenplays Legitimate?

People in the film industry seem convinced that screenplays are fundamentally not stand-alone works of art. I don’t care. Screenplays are no less entertaining to read than stage plays. More importantly, screenplays are fun to write.

A short list of the reasons I like writing screenplays:

  1. Screenplays can be written way more quickly than novels.

  2. You’re forced to pay attention to character development and story structure (things that are easy to neglect in literary novel writing).

  3. There’s excitement in the fact that you can potentially make a buck and reach a large audience if your work is produced.

  4. The best writers today are in Hollywood writing movies and TV shows.

Number 4 still irritates me. It might possibly be a bunch of crap. Then again, read the scripts for Breaking Bad and House of Cards. You may be inspired.

*This post first appeared at Fifth Wednesday Journal.

#screenplay #writing

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