As an aspiring screenwriter myself now writing for NFS for a few months, I have searched for advice from professional screenwriters that would be useful to the NFS community. My personal preference is to learn more about the craft and career of screenwriting from working, professional screenwriters. Of course, screenwriting gurus who are not actually screenwriters offer advice to aspiring screenwriters through a litany of seminars, books and websites -- some of which can be useful -- but always make me wonder about their true value (or harm) for those of us striving to learn the craft day in and day out. The other day, Scott Myers at Go Into the Story posted this quote from writer/director Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile) that crystallized my thoughts:
The whole industry of ‘we can make you a screenwriter.’ I have ambivalent feelings because, ultimately, even though there is some benefit to be gained by those things—I stress the word ‘some’ benefit, minimal benefit—ultimately you know what it all boils down to? You’re sitting at your desk, all by yourself for years, trying to figure out your craft and applying the effort necessary. And that’s what nobody wants to hear. Everybody wants to hear, ‘I can teach you a three-act structure, I can give you a formula, and you’ll be selling screenplays within six months.’ Bullshit. And what’s really funny is, these guys in the business of being screenwriting gurus, they don’t ever write screenplays. I have never seen one of these guys’ names on a screen credit in a movie. I do think there is some benefit to these classes, but I don’t think people should be misled into thinking it’s the be-all and end-all, and they’re going to walk out a screenwriter. Everything is self-applied effort in life. Everything. You don’t learn anything easily.
Naturally, this quote spurred some lively debate on GITS, to which Scott Myers responded with some great insights. First, he pointed out how structure has overwhelmed other elements of storytelling as a result of screenwriting guru books:
[T]he net effect of what I experience on the front lines of interfacing with many aspiring screenwriters is too much of an emphasis on structure – and by that they almost always mean plot – causing scripts to suffer: formulaic stories, thin characters, and narrative largely devoid of significant emotional resonance.
Scott also addresses the nature of several screenwriting books and seminars that claim they will help new writers have a script they can sell in a mere matter of months:
[T]hat attitude is wrongheaded, not only because the odds against immediate success are astronomically against the writer, it is putting the focus on the wrong spot: It’s not just about writing a script, it’s about becoming a screenwriter.
Per the latter, it takes time, it takes work, it takes immersing oneself in the world of cinema, it takes reading hundreds of scripts, watching thousands of movies, it takes learning principles and practices used by professional screenwriters.
In other words, is your goal to sell one script or have a screenwriting career?
No book or guru is going to make me wake up at 5:30 every morning and put my butt in a chair to write. That's my job. I hope someday it will lead to a career.
You can check out the whole debate on Frank Darabont's comments at Go Into the Story, but don't forget to let us know what you think about screenwriting gurus as well as their books and seminars right here on NFS. Have they helped you or led you astray as you hone your screenwriting craft?
[Screenplay photo by Flickr user Joe in DC (CC)]