July 29, 2015 at 10:36PM
Why You as a Screenwriting-Director Needs to Tell Your Story (on your own terms)
This is not what you should do. No. This is a filmmaking revelation, and I want to share my epiphany with others.
This is probably something many aspiring filmmakers question and probably hate to hear: "If you want this, to be in this business and make films one day, go make movies now" (and this is with the intention that these movies are crap). Or the other straightforward piece of filmmaker advice being tossed around, the infamous "Make your movie."
One holds truth, being the "make your movie" advice, and this is why (and if you are a frustrated screenwriting-director, it'll be very relatable) you should act on that advice.
I've been writing for quite a while now, I started screenwriting back in seventh grade. I was ambitious, I had been inspired to make films only two years earlier and it took me two years to finally get around to writing my cinematic ideas.
So back in those early days of screenwriting, I had wrote two crappy films in a row. But with each one, I had my idea for how it was going to be shot and what music would accompany the images on screen. But all I had was my Flip HD (it came to be the worse camera of all time).
So when I got my friends together to shoot, I was ecstatic. I had assigned roles for the film and got all the practical effects ready for my zombie film. But when we began to shoot on the first day, I realized the image on the LCD screen looked nothing like what it looked like in my head. And that was the end of that film, it died on the first day of production.
At the time (and up until maybe a few hours ago), I said screw it. Why should I try and make this film if it isn't going to look anything like I had wrote it or envisioned it.
And that's why I disagree with people who give that advice of "make those bad films."
No. No, no, no, no! Just no. Do not ever listen to this unless you want to make bad films.
I understand filmmakers need to learn. And their work becomes better as they gain more experience making films, but it doesn't mean your first film has to be bad.
I stopped making my film because I didn't like how it looked. Bottom line, it was bad. And the idea for it was far from bad.
And I've gotten better from writing screenplays over the years and I'm not being cocky about my work when I say its awesome, I'm being confident and honest with myself. I want to do what's best for my film and if that means shelving it for now so that one day it can exist the way I intended it to live on screen, then that's what I did.
I got the format down early, I was using celtx and dropping on average two screenplays a year, at about 140-180 pages a year. And two years ago, I had been upset with where I was in my film career and started entering screenplay competitions.
And what a nightmare that was.
I had dropped $20 for WGAW registrations, $70+$20 (for more than 120 pages fees) for several competitons. And I never got much luck I felt.
My focus had shifted from trying to break into the industry as a screenwriting-director, to just screenwriter. Why did I do that? And I let myself get to the point where I was taking my name off of my cover page to preserve anonymity, deleting my signature of "WRITTEN & DIRECTED BY KEVIN ANDRES SHANNON" to the ever so creative "The End."
I should've realized there, where I had to declare myself only as a writer and not the director that I was being pilfered.
Brace for impact because this is where I was hit hard with the truth. NOBODY WANTS TO READ YOUR SCREENPLAY. EVERYBODY WANTS TO MAKE MONEY.
I submitted a screenplay into a competition (out of respect, I will not SLAM the competition or DANCE around and say the name but...hint hint). It was submitted as a FANTASY-DRAMA. I get the short feedback today and I almost lost it.
I'm going to paraphrase. It basically classified my screenplay as Drama with oddly placed bits of Supernatural elements that destroy the story. WHAT? THE FILM IS ABOUT A CLAIRVOYANT GIRL. THERES BOUND TO BE SOME SUPERNATURAL ELEMENTS IN THE FILM. And despite my capitalized letters, I'm just pointing out the absurdity of it.
I also received another suggestion saying I should work on description and I should not use obscenity in the description because it seems unprofessional. UNPROFESSIONAL?
What the hell is Indie filmmaking? It is anything but professional. As indie filmmakers, we break the rules because we can't afford to play by them. We do what we need to so we can get that idea we had when we wrote our screenplay onto the screen. So it looks the way it was intended.
So what did I learn in the process of all this?
I learned that screenplay competitions are not getting a dollar more out of me and I'm done hoping I break into the industry as a screenwriter. I came here to make films, not let my screenplays just be talent on a computer collecting dust.
So I'm taking action. I may not be making a film that I want to right now, it definitely may be hard to do without the help of money and people, but hey... I'll make it. That way the screenplay doesn't become soup everyone is trying to add their own salt and spices to. It's my film, my recipe. I am in control. It might not be shot in twenty days on location, it might not have the legal city permits it needs. I'll still make it with who I have, what I have, and it may take my entire senior year to film the whole thing be it shot without a schedule and just whenever the hell we can. I'll apply for more scholarships so I can dig into my college fund and purchase the Panasonic GH4. I don't care. At least it'll be my story, and at the end it'll say "WRITTEN & DIRECTED BY KEVIN ANDRES SHANNON." And that's all I want.
So if you're the screenwriting-director who has spent endless hours, nights, days, years letting your stories be told on paper and hoping you win some screenplay competition, get out of the computer chair and get on set. Because from my personal experience making my short films in school (ATOMOS and RABBI DOGS), I hadn't felt that happy in a long time because of the sadness I felt that I couldn't make the full length features I was writing. I don't care about the money, screw the money. I'd rather be homeless in the streets of Detroit, bunking with prostitutes and going to the soup kitchen if it meant I could tell my stories. And if you feel that way as well, then you are a true filmmaker.
So I hope something clicked inside your head that ignited your ambition to go tell your story or that nebulous cloud of frustration for screenwriting-directors has been lifted, because when I came to this realization, all my sadness about where I was with my career in film and in life was thrown out the window. My focus is on telling my story and not having some critic read it. No, the point of cinema isn't to have someone read it, that's what books are for. Cinema is telling a story. Your story.
And if you think your screenplay is phenomenal, then make your film phenomenal.
Kevin Andres Shannon