Behind the Scenes of “Working Title” Blog #5

Frustration! Intense frustration!

The hardest part of filmmaking is the Catch-22. You need a great story, key actors or distribution in place to attract accredited investors. However, you can’t get key actors without money for a “Pay or Play” contract, and you can’t get a distribution contract that an investor would love without a film.

That leaves us with the screenplay being the only thing to work with, which we have. Unfortunately, no investor has time to read, nor do they know how to read a screenplay, as it’s far from the process used to read a novel. But they do have time for a synopsis.

I’ve been told that our story has such great layers that make it an amazing read for those who have time to get through the screenplay, but when summarized into a simple paragraph, the magic disappears. Thankfully some are willing to read a one-page treatment and others a three-page treatment. Those who are really willing to dive deeper into the story are happy to read a 12-page treatment and a few will read a 40-page treatment that’s packed with detail.

Argh! The amount of writing and rewriting to create all these various forms of the story to have an investor consider supporting the film is insane, especially since our expertise is writing screenplays, not novels. There is a completely different writing style employed to write something a filmmaker can understand versus an investor.

Screenplays are written visually on a shot by shot basis. It’s a string of moments, rather than a telling approach, that allows the story to surface through a process we call “show, don’t tell.” Writing prose is more of a story telling, not too dissimilar to sharing a story to campers sitting around a campfire.

These techniques are diametrically opposed and frustrate the best of writers who attempt to cross over from books to the screen or visa versa. And yet, many inexperienced film investors demand the skilled screenplay writer to write in the same style as a book.

I’m not sure people are aware that most books written after a film releases is done by a writing specialist whose main skill is translating the visual word to the written word. These are people who can’t write books or screenplays, but have found their niche in the translation process.

However, most people are aware of the translation process that takes a book to the screen, as most attempts are complete failures in the eyes of the original author. Disney’s new film Mr. Banks, starring Tom Hanks, deals with this very issue when Disney made Mary Poppins. The film was a huge success and changed the motion picture industry, but the author was so upset by how her story was destroyed that she refused to give Walt Disney the remaining books in the series.

So here I am with an incredible screenplay, thanks to the creative team who helped me develop the story, and I’m frustrated that I have to develop other documents to convince investors that the screenplay is excellent. It’s like being a manufacturer of a great car that no one will test drive until they watch a cool commercial that suggests the car will make them look cool.

What if the manufacturer makes a less than cool commercial because they are great makers of cool cars, not commercials?

It’s too bad that we face these types of Catch-22s. Even stars have little time to read, so they let others tell them which scripts to read and avoid. I have to hope that the star’s reader has the same taste in order to move the star to the negotiating table, or I have to offer them a contract, which I can’t do until the investors are in place, which they won’t do until the actor is in place. Argh!

It’s time for a miracle!

© 2013 by CJ Powers