Wednesday, January 23, 2008

When (writing) worlds collide....

It's not often that screenwriting mixes with my children's book writing (other than the commonality of WRITING!), but yesterday's email brought the two together. I receive the freebie Chidren's Writing Update from Write4Kids, and this issue had an article by Laura Backes called "Get Published by Going Hollywood." The basic premise of the article -- learn storytelling tricks and techniques by watching good movies -- makes tremendous sense to me. After all, good storytelling is good storytelling. But then, in the article here's what was said about some of the things to look for...
Opening scenes: How does the director draw you into the movie from the very beginning?

....

Introduction of characters: How and when does the audience meet the movie's protagonist? What did the director decide to initially reveal about this character that would influence the audience's first impression?

Hey now! Waaaaait a second here. Look, film is a collaborative medium, and a good director and good actors are critical to the success of any movie. In fact, without actors and directors (and many, many others) you have NO movie. But let's take a wee step back and remember that there's a WRITER involved here who spent a lot of time thinking about what gets revealed when and how the audience gets drawn in at the start and, well, pretty much everything. The assumption that it's the director... particularly in an article geared for writers... is kinda flummoxing to me. Certainly one would expect a good picture book author to write while thinking about making a good picture book. That's what screenwriters do, too -- craft a 'blueprint' for a work that's going to be more than just about the words.

But then as my wise friend Lee noted to me, lots of folks are in the dark about the whole movie making process. So let me go to the beginning -- somebody WROTE THAT. If you ever read Robert Towne's script of Chinatown, for example, you'll see how much care was given to every element of the story, the characterizations, the choices of what to reveal and when. Is the movie brilliantly directed and acted, making it even more compelling than the script alone because of what the other talents bring to it? Absolutely! But without the writer, no one's got anything to make better.

So, I agree that you can learn a lot from watching good movies. But when you're watching something in order to become a better writer, it sure seems to me that you might wanna think about the writing, too!

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'd add that a good director can take a good script and make a great movie, but no director can take a bad script and make a great movie. Better? Yes. Beautiful? Yes. But good? Nope!

Jon Bard said...

Hi, I'm Jon Bard, the editor of Children's Writing Update, the ezine you cite.

You make an utterly valid point. I suppose the reason for the use of "director" versus "writer or director" (or "powers that be" or "creative forces behind the film" or whatever else may have been more inclusive) was that we were more focused on making a point about what children's book writers can take from watching a movie than being as accurate or as thorough as we could have been about the movie making process.

In the end, the identity of the person behind a decision to craft a film one way or another isn't specifically relevent to the point we were making, so we glossed over it without quite enough consideration.

So, point taken. We, of all people, should be at the forefront of celebrating the work that writers do, regardless of genre. And, as the current labor situation would indicate, the greatest directors in the world can't create great films without great writers.

Screenwriters, please accept our humble apologies.

Kelly Fineman said...

I was hoping you'd chime in on that.

Gregory K. said...

Jon -- thanks so much for stopping in. As I noted, I agree with learning from movies (or from anything where there's good storytelling, for that matter). And I also agree that WHY the movie works isn't important to the point you were making. But that's kinda why I reacted so strongly to the mention of the director....

Anyway, you've cleared that right up with your reply. So thanks, and I look forward to running into y'all in the bookstore OR at the movies!

MotherReader said...

I'm glad that you wrote about this, Greg. And wrote it well besides. If anyone needs to celebrate the writers in the movies, it's other writers.

Robin Brande said...

Thanks for saying it out loud, Greg. This drives me crazy, too!