I get a lot of calls from writers who have been told that their book would make a great film. I am lucky to be able to work with some very good story tellers and they all have one thing in common: They have a great story and they are the best person to tell that story. My favorites also learn the process and continue working while the big engine takes their project to film. They understand that there are no guarantees, it takes time, and one step leads to another.
It takes years for a film to be made. Just look at the films at Oscars 2014. Some of those projects sat for years, but because someone stayed with it, committed to the project and didn’t give up, a movie was born. And Oscars were won. Miracles happen but they only happen after years of hard work, belief, tenacity, and a big talent attaches to the film. I am so inspired by the actors who believe in making a difference and are committed to contributing to society through their voices and influence. I loved Jared Leto’s speech at the Oscars--he made me want to be a better person. And to cherish my dreams.
That being said, the writer has toiled, sometimes for years, to create a unique and compelling work. If the work is a book, it can be sold and enjoyed. If the work is a screenplay, the project flies under the public radar. I am always impressed with a writer’s confidence and patience as writing is not a job for those who need constant accolades. Easy compliments can be found in the chat rooms where writers congregate to talk about the best thing anyone ever said about their work….but those people are not real writers. They are people who wish they were writers. The real writers write. Someone who spends time talking about what they are writing or going to write just takes the spirit away from the story. Writing is a need, the soul’s demand to create. It cannot be satisfied by talking about it. It can be diluted by doing so, though. Talking about it and then writing is like photocopying a copy. The work is not as sharp as it could be if it went directly from heart to story without the filter of ears and mouths offering opinions. All that noise should come after the work is done, but before it is published. Not before it is written.
Once the story is optioned, the producer takes over. And he/she is the boss of the story. I probably get three calls a week from new writers who want total control of their script when it goes into production. They want to participate in all aspects of the project, get a producer credit, star in the film, and have the ability to change decisions that are made during the filmmaking process. When I tell them that their demand is impossible, they say that they want to work with creative people, not business people. 6.5 – 9 million dollars will allow them to take that approach but it will take a better person than me to strike a deal with a producer to give a new writer any kind of control over the film. Unless, of course, they bring money along with their demands. And even then, it is all about the work.
In the end, the art of film making is a business. The story is important. The script is important. A great movie cannot be made without a great script. A great script can sit around even if all of the stars in the Universe are aligned. A film will never happen if all the players who make a film get a sense that the writers demands make it feel like the whole project is starting out with bad karma. “If it is this difficult to work with them BEFORE we begin, what will it be like after?” Producers have to have a passion for the story, distributors and financers have to know they can make a profit, and talent has to believe the project is managed by people who know what they are doing.
Making a film is a confusing, frustrating, emotional, and physically tiring process. It is not for everyone but for those who prevail, film is an art form. It takes on many shapes, personalities, and messages. Crooked edges are the norm, Murphy’s Law prevails. The story is the catalyst for everything that comes afterward. The story touched someone who is in a position to attempt to make something happen. It is the critical first step but it is just one of many important steps that must occur.
Getting a film deal is like sending your baby to war. The baby will cross dangerous waters, be hit by friendly gunfire, be blown up by roadside bombs, and it might die. It might come home a hero or maimed. Being quietly confident and easy to work with is the only way you can show support. Your child doesn’t write, doesn’t call, you don’t even know where they are until suddenly you are notified that the film is going forward. Or it isn’t. It is a 3000 mile journey and everyone with experience knows this. Don’t be the writer asking if they are there yet when the odometer says 100 miles.
Many good writers are very goal oriented so they believe that there must be something they can do to move faster. The fact is, go with people you trust and then let them do their work. Work on your next project, fill your pipeline, and create! I always say that you can’t put nine one week along pregnant women in a room for a month and produce a baby….it takes as long as it takes. Your activity will not produce better, more, or even any results. In fact, your activity can blow up the whole deal. In an industry where so much can go wrong, the worst person to be on the film team is the person needing constant attention.
In the creative world, artists trust their gut. The good ones don’t care what anyone thinks about their idea; they just know they have to do it. There has never been a greater time in history to be a writer. Work. Live with passion. Make people feel. Tell the story. Be authentic. Work.