You may have heard of Beaumarchais. He was a watchmaker, a publisher of Voltaire’s works, a gun runner for the rebels in the American Revolution, but most notably a playwright of works such as The Barber of Seville (which Mozart adapted into an opera.)
In Beaumarchais’s time, writers were not well paid. The theatres of Paris held a kind of monopoly, or cartel. They colluded together to keep writers’ fees down.
The Barber of Seville was one of the hits of 1775 and it continued bringing in audiences after that. But, despite the money that the theatres got from Beaumarchais’s popular play, his remuneration wasn’t very high.
So, in 1777, Beaumarchais led the other French writers in a strike. If they didn’t get paid more for their successful plays, they wouldn’t write at all.
This led to a scarcity of plays and forced theatre owners into negotiations.
Theatre owners now paid royalties, instead of just a flat fee for plays.
A lot of people offer advice to screenwriters. We don’t. We write scripts in-house, produce our own stories, and provide services to film production companies. So, screenwriters are not our target market.
So far, apart from a few student projects where working as part of a team was part of the grade, I tend to write alone. I’m not looking for a writing partner, and unless I were hired to work as part of a team I don’t know if I’d work with one.
However, if you do write screenplays, and you have found your writing partner, I can tell you what seems to work for others.
1. Taking turns.
I found this one reading Joe Eszterhas’s autobiography. He did this with a friend and said it was a lot of fun. The resulting film wasn’t one of his biggest hits, but oh well. Taking turns is as simple as it sounds: One writer writes one draft, then sends it to the other writer for the next draft, bouncing it back and forth until they’re both happy with the final result.
2. Alternating scenes.
I also read a book by two comedy writers whose movies I enjoy, called “writing movies for fun and profit.” I laughed at Ben Garrant and Thomas Lennon’s films (the Pacifier, Night at The Museum, even Balls of Fury), but their scripts were much better than that book. Some jokes just have to be performed to make sense, I suppose.
Anyway, since the book is mostly written tongue in cheek (their films grossed a billion worldwide perhaps, but they’ve only seen a tiny fraction of that), I can’t be sure that this is really their working method, but it might work. First, you sit together in a room and rack your brains until you come up with an outline. Then, each writer writes a scene for part of that outline. They claim the outline is the hard part. After you’ve written the odd scenes and your partner the even scenes, you switch and polish off the other writer’s work.
3. Lyrics and rhythm.
Teachers of music composition often express doubt that creative collaboration is possible. When confronted with great collaborators, they assume one artist wrote the lyrics and the other composed the melody, or something like that.
This can work in musicals, as illustrated in Topsy Turvy, and sort of reflects the way the famous 1930s Wizard of Oz was written. With a non-musical script, it’s a little more tricky. But, it can be done. French films have two kinds of writing credits, one for the storyline or treatment, and one for the writer who does the dialogue.
Now, before you approach me or anyone else with one of these, consider that all work best if you know your writing partner well, or if you have an existing working relationship with the writers. Do you share the same taste in films and stories? Do you have a story that you both want to tell in the same way? If you’re not on the same page, it probably won’t work.
Also, unless you’re both loaded, you’ll probably need some money to sustain yourselves while writing, or extra patience while your partner tries to find time to write. The reality is multitasking celebrities usually get ghostwriters to write for them, and even full-time screenwriters would normally take 3 months, 6 months, or even a year to complete a script. The mythical stories about someone writing a draft in three days leave out all the months that went into preparing that first draft and the additional months that went into writing the more careful second draft.
Usually, when people talk about “group think” they are condemning bad decisions. Yet when they talk about “consensus” they are implying that the group or crowd must be right.
When good leaders make bad decisions because advisers not only fail to speak up, but fail to even consider that better options may be available, that’s Group Think. When two people share the same view, and everyone else is afraid to speak, that’s Group Think. Group Think is when people not only fail to challenge the consensus, but fail to consider that the consensus may be wrong.
Look at almost any war, and you’ll find that the consensus behind at least one side’s leadership was wrong, and went largely unchallenged. However, war is politics by other means, and I do not wish to discuss politics.
Before getting into heated political mud fights I may wish to forget, I’ll talk about a “non-political” area, one where I’ve wasted time in debates that have turned ugly: film theory. Continue reading “Consensus or Group Think?”
Aristotle spoke of a certain number of arts, but it’s not like he invented the “muses.” To him, theatre had two main “genres”, comedy and tragedy. There were similar arts, such as “epics”, which also told stories.
To summarize, a tragedy had a great man falling from a great height, and a sad ending, and a comedy had someone come from nowhere and achieve a happy ending. The other “rules” of genres were merely conventions or expectations. (When I’ve used the words “rules” in the past, I usually meant conventions.)
You may have heard by now that the Happy Birthday song is in copyright. Or is it?
One of the longest copyright disputes revolves around “Happy Birthday” and whether you can use that song in your films and videos, or in live concerts and plays. “Happy Birthday to you” has been around so long that almost no one knows who composed it.
I don’t open films the same way that Shakespeare opened plays. The first shots in Dara Says contain no words. It opens with a series of actions, and in the first couple of minutes there are fewer than ten words spoken.
We created a draft of the opening for the crowdfunding campaign. Here’s the video of the first few minutes from that campaign.
The script for the final film was identical, but we used different music and paced things differently.
I wrote the screenplay thinking that “film is a visual medium”, but a lot of story is told through the dialogue, tones of voice and other sounds. Film is an audio-visual medium. Continue reading “How to Open a Play”
It started as a story on the Hokusai Manga, for the 1812 timeline, and it turned to the study of an inconvenient truth.
Okay, some writers are billionaires. I’m ready for your list of best selling authors and other freaks. A lot of Hollywood’s top producers started as writers, or at least a few of the top CEOs have degrees in subjects like literature and English.
But history tells us that these successes are freak. And that’s where 1812 comes into all this.
You know Manga? No, not the fruit from India, the art from Japan. Yeah, out East somewhere. Well, apparently the “Mangas”, or Hokusai Manga, a series of historic cartoons, were started in 1812. They weren’t published until two years later, but hey.