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Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog


-- On Screenwriting and Related Topics

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

I moved from NYC to LA in October, 2003. And though I still think NYC is the greatest city in the world, I'm truly loving life here in the City of Angels. I'm a writer, reader, and occasional picture-taker.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Write What You Like?

At my writing group's meeting last night, an interesting discussion sprung up.

One of the people mentioned that he was somewhat frustrated because the movies he tends to write are not the type of films he enjoys going to see. Another person said he does the same thing, but seemed relatively pleased with his process. And I said I pretty much always write the type of movies that I would want to go see in the theater.

Hmmm. Interesting issue, no? Should we be writing films that we would want to see? Are those the ones for which we are best equipped to write well? What are the benefits (and/or drawbacks) to such a decision, and how about the opposite?

It got me thinking a bit, and I don't think I have any definitive answers, or even if there are any such answers. But I'll at least attempt to put my thoughts on the subject out here.

I enjoy most types of films, and there are very few genres that I would purposely avoid watching. I've long railed against the term "chick flick," since I believe, at least on some level, that a good movie is a good movie. Of course, I'm being somewhat self-servingly fatuous with this claim, and I'm aware that so-called "chick flicks" do typically appeal more frequently to women, hence the name. And I have, in fact, never watched either Beaches or Steel Magnolias. So I guess there is some truth there.

But my point is that since I enjoy seeing most types of movies, it would be difficult for me to write a movie that I wouldn't want to see in theater. That being said, although I have written in various genres, and also have ideas in other genres that I'd like to write in the future, I don't think I could write effectively in any genre. Or perhaps more accurately, I wouldn't want to write in any genre. And maybe that's why I don't think I'd be able to do it.

They tell you you should write what you know. To me that means less about the subjects you choose, and more about the styles. While I do watch movies of nearly every genre, certain types are closer to my personality. I am not an uber-serious person, and though I love to watch a good drama, they're not me. My life is fun and unique, interesting (I hope) and odd. Not filled with deep drama. I am an intelligent person, but not an intellectual per se. I also (probably for the worse) suppress many of my emotions. You kind of need those to write good drama. Romance too. I may be able to write romantic elements into films, but I don't know if I'm ready, at the moment, to write a full-on romantic movie, be it comedic or dramatic.

Those aspects are probably significant in why I back-burnered a pet project of mine, that I hope to write eventually -- a period romance set in a cigar factory in Cuba around the turn of the 20th Century. So what do I write? Entertainment. Comedy, horror, action, mystery. Things that I feel comfortable with. Shallow? Perhaps. I don't think so, but I wouldn't be offended by those who might feel that way. I've always bristled when people referred to me as an "artist." I consider myself a craftsman, a writer with skill at putting words in sequence to achieve certain goals. And one of my favorite things in life is to make other people happy. That's my main goal as a screenwriter.

So getting back to writing what you enjoy. Yes, I go see movies of most genres. But there are certain types that I like more, and those are the ones I write. They are the types that strike a stronger chord in me. So what about my two friends from the group last night? They each write genres other than their favorites, but one was pleased and one was not. Why?

Well, I won't presume to know their specific reasons, and this is not meant to be a diagnosis of their specific cases. But I will address a few potential scenarios. You'll notice I mentioned earlier saving a project for a later date, not feeling I was yet ready to write it. I don't think my skill level is where it would need to be to do the project justice. Sometimes, if someone loves a specific genre enough, they might feel that anything they do in the genre will not be of a high enough caliber.

There is a distinction here, however. One is avoiding a specific project, another avoiding a whole style. The only way to ever get my writing to the level at which I'll be able to write that film is if I specifically try to develop the skills I'll need. I have to work at getting better at elements that will be needed in that project: dramatic romance, genuine dialogue that is true to its specific time and place, and a realistic and subtle delivery of theme and subtext, among others. But I still write in genres that I do enjoy, and probably even enjoy more. But avoiding a whole genre that you actually enjoy (and I'm referring to the generic "you," not specifically my writing group guy), and instead writing something that is less enjoyable to you smacks a bit more of fear. It will be harder to develop the skills you need to do your favorites justice in this way. A better, I believe, approach is to work at a film in your chosen genre, and develop your skills by either rewriting the poor first attempt or moving on to a second or third film in the same genre.

But what of writing outside your favorite genre, but being happy with that? In part this can come from enjoying many different types of movies, as I do. It can also be helped by the craftsman rather than artist philosophy. Alternately, it may mean that a writer has been able to find aspects of those genres (or more likely of those specific stories) that do, in fact, ring true with his soul. Ultimately, however, while satisfying, a writer of this type might find even more satisfaction if he wrote in a genre closer to his heart.

I know this post rambled a bit, and it may not have even come to any conclusions to the quandary with which it started. But in brief, I think we all need to write movies that we would like to watch, even if not our absolute favorites. Why? Because they are who we are, and thus what we know.



Blogger taZ said...

I think I'm the one that like and is pleased by what I write. Without that being my favourite.

If you have the style that particular genre needs, you're able to do it. Sometimes we don't even have the style needed to write our favourites.

Just do what you can do best.

3:29 AM  
Blogger mernitman said...

Yea, verily, or... "what you said."
I honestly don't think there's much point in writing what's not near and dear to your soul and sensibility. I mean, I can sort of understand it in terms of research, experimentation and craft mastery... but ultimately life's too short and there are literally thousands of other writers who will do That Other Thing better, whereas NO ONE will write your personal, got-to, must-do story better than you.

Anyway it's an intriguing topic. Nice post!

3:58 AM  
Blogger Al said...

Wow, I started that post yesterday and I just now finished it.

Interesting though.


4:46 AM  
Blogger deepstructure said...

i agree. oddly enough that was the main thing i took from bill phillips' book 'body for life.' he realized early on in life that what worked better for him was to accentuate and develop what he was already naturally gifted at, rather than spend a lot of time and energy trying to be more "well-rounded," and improving areas he wasn't very good at.

i was brought up engrained with the idea that one should be more of a renaissance person - which is a noble idea, but in a world so populated with diverse individual talents, and in an industry that's so competitive, trying to be a jack-of-all-trades can be a self-defeating strategy.

11:31 PM  
Anonymous David Anaxagoras said...

In film school I was told to take chances and write outside of my comfort zone. I don't think that necessarily means you write things you don't like -- it's more a matter of challenging yourself. Some of those scripts were okay, some completely fell apart in my hands. I have no regrets, but now I'm back in my comfort zone and feeling stronger than ever.

I have to say also that I never ever thought I'd write a biopic about an Argentine tango composer. Not a subject I would have picked, but it's one of the best things I've ever written. Sometimes you write what you love, and sometimes you end up loving what you write.

12:04 AM  
Blogger William said...

Interesting points all around. In the beginning it's all a litmus test. You start with that idea and you let it simmer little bit. New situations and scenes come into play and they work or they don't. When all is said and done you will ask yourself, "Can I write this?". Meaning, "Can this idea be developed into a screenplay and can I live with it for months, maybe even years, refining it?". The other side to that is, "Do I have the chops?". I think if you have passion and are excited about the possibilities of your story you can write anything you want.

4:17 PM  
Anonymous Saint B said...

I'm the guy who isn't writing in my favorite genre and is frustrated by it, and your comment pretty much nailed it on the head.

"Sometimes, if someone loves a specific genre enough, they might feel that anything they do in the genre will not be of a high enough caliber."

I tend to put certain movies on a pedestal. One of my big goals this year is to either,
A. Tear the Pedestals down, or B. Put myself up on one.

Great insight. :-)

9:31 AM  

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