I’ve been writing screenplays for just over three years. So it’s safe to say I am in no ways an expert. However I do believe it is important to state that from the moment I was taught about screenwriting, I spent at least two hours writing every single day with the rare day off. I’ve read numerous books on it, watched videos, interviews, read articles and done a lot of general researching because I want to be the best I can be.
When I was eight I wrote my first story. It was about a badger and only a few sentences, but I consider it very underrated as a piece of literature. Since then I’ve written a couple of books, countless short stories, hundreds of songs (honestly) and about as many poems. I wanted to be an author all my childhood. I loved reading and there was something about creating worlds and people and lives that was addictive to me. I am intrigued by everything and I love exploring ideas. However my consistent problem with writing prose was that I would never have full control over it. Everyone interprets a book a different way; everyone envisions the same character completely differently. And I didn’t like that. I wanted them to see my vision, my characters. Maybe that was the first sign I wasn’t suited to writing books – the whole point is that they’re open to interpretation. I know films are too, but in a different way.
So I found myself spiralling off into pointless paragraphs to explain the exact details of every mentioned character, and I would write poorly just so I could make sure all my meanings were conveyed correctly. Then at sixteen I had to write a three-minute soap opera script and I fell in love. I mean, if writing that sparked my interest, then screenwriting was clearly the right way to go.
It just felt right. I started by re-writing a novel of mine into script format and it was amazing how much better it was. It gave me all the control I needed and maintained the same creativity. Something just clicked. Since then I haven’t looked back. I discovered my calling; my passion; hell, I discovered what degree I wanted to do and now my entire future revolves around this. Everything else is on the back burner for film and for screenwriting.
My writing has a definite style. I’ve tried to explore as many genres as possible to stretch myself – I’ve written horror, suspense, gangster, western, thriller, comedy… But my general ‘feel’ I would describe as a less-talented and more lesbian Joss Whedon. Just in that I write fantasy or sci-fi, with that action/adventure vibe and lots of comedy spritzed throughout. Although, don’t get me wrong, I do aspire to be as skilled as him and as well-known in the ‘geek’ world. Similarly to Joss as well, all my films are very heavily female-oriented. I’ve written things with male protagonists, but there will always be a strong woman in that script whether she’s the protagonist, the sidekick or the love interest. I do prefer writing women but that, in my humble opinion, is simply because I am a woman so therefore find them easier to write realistically, plus you know me – I love women. I enjoy writing strong women who can kick ass and save the world because women are strong and they can kick ass and save the world. But I like my female characters to have depth too, beyond ‘they’re badass’ and into ‘why are they badass’. Not every strong woman I write has to have a gun or sword, they can be strong through emotion or intelligence or love or they can be a woman who does need saving by someone. They’re all strong in their individual way, even if they aren’t strong in other ways. I just want to change how we think about women; or rather, contribute to the great changes that are already happening. That’s why I love writing women.
Oh, also similar to Joss – I love inflicting misery on my audience. I kill a lot of characters off. Partly because I am very cynical and hate happiness, partly because I’ve been influenced by Joss Whedon and partly because if my films are related to apocalypses or general fighting (which about 8/10 times they are) I believe it’s realistic to have a lot of people die. Only the strong survive and all that.
But the main thing I’m trying to get at in a very rambley (hey, you were warned) way is that… my scripts are hella dialogue heavy. Like, seriously they are about 60% dialogue. And that’s bad! That’s like a huge taboo in the script-y community and film industry. I saw a lecture from a screenwriter and he said “Don’t write dialogue-based scripts unless you’re Tarantino” and hey, maybe he’s right. I mean, I love film because it has so many ways to tell the story. It’s called visual story-telling for a reason, right? But when I start writing I just hear all these conversations and I can feel the words bubbling inside me and they need to get onto the page and be spoken. I hope that I’m just a certain kind of special screenwriter who can afford to write dialogue-heavy screenplays. My old film lecturers told me I am, so I have hope.
The problem is though, I’ve never received any criticism on any of my scripts. Professional screenwriters, film lecturers, family, friends, strangers – all alike, they’ve read various scripts of mine. And there have been small things to change because obviously no one is perfect. I can do as much research and practice as I like, be as skilled at subliminal context as I can be (which I’m pretty darn good at now, I must admit) and follow the golden rule of “if it’s not progressing the story or developing a character get rid of it” but… I’m never gonna be perfect. I’ll probably never be the lesbian Joss Whedon or Christopher Nolan, however awesome that would be.
So yeah I get criticism. But it’s never about the story or the dialogue. It’s the little things, or small ideas on how to change something. And I know that in the ‘real’ world of trying to get a budget or get my script picked up, I’m going to get shot to pieces and have my screenplays completely disregarded. I’m going to get told I’m untalented and not good enough. And that, I expect. But what I’m confused about is if someone tells me to change my script – I don’t know if I’d do it. It all comes back to my control thing: I don’t want to change my screenplay to fit someone else’s expectations and wants. And to some extent that’s good – I obviously wouldn’t make a character straight if they were gay, or replace a female protagonist with a male one, just to get the film made. That’s just integrity and sticking to my beliefs. But in the smaller scheme of things like changing a character’s personality/background/motives or removing a lot of dialogue or a relationship… I don’t know if I could do that either. I think that’s partly why I’ve always wanted to direct my own screenplays as well: because a director not-me could completely change the film. I know in reality the finished film wouldn’t be identical to the original screenplay because things change in and post production, but the core stuff of my scripts… I don’t know if I could change it, even if it meant getting it realised. Maybe that’s good. I mean I genuinely would rather I work in Tesco my whole life and write stuff I like and I’m proud of in the spare time, than change my scripts and get them to a reality. But I feel that that is a very naive way of looking at this and it is something I think about a lot.
“The trouble with movies as a business is that it’s an art, and the trouble with movies as an art is that it’s a business.” (Charlton Heston)