As a counterpoint to my entry “Why YOU should write Stigmata 3,” I’m now going to tell you how to protect your dream screenplay from a death by a thousand hacks. I’ll start with the hard truth.
The trouble with aspiring screenwriters (whether they realize it or not) is they think of themselves as playwrights instead of filmmakers. They write stunningly original and deeply personal stories and then expect “them” to make the movie just as they have written it. With a few notable exceptions, it never works out that way.
The most likely thing “they” will do with your stunningly original and deeply personal script is ignore it. Stunningly original and deeply personal scripts almost always lose money, and “they” won’t take the risk. In the very unlikely event that your screenplay is actually sold, every word will eventually be rewritten by others, probably by “hacks” like me.
Take the example of my own brother, Brendan Hood. He has been writing original and personal screenplays since he was 14. You can read his brilliant horror screenplay for the movie “They” here. The spec script bears no resemblance the film that was eventually produced. Now, read his sobering interview about the recent release of his follow up movie “Deaths of Ian.” The bottom line is that “they” took his screenplays, not once but twice, and rewrote every word.
I say this not to vilify “them.” Would you risk millions of dollars of your own money on somebody else’s poetry? Most investors who get charmed into financing movies ultimately feel they were swindled by a bunch of flakes and charlatans. Read “their” perspective here.
And for the record, a lot of “them” (studio executives) turn out to smart, perceptive, and creative film-lovers who are just as frustrated as we are when good scripts get mangled by the development process. So don't blame them. You may even find that working with them on genre sequels and comic book adaptations is a lot of fun.
But meanwhile, there is only one solution for you and your stunningly original and deeply personal script: become a hyphenate. Direct it yourself, or raise the money yourself and own your own product. Start by scraping together a little cash for a short film. In the age of digital filmmaking, you don't have excuses any more. Most of all, remember that you are not a writer; the words on the page are just blueprints. You are a filmmaker, and as a filmmaker you should take responsibility for your own films.
For those filmmakers out there who are not cut out to be either producers or directors (and many screenwriters are not), form a close relationship with a producer or director that will last beyond a single film. Filmmakers who find the right creative collaborators, people who force them to make changes to their screenplays FOR THE BETTER, craft the the kinds of scripts that win awards and inspire the rest of us to keep on hacking. You can that too.