Saturday, April 12, 2008

Wrting plays, screenplays, or novels

In Response to my post “Why YOU should write Stigmata 3,” Martin Blank wrote this illuminating comment on the differences between writing screenplays and writing stage plays.

He writes:

I’ve spent most of my creative life as a playwright, exactly because I wanted to write personal stories. And I’ve been very lucky, as all ten of my plays have found a home, and full productions, some multiple productions. Lucky, indeed. As a playwright, I own the copyright and a theater literally has to GET IT IN WRITING FROM ME if they want to change a word. The down side, which I don’t mind at all, is in my best year I made $25,000 as a playwright. Most years it’s more like five to ten.

But I do just fine coaching actors, which I love to do. And it does not hurt that my wife is an executive for a technology company. I did get into the film world by the back door, as a small production company bought one of my plays after they saw a reading in LA. BUT my eyes where wide open. It was more than I ever made as a playwright, and I got lucky since it only went through a first draft, two rewrites, and a polish. I was the only writer. (I think!) And they were really nice.

On the other hand, I was more than happy to do notes. So it worked out fine. I don’t think the film will ever be made, but my agents think I have a fine sample. And if it gets made, well, I know I’ll be rewritten. So? I got to see the play produced twice exactly as I wrote it, before I ever signed over the rights to film. The only reasons I’d write movies again is for the money, which is not to say it can’t be or was not a lot of fun. It is. You just have to know what you’re getting into. Which is your very smart point.

I also teach playwriting from time to time, and tell people if they don’t want to collaborate, write novels! Which would lead me to my final thought: I know Peter Hedges a little, (he was first a playwright), and he wrote “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” as a novel. And they don’t get more personal. Then it sold to film. I ran into him on the street in NYC with his novel in hand years ago and he smiled a big smile and said, “Hey, they’re making it into a movie!”

So, while I sneak in to Hollywood from time to time, I would suggest for the most personal stories, a Novel. Maybe a play. On a stage, actors can truly make you better than your are on the page, or it can go the other way. But God love actors who do theater year after year. What makes most sense to me is to know the market you are working in and exactly what it has to give and not. In my experience, in film, theater, novels, if you talk to enough working writers they will tell you the score. My score, my real goal in writing, is TO HAVE FUN. So far, so good.

Martin Blank

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice piece -- and, as a novelist first and foremost (I only rarely write for film or TV, largely because I suck at scripts!), I’d have to agree that, if you don't want to collaborate, write novels... to a point. There's still the editorial process, and that can be painful. My former agent put me through five fairly major rewrites on the 100,000 word novel he was extremely enthusiastic about in first draft -- in the space of about six weeks. And still wasn't happy. I told him I wanted to submit anyway. He suddenly decided (having admitted "we" had edited it death) that it wasn't the really important novel I had in me and, refusing to submit, asked me if I had anything else in the pipeline and I... well, I dropped him like a hot potato.

The editing I could do (I bent over backwards to accommodate his ideas, even though I knew he was wrong), but such a blithe dismissal after I’d half-killed myself with rewrites pushed me over the edge.

Now, yes, I write with an eye to the market -- but first and foremost it's about fun. Hard work type fun, but fun nonetheless. As you’ve probably already worked out from reading my blog, I really enjoy what I do.