I had a long discussion with a fellow recently, a refugee from screenwriting. According to him, he graduated from college, worked hard for a number of years writing scripts, and networked his way deeply into the heart of Hollywood. Nevertheless, despite years of hard work, he couldn’t get arrested. Never sold anything; never got taken seriously as a writer. At the age of 37, he abandoned the effort, went to law school and became a lawyer, which is what he still does twenty years later. Now embittered, he expressed the opinion that Shakespeare, Faulkner, and Dante have already written better work than any screenwriter will ever do, so there’s no point in writing anything. He also said there are only five working screenwriters today who actually make a living. He couldn’t name any of them. It was a dark conversation with a man who is, in my opinion, a victim of his own mind. I left our meeting with a screaming headache. Unfortunately, the conversation stuck, not based on its merits, but in the same way that the image of Anthony Hopkins sticks – the one where he is eating Ray Liotta’s brain. It is unnecessarily disturbing without providing any possibility for constructive insight.
Ever since that unfortunate conversation, I’ve been feeling the need to reiterate why we write. I’m no Frank Capra, but I still have something to say.
In the thirties and forties under the studio system, writers fell into camps – socialists on one side and conservatives on the other. Despite studio wishes to the contrary, each camp worked hard to imbue their scripts with their core values. Because the resulting pictures set the archetypes, we often don’t realize what they stood for when they first came out. In its day, “Stagecoach” was highly subversive. “Sahara” was a very sneaky antiwar picture. “Casablanca” was an incredibly effective propaganda piece. Writing was an important extension of the social and political process.
Today, writers still fall into camps. Many of us just don’t realize it. Underneath each of our works lie arguments for core values. Competing values from competing writers. We don’t all agree – but we all agree that storytelling is our best means of argument. We want to make a difference.
And that, in a nutshell, is why we write.
Contrary views welcomed….