What makes someone want to become a screenwriter?
Usually the prospect of creating your own film comes from a love of movies. More specifically, we are inspired by or attracted to films that resonate with us beyond the celluloid. Being entranced, ushered into another world, immersing ourselves in a grand illusion, this is what makes movies special – there’s something about this entertainment format that makes you feel ready to conquer the world.
The idea of getting your thoughts onto a page, creating a special place from out of nothing and filling it with characters who challenge, intrigue or win audiences over. Film has that magical power of possibility, essentially making it a viable way of transposing your dreams into reality.
No wonder any budding filmmaker screenwriter gets involved in the first place. The problem is that while we are all too eager to represent our vision, adapt our life narrative or build a world through boundless creativity, we forget that it’s ultimately a product and a business. Financing a film requires you to convince other people that your movie has got what it takes to turn a profit. Tax incentives aside, your screenplay needs to excite financiers enough to see it as a bankable project. You ultimately need to get butts on seats, filling cinemas and selling enough tickets to make healthy box office returns.
This is why so many filmmakers decide to take a safer route with their first film, essentially earning the capital necessary in order to make the film they really want to make. This process of creating a product, isn’t simply the director’s job when it comes to interpreting a screenwriter’s script. As a writer, the foundational conceptualisation is where it all begins, tapping into the kind of content that sells, stuff that is mainstream enough to grab attention without alienating.
It’s a tricky balancing act, one that requires you to temper your artistic energy. While you may want to go completely niche, writing about something that is very specific to your world view and frame of reference, it may be a much more difficult task getting film people to buy into your idea never mind read your script.
There are ways of getting much closer to what you want to do, yet until you have a solid reputation, there’s a lot of compromising to be done. Broadening your audience, yet keeping your writing crisp and passionate enough to appeal, some days you may feel like a sell out. Realising that it’s a product, it’s important to strike a balance, which will make things much easier further down the timeline.
One shouldn’t be disheartened by this, but rather see it as a challenge, working within these limitations to create something that is artistically credible yet laced with commercial potential. There are many fine examples of this, most notably the work of Christopher Nolan, taking big money ideas and injecting them with artful vigour.
If you want to get financiers excited, you need to be fresh but you also need to be realistic about the chances of attracting an audience. Of course there are exceptions, bold film-makers who do what they have to in order to have their cinematic voice heard. However, this is a big risk. If you’re not willing to eat beans on toast for a year, it’s better to take a more pragmatic viewpoint.