MONTHLY SCREENWRITING TIPS - ISSUE 2
Legendary Navajo weavers, when they create their blankets, intentionally include a mis-stitch. They consider it a sin against God even merely to try to craft a perfect blanket.
What, you ask, does this have to do with screenwriting?
Read on to find out. You’ll see it has everything to do with how to write the perfect screenplay by never expecting your screenplay to be perfect. I hope you enjoy this second issue of the newsletter and thank you for your support of my new book Essentials of Screenwriting.
SCREENRITING: Don’t Let Excellent Get in the Way of Good
The three worst things about the ‘90s were pasta salad, fruit in beer, and atrium hotels.
Regarding the latter, the atrium hotel seems like a good idea. A huge open space indoors, with a vast skylight at the top, surely would brighten the interior and provide useful space for concessions like restaurants and lounges. In fact, with the soaring floors leading up to the ceiling, the light is far away, and the interiors tend in fact to be gloomy and depressing.
I was staying at such an establishment while flogging one of my screenwriting books on a promotional tour, when I noticed ivy growing along the interior balconies on all the floors. I could not figure out, given the nearly lightless gloom, how anything could grow inside this tomb.
It occurred to me that perhaps the ‘vines’ were not vines at all but vinyl, that is, I figured they had to be artificial. I examined a section closely and was impressed to see that they were apparently quite real indeed.
How did I know they were real?
There were slight imperfections in the ivy: places where the leaves seemed to be dying, not green but brown. There were leaves that appeared to be nearly finished with life, ready to detach themselves from the stem and drift to the floor.
Upon closer inspection however, I discovered on one leaf the embossed logo of the manufacturer of what I now realized was indeed artificial greenery. Its imperfection had been designed into it, and it was this quality--some might say this lack of quality--that made it seem so real and alive.
My son is a musician and composer. Though he moved out of his parents’ house some time ago, we still receive some of his mail. I was leafing through a catalogue of digital musical equipment and read a description of a new drum machine. This device can simulate all percussion, but unlike earlier such machines, the latest version has been designed to provide a more a realistic, less mechanical sound. How does it achieve this effect? Its creators have programmed into it random mis-beats, places where it doesn’t hit the beat at precisely the right moment. Occasionally it runs a little in front of the beat; at other times it falls slightly behind. The overall effect is to warm up the sound, to make it appear more authentic, more human.
The way they perfected the effect was intentionally to program errors into it.
It’s the imperfection that makes it appear perfect.
Among my favorite books over the past several decades is the unlikely best seller by the late sports management pioneer Mark McCormack, "What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School". Published in 1987, it was designed to be a compendium of street wisdom for entrepreneurs and business executives.
There is plenty of useful advice here also, however, for screenwriters.
My favorite section deals with the notion that a businesswoman or man should not let excellent get in the way of good. Indeed, I have borrowed (stolen?) this principle from McCormack for my new book Essentials of Screenwriting. It means simply that artists and business souls alike should not try to be perfectionists. Only God and Her universe are perfect. Mere humanity consists of nothing but wretched sinners, the writer of this newsletter, for example; also its readers.
Years ago I met a writer at the Maui Writers Conference who was working on the 47th draft of her first screenplay. She told me that she wanted to get the script exactly right. I suggested as delicately as possible that perhaps it was time to start something new.
You can read all of the screenwriting books, take all the seminars in the world, get Masters of Fine Arts in Screenwriting degrees from my own institution UCLA; another at my alma mater USC, and one also at NYU, and please don’t forget a fourth Masters at Columbia. Your script still won't be perfect. You can take all the time in the world. You can consult with all the great consultants and the script will still be simply that, another imperfect script written by another imperfect writer.
Legendary Navajo weavers, when they craft their blankets, intentionally include a mis-stitch. They consider it a sin against God even merely to try to make the blanket entirely perfect.
Write the best script that you can. Revise, revise, and revise. But eventually let go. Never expect your script to be perfect. Be certain always not merely to tolerate, but deliberately to craft into each of your screenplays the occasional mis-stitch.
Special thanks to The Writers Store, for generously hosting the book launch party for "Essentials of Screenwriting" on June 30 and to everyone who attended. Together, we were able to make a significant contribution based on the sale of the books at the event to the writers’ support group, PEN (www.penusa.org).
If you haven’t already, buy your copy of the book at The Writers Store today!
Catch Richard if You Can!
Up and coming workshops and seminars:
Monday, August 16, 2010, 7:00PM – Video Journeys, 2730 Griffith Park Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90027-3343
Thursday, September 23 to Friday September 24, 2010, 9:00AM to 5:00PM - STORY Conference, Park Community Church, 1001 N. Crosby, Chicago, IL 60610
Thursday, October 7 to Sunday, October 10, 2010 (Times TBD) - Screenwriters EXPO, Hilton LAX, Los Angeles, CA