A screenwriter’s duty: Live an authentic life outside of your comfort zone……
October 31, 2013 § 2 Comments
As a screenwriter, it’s your duty to be mindful of your feelings and be able to recall your emotional memory and personal experiences much like actors do. The characters you create will be unique and authentic and will not come off as someone we’ve seen before in other movies. Be a sponge and soak up every experience and every person whom you meet. Keep a wide-eyed curiosity about the world and continually expose yourself to all of the arts — read novels, screenplays (both good and bad), study paintings, watch movies and television (current and classic), listen to music, attend concerts and plays, travel, explore and be an active participant in your life and the world.
Also constantly take chances and push yourself out of your comfort zone. This is particularly important with regards to the material you write. Never stop challenging yourself because this will keep you growing as a screenwriter. If you fail miserably, use the experience to learn and get better the next time. I’m working on two projects—a screenwriting assignment job and a web series and both are new challenges to me. The projects are vastly different in subject and tone, but it’s a chance to stretch my writing and story muscles and venture into new territory. This is my twelfth assignment job, so it’s not like I haven’t been to that rodeo before but it’s a genre hybrid film and something I’ve never tackled before. I’m loving the process because when I go to my creative well, it’s full with great experiences to draw upon for these projects.
You could also follow the lead of the crazy successful, Academy Award winning Hollywood producer Brian Grazer. He’s spent most of his adult life disrupting his comfort zone. He even learned how to surf at 45 years old. When he started in the film business, he made a list of all the people he thought he should meet—people who could shake him up, teach him something, and challenge his ideas about myself and the world. He called up experts in all kinds of fields: trial lawyers, neurosurgeons, CIA agents, embryologists, firewalkers, police chiefs, hypnotists, forensic anthropologists, and even presidents. He constantly disrupts his comfort zone and bombards himself with challenging people and situations. It’s the best way he knows how to keep growing. He says, “to paraphrase a biologist I once met, if you’re not growing, you’re dying.” Get on to the business of living.
A full life is a vital part of any screenwriter’s ongoing journey. If you’re not observing life and have your creative radar set to detect even subtle events in the real world, how are you doing to write with honesty? You never know when you’ll observe a person or an interaction that will spawn an idea for a project or maybe another one in the future. Don’t just regurgitate what you’ve seen in other movies and television—experience life first hand and bring back real stories from your fantastic adventures. When you’re out in the world, listen closely to how people speak, study how they act and react, and constantly record your findings. I collect my observations and write them into a small notebook that I call my “writing arsenal.” I carry it in my briefcase with my laptop and I record various thoughts, ideas, and lines of dialogue that might end up in my current projects or another script some day. My own life experiences also get logged into my writing arsenal.
The late Rod Serling believed: “The instinct of creativity must be followed by the physical act of putting it down.” If you observe something that moves you or might be used in some project—write it down. The clue to the writer is not to let your feeling or observation only linger as a memory. Being observant and being open and present in the now will allow you the necessary skills to recognize the events around you that lead to honest stotytelling. This is why screenwriters need to observe and be fully present at all times.
The fun part of being a screenwriter too is that your research is an ongoing process of venturing out and exploring different scenarios and adventures. f you’re writing a screenplay about a submarine, get yourself on a real submarine like I did when I was doing research for my Naval drama and I was blessed to have a small part in the film. When I was writing a script that took place on a supertanker on the high seas, I set up a tour for myself and my co-writer on a ship docked in the port and the Captain generously took us everywhere on the vessel.
The journey of any artist is a lifelong adventure and a huge part of the creative process is experiencing life—the good and the bad. You can’t write honestly unless you’ve really lived with the ups and downs. “The great danger for any artist is to find himself comfortable. It’s his duty to find the point of maximum discomfort, to search it out.”—Orson Welles, in conversation with Peter Bogdanovich, This Is Orson Welles.
If you stop learning and being curious you are finished.
Keep the faith and filling your blank pages.
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“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek. The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.” — Joseph Campbell
“Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure. But the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. [F]ailure means a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself to be anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena where I believe I truly belonged. [R]ock bottom became the solid foundation on which I built my life.” ~ J.K. Rowling
“The time we have alone; the time we have in walking; the time we have in riding a bicycle; are the most important times for a writer. Escaping from a typewriter is part of the creative process. You have to give your subconscious time to think. Real thinking always occurs on the subconscious level.”—Ray Bradbury
“There are some things which cannot be learned quickly and time, which is all we have, must be paid heavily for their acquiring. They are the very simplest things and because it takes a man’s life to know them the little new that each man gets from life is very costly and the only heritage he has to leave.”—Ernest Hemingway