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Screenwriting Help E-Mail (Previous)

Updated every Monday, one selected e-mail will be posted and answered here each week. With many years of experience in the film and television business, I look forward to providing answers to your questions (often with a humorous eye) about screenwriting or the entertainment industry in general.  Please send your e-mailed questions to: Script Advisor.  You may also wish to visit our Screenwriting Help E-Mails - The Archives.

This week's question: 

Do screenwriters ever say they've written a script, show a synopsis or pitch an idea, sell the script, but never actually wrote it?

Ruben


This week's answer: 

Liar, Liar, Scripts on Fire

As they say, Anonymous (there are a lot of meetings that use your name, by the way), anything can happen in Hollywood.  Or NewYork.  Or Toronto.  Or wherever screenplays are sold (that sounds like a commercial).  I’m sure somebody somewhere some time has done that very thing.  The problem with that cart-before-the-horse approach (or synopsis-or-idea-before-the-script) is that, like in Hollywood (or New York or Toronto or Vancouver or Detroit – you get the picture) so much can happen before that script is written.  Characters can change (not just their clothes – which can make for compelling scenes); locations can change; storylines and subplots can be altered; demographics can shift (that’s sort of like an earthquake but nobody gets hurt except older folk); even the three stooges of screenwriting, Theme, Premise, and Pace, can suddenly change to the point that one would no longer recognize them.  (They’re really not the three stooges of screenwriting.  I just wrote that because I was picturing seeing the three of them poking each others’ eyes and bonking heads.  “Why youuuuu... Take that, Premise.”  “You missed me, Pace.”  “Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck.”)

So it can be a bit of a tightrope walk to first proffer a synopsis or an idea, telling a producer that you already wrote the screenplay and you didn't.  And, like a tightrope (or quicksand) it’s not a very sound foundation to work on.  Not to mention that there’s that little commodity (sometimes very little in this business) of honesty.  Starting off a relationship with a producer – a business relationship – by lying normally doesn’t make for that solid of one.  That’s not to say that many driven people in the film and TV world haven’t dropped a few white lies (or outright, planned prefabrications) along the way to get to where they are now.  Wasn’t it Steven Spielberg who pretended to be Steven Spielberg in order to get somebody to hire him to direct a movie by Spielberg?  (Or some Hollywood myth like that.)  And we all know about the infamous casting couch that people sit in in casting directors’ offices and get cast for shows that have a couch in them.  (Maybe I should brush up on my Hollywood lore.)  Anyway, you know what I’m getting at.  Once you start lying, you have to remember those lies and cover them with more lies, and, before you know it, you’ve lied so much you end up telling the truth.  (Maybe I should have quit when I wasn’t ahead.)  Okay, the point that I’m trying to make is...

Well, actually, if you think you’ve got a good idea and a producer likes it and you can punch out a quick, fantastic synopsis (it will need to include the story, just so you know – in case you missed English Literature in junior high) and then, if the producer is sold on that, you could lock yourself in the room with your computer... (you two will have to become very good buddies.  Hey, that’s a great idea for a buddy picture):

My Computer And Me

or

Peter and the PC

... for three days and nights (have somebody slips meals under your door – so they will need to be very short food), and, when the producer calls for the script that he hasn’t seen one page of, pretend to have laryngitis or tell him this is your identical twin and that you (the other identical twin you) have left for three days to visit your dying aunt or went to her funeral if she kept doing that, and that should give you enough time to write about 100 or-any-number-beyond-that to about 120 pages.   That could work.

Now all you have to do is make sure that everything you wrote in your synopsis is in the screenplay.  When you think of it, a screenplay is really only a stretched-out synopsis with a FADE IN and a FADE OUT and a few conversations in between.  Good luck.

By the way, this is only the synopsis of the e-mail that I’ve already written.  Really.

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