Apr 12 2006

Ouch

Published by at 8:54 am under Good News/Bad News

Screenwriters, by their nature, tend to immerse themselves in stories — movies, TV shows, books, comic books, videogames, whatever. After all, if we didn’t love stories, we wouldn’t be screenwriters, right? Yet, one of the unintentional side effects I occassionally run into is that I’ll write a line or an action beat that I later on realize came from a movie I saw years ago, or a book I once read. With luck, I’ll spot lift before I show the script to anyone. Sometimes I don’t (in which case it becomes an homage).
Recently, however, I had a different problem. I had an idea for a short film. I kicked it around a while. I fleshed it out. Finally I wrote the script. I ran it by some members of my film group. They dug it. I got excited. Started planning out the shoot. Even got a lead on a cool location. In other words, I was becoming emotionally invested in the project.
Then my manager read it and said, “I like it, but I feel I should warn you… they did this same story on Desperate Housewives last season.”
The thing is, I don’t watch Desperate Housewives. I know — it’s a great show. I should watch it. But I don’t. I try to limit my appointment TV, and DH didn’t make the cut.
In actuality, my story isn’t identical to the subplot on DH, but they both involved a kid killing someone, and the kid’s parents helping to cover it up. There was some brief rationalizing about making the short anyway. But, I didn’t entertain the idea for long. I didn’t want people to see the short and say, “Oh, they did something just like that on Desperate Housewives.” It’s just too humiliating. I’m expected to come up with original ideas. It’s not sufficient to explain, after the fact, that I don’t watch the show.
I might as well try to sell my space opera about Duke Skyprancer, all the while claiming I’d never seen Star Wars.
What kills me is that I lived with the idea for many months before becoming emotionally committed to it. It was only a couple days after deciding that, yes, this is going to be my next short film, that the anvil landed on my head.
Par for the course in the world of a screenwriter, I suppose. You can spend months researching a story only to open Variety one day to find that Steven Spielberg just signed on to make a film on the same subject. You lick your wounds and go to the next idea on you list.
“Keep kissing those frogs,” as my father used to say.
Or was it “Throw a hissy fit on your blog”? I can’t remember now.

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