Aug 27 2006

Master of Your Domain

Published by at 10:07 am under The Business We've Chosen

It’s a bit of a cliche in Hollywood that screenwriters are frustrated people. We have relatively little power and influence. We tend not to be household names. We’re easily and frequently replaced, and so on. The list of complaints is endless. But they all spring from one inescapable fact:

Screenwriters don’t make movies, we make screenplays.

That is to say, a screenplay is not a finished product. It’s merely one of many required components of a finished film (some wouldn’t even call it a requirement, but rather an optional step). So, the screenwriter pours his guts onto a page, revises it until his eyes bleed and, eventually, finally, at long last, gazes upon the fruits of his labor — a half-inch stack of paper with thousands of little black runes printed on it. Pages. With words. It’s quite a feat, when all’s said and done.

But it ain’t a movie.

It won’t become a movie until you add one director and a couple of stars, stir in a generous amount of financing, bake for about a year and a half, and then glaze with domestic and foreign distribution deals. It’s bad enough that most of these ingredients are on the endangered species list. It’s even worse when, in the end, the finished film bears little resemblance to the screenplay.

In other words, a screenplay has to pass through a lot of hands before it becomes a film. That’s a lot of complicated layers between the screenwriter and the audience — most of them well beyond our control. And let’s not forget: most screenplays — by a breathtaking margin — never make it past the stack-of-paper phase. You stay up nights and weekends writing your masterpiece, call in every favor trying to get People in Power to read it, and then try not to let them see you cry when they say, “Loved the script. What else you got?”

What else have I got? WHAT ELSE HAVE I GOT? Why you self-involved little prick –

I’m sorry, where was I going with this? Oh, right.

So, the screenwriter’s lot in life in inherently frustrating. That’s why it behooves us to look beyond the Hollywood landscape to find other means of getting our stories in front of an audience. Writing novels is one way, and there are a number of screenwriters who routinely bounce back and forth between scripts (where they are peasants) and novels (where they are kings).

Another route — and one that has really become much more viable in recent years — is to write a comic book. And I have several friends who’ve done exactly that.
Steven Barr and Danny Grossman co-wrote a screenplay a few years ago called Devil Water, an action/western/horror/comedy, but never managed to sell it. Recently, Steven saw an opportunity to repurpose the story as a limited series of comic books. The first issue of Devil Water is out now, through King Tractor Press.

Another friend of mine, Sam “Stormcrow” Hayes, has just seen the release of his manga-style graphic novel, Afterlife, through the Tokyo Pop imprint (not that you’d know, from the scant bit of marketing they do for it on their own freakin’ website — not even an image of the cover? WTF?).

The book will have to fight for attention in the crowded marketplace, but it’s already getting some pretty stellar reviews.

The payoff with the comic book route isn’t complete autonomy, since the writer must rely on an artist to interpret their work (although the writer might be responsible for chosing an artist, and can have approval authority over the artwork). But, in the end, the writer has something tangible to show for their efforts — a finished book on store shelves. The layers between storyteller and audience have been largely eliminated.

And there are other benefits as well. Both Steven and Sam got to attend this year’s San Diego Comic-Con in a professional capacity, as opposed to mere fanboys. And there is still the possibility that the stories they’ve written can find their way to the big screen — as an adaptation. By publishing the story in comic book form first, these writers are attempting to create what Terry Rossio calls Mental Real Estate. In fact, as a result of the publication of Devil Water, Steven and Danny have recently optioned their original script, which would otherwise still be sitting on a shelf.

Bravo, boys. Best of luck.

One response so far

One Response to “Master of Your Domain”

  1. Kayon 03 Sep 2006 at 12:53 am

    Your dad and I were friends. He was very proud of you.
    I wish you much luck.