I was on twitter today and thanks to seeing a retweet from J. Holtham (@jholtham), I ended up reading a solid twitter rant from Motion picture executive / Writer Jeff Willis about the words "sell out" in relation to screenwriters taking jobs writing (or rewriting) scripts for other people. For pay. He tackles the way that people use the words "selling out" against writers who take money to work on projects that aren't theirs, that they might not personally love every minute of, or which aren't wholly aligned with their artistic passions. Or are just bad movies.
Does writing a bad movie (for someone else, from their idea) make you a sell out? Does writing a good movie that wasn't your idea or that doesn't satisfy you on an artistic level make you a sell out? Mike Sweeney offers his thoughts in a reply to Willis.
Obviously, we all want to write the stories that burn from within our souls and see them realized. Whether their work graces the screen or the stage, most dramatic writers have their own stories to tell, but along the way, we sometimes end up telling other people's stories too. Why? We also have a powerful need to eat. Seriously, though, some people come up with ideas. And some people write. My dad's a commercial painter. Other people design buildings and hire him to paint them. He doesn't always love the paint swatches they choose, but that doesn't matter. He's hired to paint, not to design. He finishes a job, he moves on to the next. But writers are artists, right?
On the playwriting front, I have my plays that I write because they are stories I find important and meaningful and burn from within me (see Pathogenesis). To afford to write those scripts, I need money. Like everyone else. So I look for jobs. Some of those jobs I seek involve writing for hire. Writing plays for producers. Fortunately, I've stumbled into playwriting commissions that I fell in love with (see Ichabod). To be fair, writing a play on commission is very different from writing a screenplay for hire. In playwriting, we retain copyright and ownership of our scripts. Writing for the screen has a very different set of rules. Playwriting commissions usually fall into more of a partnership and my experience with screenwriting (see Separation Anxiety) was very similar to that world because I worked with friends and their independent film company.
I've not worked in Hollywood yet. Though when that happens, I know I'll be writing scripts for the people cutting the checks. The producers. The studios. However those contracts may read, ultimately, those script won't be mine when I put them down. When I write screenplays in the future, some will be my passion projects that I will write on spec and work hard to sell; but as Willis details in his twitter rant (posted below), it's more likely that my specs will lead, not to million-dollar sales, but, to jobs executing another's vision. Paying jobs, mind you. Writing for hire. Not every job I take will warrant my artistic design (though, that is still a goal and one for which I will always strive). For some, I'll just be a contractor. A skilled craftsman doing my job. Crafting. To someone else's design.
Is that selling out? Read the rant below and know that I agree with Jeff Willis.
Thoughts. From my brain. Anything to do with how we tell stories and the stories we tell each other. Literally and figuratively.
Writer. Husband. Father. Effulgent dreamer. A Fightin' Irishman (@NDdotEDU '01). A playwriting Bobcat (MFA in Playwriting, @OhioU '13). I write plays. I'm a geek. I wanted to be an astronaut. I go places in my head.