Screenwriting Woes

by robinhardwick

I’m taking my first screenwriting class. The class focuses on both craft and writing something that will “sell.” Obviously, I would love to sell a screenplay, but I also hate bad mainstream Hollywood movies.

I do not want to write a comedy screenplay. One, it’s way fucking hard, and comedy is always my “go-to”. Because comedy allows you to yuck it up and not show real emotion (sometimes). I need to be more vulnerable and real in my writing. (I’ve been “writing a serious novel” for years and I am nowhere near ever showing it to another living human being). I figured I try to write a screenplay in any genre than comedy, for my growth as a writer.

The other thing I am is dark. I don’t like happy endings. I don’t like watching people always get what they want. It’s fine to write some fluff that is escapism for some people, but the films I most admire are really fucking emotionally draining and dark. It just is a more real experience for me as a movie-goer.

I was toiling with some ideas, perhaps writing about my obsession with doomsday cults, and even a non-comedic romance between recovering substance addicts. I was totally jazzed about that, and the idea came to me suddenly.

I’ll share it in vague terms here, because I don’t think I am ready to put it out there for everyone. The basic idea is that women who are deeply dissatisfied with their lives meet, and as they get to know each other, they disclose some secret obsession to engage in immoral/criminal activity. They each vow to create that experience for each other and to keep the secret among them. Well, obviously shit doesn’t go as planned and they find themselves deeply fucked. Some one described it as a female Fight Club, which I guess is a fair description. More for the idea of the “crime club” and not for the style or narrative structure. However, I CAN imagine David Fincher directing it.

The “save the cat,” moment, so to speak, is when the main character takes charge and devises a plan to get all of her friends out of the shit they’ve put themselves in. So, the fight is not for the world or what not, but she DOES have some care for her friends.

I wanted to write a feminist movie, small F, not a FEMINIST movie.  I already knew that movies with female protagonists never get made unless they were a brave fighter saving a world or whatnot, so I KNEW the kinds of notes I would get.

Generally people really liked the idea. They were excited for the possibilities. I tried to take in all the ideas, and not get defensive, but in my mind I was screaming. The notes were:

-I should most definitely make it a comedy.  Because seeing these professional, upstanding women do bad things is wacky.

-All the women should have children and husbands, and the funny part could be having them trying to hide their criminal lives from them. (My main character was divorced with no children, for the purpose of not having to deal with that part of a story.)

-There should be a better reason for them to want to lead a dangerous life than just “wanting to.” They, for example, should all be terminally ill.

-“We don’t want to see WOMEN hurting people.”

-The instructor broke it down: “Audiences, especially males, don’t like to see  women without fear.  It makes them uncomfortable. ”

I’m not trying to write some major GIRL POWER feminist anthem, but yes, I would like to write a movie where women are not just romantic interests, sassy “ass-kicking” superheros, but ones in which they fuck up and are selfish, because guess what, WE ALL ARE. I know moral ambiguity is hard for the “mainstream” to digest, but I don’t think I can stomach sitting down to write something that audiences will be “more comfortable with.”

Are the above notes wrong? No. Screenwriting doesn’t happen in isolation, the point is SELLING A SCRIPT. I’m not annoyed at the people giving the notes, I’m pissed because they are probably right.

Is this script going to sell? No. I doubt I’ll even try to sell it. In my world, a movie will get made because it would be interesting.  ART, AM I RIGHT?

Confession: I haven’t even finished a draft yet I am thinking about the soundtrack.  I’m already thinking of using eighties and nineties new wave, like New Order, Bronski Beat, and Heaven 17.

At least I didn’t get this feedback: