How I Stumbled My Way Into Writing A Screenplay…
It all started on a dating app.
The guy was on OKCupid. His history included being a writer of a successful mini-series and a few movies. I am a psychotherapist with a scarlet past as a Public Relations, Marketing and Advertising professional. My mild success in that field did not lead me into creative writing. In fact, in that, I have always believed that I suck.
So, not fearing any level of competition, and being someone who loves to learn, I went on the first date. His courting style consisted largely of innuendos and leering comments. Strike one. I was not attracted to this man, except to the part of his brain that knew movies. Since, like most people, I love movies, I enjoyed learning what goes on from inception of the idea to production. When I kept him on topic, he was interesting.
I went on a second date. This one was to see a private screening of “Love In The Sixties,” a documentary starring Arilyn Hughes, an Austin character and real estate mogul. It was a delightful, naughty and insightful view of sex for a woman in her sixties. My date had been interviewed for the movie, but his perception of what it was about was completely skewed. He had talked of free love in the 1960’s. As you would expect, it ended up on the cutting room floor. Before the movie even started, he confronted Ms. Hughes on why his interview had been left out of the movie. Strike two.
He invited me on a third date to attend his writers’ group that meets every Monday night. I told him I would attend the group separately as another avenue to learn cool stuff and meet interesting people. The group of 15 or so were welcoming and invited me to offer feedback on the script being read. Meantime, my lothario kept trying to put his hand on my knee, and I kept moving it off, until I finally threw it off. Strike three.
At the end, I approached the leader and asked if I could return on my own, and provide feedback on the psychological and emotional aspects of the characters in the script, helping to make them more believable. He agreed, and that is how I introduced myself at the next meeting.
The experience of reading new screenplays every week was exhilarating, and so was being the resident “expert” on human behavior. Heated exchanges often ensued, and I weighed in with convincing points about people and their idiosyncrasies. My original date/host forgave me for throwing him over and accepted me into the group, where we often argued loudly in ways that entertained the other writers. I consulted with two writers on their screenplays, and attended a table read for one being produced.
All was good, and I felt almost at home with my new friends. Until, a few months in, they started pressuring me to write. A screenplay. Which I had never considered doing. And to have it read aloud by people who had screenplays produced as TV series and movies, who had won screenwriting competitions, who were actors, and/or had acclaimed scripts produced onstage. No pressure at all.
It took the leader of the group a few weeks of prodding, and then of preemptively placing me on the schedule to get me to seriously consider it. When I couldn’t wriggle out, I dove into boxes of files of old writing (and I mean old), which consisted mostly of published newspaper and magazine articles and one unfinished novel. I did find a short story that wasn’t completely awful. It was based on my being stalked by a neighbor. That tiny kernel, and a fascination I had about a series of murders that had taken place in my town around the same time I wrote the original story, became the bones of the plot. As I wrote, I learned something from each meeting I attended, and frantically read books on the screenwriting process, trying to squeeze a college degree’s worth of study into six months of reading and writing. In that, I failed.
The first reading of my very first screenplay was disastrous. Despite using a template, I had formatting and other mistakes, which, I was assured, would immediately cause directors and producers to toss it without reading it. In spite of that, plus too much dialogue, not enough visualization, underdeveloped characters, and a messy plot, the people I had thought were my friends said I had the bare beginnings of a viable screenplay. Back to slaving over a hot computer.
For the second reading, I had two of the members read it ahead of time. One said if my original date/host read it, his critique would make me cry. He also said he was impressed with how quickly I had incorporated the advice from the first reading. The second, who has a degree in film, said it was better than his first screenplay.
A glutton for punishment, I brought it in a second time. The first to critique, a woman who works in the industry, told me to put it away and not look at it again until I had written six more, if ever. She did email an apology the next day and offered her help and advice one-on-one. The rest had some positive, constructive, and slightly less scathing things to say.
As a result, I have a completed screenplay tucked away. I took my new friend Rachel’s advice and haven’t looked at it in six months. I plan to begin rewrites any day. Except now the group leader has scheduled me to present again. A new screenplay. In two more months. Fortunately I work well under pressure, but I may never date again.