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Portrait of the Screenwriter as a Young Man

Portrait of the Screenwriter as a Young Man

Articles - Directing

I met George Wing through
his girlfriend, who was working an unglamorous day job with me at
a discount brokerage. He was (and still is) toiling as a legal assistant,
working on scripts at lunch, at night, on weekends. Things are starting
to happening for George.

MM: Tell me about your two optioned
scripts.

GW:   Mr. Hector is the
story of a couple on vacation in Jamaica.   Their
baby disappears on the beach near a giant fish the townspeople call
Mr. Hector. The second is called Cat Soup. It’s about a girl
whose family drowns in a vat of ketchup in a freak factory accident.
She moves to Seattle to start her life over from scratch.

MM: Who optioned them?

GW: An independent producer optioned Mr.
Hector
. He’s produced the film Heaven Help Us. He’s working
with an agent at the William Morris Agency who’s packaging the project
and pitching it to the larger studios. Cat Soup is being optioned
by Alliance Entertainment, a production and distribution company
which did Black Robe.

MM: What are average option terms?

GW: It’s usually for a year. The pay is anywhere
from zero to $30,000. Some writers live off option payments and
option renewals. I made $3,500 for the first script. They’ll give
me another $7K if they renew. On the second I get $2,500 up front
and another $10K if the option is renewed.

MM: What’s
your background?

GW: I went to NYU
film school. I double-majored in film production and film writing.

MM: Has film production enhanced
your writing?

GW: It takes forever to shoot a film. It’s
a lot of work. You can’t just casually write something down. Someone
has to actually shoot it! You have to keep that in mind.

MM: Writers are always looking for
agents. Do you think they’re necessary?

GW:   Only if you want to make
a living.   Even if you get your script out there
yourself and sell it, you’ll still need an agent to negotiate your
contract. Without an agent you won’t get a percentage of the toys
sold in Poland.

MM: Vive le merchandising! Where
does a beginning screenwriter find an agent?

GW: I wrote to the Writer’s Guild of America.   They
sent me a list.   I was living in New York at the
time, so I picked out all the New York agents. I wrote letters.
Your letters should be intelligent and brief. I had won a few screenwriting
awards, so I mentioned that. Out of 13 agents, four asked me to
send scripts. Out of those four I received two offers for representation.
Most of the agents were pretty nice. Even the ones who flat out
rejected me sent a letter. My current agent originally wasn’t interested.
He passed on my script, but said to send future material. He loved
the next script I sent him and got it optioned. The secret about
agents is: they’re desperate for a great script.

MM: All the writers
nowadays seem to want to direct. Do you want to direct your scripts?

GW: Eventually. Writing is a good foot in the door. Some screenwriters
aren’t meant to be directors because they really have no desire
to work with actors.

MM: And success
in screenwriting doesn’t necessarily guarantee success in directing.

GW: Yeah. Like the guy who wrote Moonstruck.
He won an Oscar for it. And so a studio let him direct Joe vs.
The Volcano
, which wasn’t a critical success. Or a guy I went
to school with who wrote Something Wild and then directed
Amos and Andrew which also wasn’t very successful. It isn’t that
these guys weren’t good directors. But they made the mistake of
not saving their best writing to direct.

MM: What’s
your style?

GW: I write Dark Comedies.

MM: You mean
Black Comedies?

GW: No. Black Comedy I can’t do. Dark Comedy.
Like Prizzi’s Honor.

MM: So why Dark Comedy?

GW: Life is a dark comedy.

MM: Do you like straight horror?

GW: Sure.    Like Silence
of the Lambs
, Alien, The Shining, Jaws.
The usual stuff. I like believable horror. It’s less horrifying
if you don’t believe the situation. I like beast and creature horror
films. I would love to write the world’s most horrific movie some
day.

MM: What moviemakers do you get excited
over?

GW: I’ll go out to see anything Jonathan
Demme does.

MM: He’s certainly popular. What’s
the next trend in moviemaking?

GW: I’d like to see filmmakers explore new
mythologies. Science Fiction does that.

MM: You mean to see how people react
to new technology?

GW: Yes. But also to approach spiritual questions.
To make movies that change people. More people go to movies than
to church. Someone out there might construct a whole new religion
on screen. It would be fascinating. There’s going to be a generation
of filmmakers who’ve been making movies on video since they’ve been
four years old. It’s going to be amazing. For them, film language
will already be out of the way. In just a few years these filmmakers
will be hitting the scene. It’ll be amazing.

MM: Do you ever get discouraged?

GW: Sometimes I wish I had been born a painter.   Then
I could just pick up a brush and paint. With movies you need an
army and a fortune. But movies are the most compelling art form
we have. It’s worth the difficulty.

MM: What are the biggest mistakes
beginning screenwriters make?

GW: Trying to be deep.

MM: Where does a screenwriter learn to
do it when he’s not getting his scripts produced?

GW: They can hold a staged reading. I’m glad
I went to film school and appreciate the process and don’t just
write pages of dialogue. My advice to beginning screenwriters is
to tell your story to people.   If you can state
it simply and it holds people’s interest then you’re onto something.
And don’t get discouraged. There’s a lot of competition, but it’s
all crap. The Industry is not the enemy. The Industry is desperate.
The only secret is to write a good story. That’s all. MM

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