Russell Pool for "House Beautiful" 1951
If, while watching the sun set on a used-car lot in Los Angeles, you are struck by the parallels between the image and the inevitable fate of humanity, do not, under any circumstance, write it down.
— Fran Lebowitz
LONG AGO, IN A TIME OF PEACE and relative innocence, I decided that I would like, very much, to be a writer. At that time, I was just a person who wrote stuff; a swell hobby and a fine way to pass the time while everyone else worked, but what I really wanted was to get paid to write stuff. Besides the obvious fiduciary benefits of such an arrangement, I was most interested in the title it confers. “Writer” would provide identity and security. “Person who writes stuff” provided only stomach pains.
My first step was to figure out what type of writer I wanted to be. I briefly considered poetry, my original passion. The few working poets I had met all seemed to live in the same neighborhood of modest row homes in Providence, RI. I did not know much at that point in life, but I knew I did not want to live in a modest row home in Providence, RI. Then I also realized, with an admirable sobriety brought on by age and actual sobriety, that my poems read like a privileged suburbanite take on Langston Hughes, and as such might never become the meal ticket I was hoping for.
Poetry dreams deferred, I moved on to another passion: screenwriting. It began as a lark, quickly grew into a hobby, and then an obsession. When I met a professional screenwriter, whose spacious two-story apartment in idyllic Culver City was nowhere near Providence, I knew I had finally found my calling.
So then how would I transition from wannabe Writer to adequately compensated Screenwriter? I, of course, hadn’t the faintest. But luckily, some people possessed the knowledge I sought, and would graciously share it with me, and with anyone else willing to pay. They were the gurus. And they were there to help…
This is the story of my journey into the land of the gurus.
Among qualified experts, the screenwriting guru stands alone in his level of exaltation and influence. To obtain his title, the guru must have mastered the elusive craft of screenwriting, which sometimes, though not always, entails the actual selling of a screenplay. Always, though, it involves writing a book.
The tremendous unlikelihood of actually succeeding serves as one major theme of the screenwriting book sub-genre. The guru typically lays this message out in the introduction, justifying the book’s existence and establishing his own bona fides, which need be no greater than, “I am screenwriter, and if you are reading this preface, then probably you are not.”
Like most wannabes, I found this argument wildly persuasive. Often stated and always implied, screenwriting is a craft and not an art, its values commercial and not aesthetic, its target the audience and not some loftier notion such as truth or beauty. This is one of many ways that screenwriting differs from guides to wri...read more