You’ve decided you’re going to pursue a career as a screenwriter. You’re going to be a maverick, break all the rules and take Hollywood by storm. You’re going to be the rebel without a clue… just like many before you, who’ve tried and failed.
Not so fast. Unless you’re Tom Cruise, Will, Ferrell, Jim Cameron or a little known film maker called Clint Eastwood, you’re going to play by the rules when you’re starting out. Get used to it. Know your industry, despite it’s predilection for block buster movies. It may seem like a double-edged sword in a business looking for the next best thing, but that’s life.
Being an individual means that you have some unique, distinguishing qualities as a screenwriter, that separates you from other writers. This is not the same having alienating qualities. Most of this is semantics, anyway. A theoretical argument. Humans all have the same basic needs, respond to the same emotions, and are influenced by their communities. Pure individuality doesn’t exist. But don’t gag your special ray of creative sunshine. The Farelly brothers, the Coen brothers, Woody Allen and the like all have an spark, individuality and commerciality to their films which give them a signature style.
Still wanna sock it the man? Buck the system? Stick you finger up at Hollywood authority? Good for you, because most development executives are so bored with derivative movie scripts which are inferior imitations of successful films. They are looking for new, unique, fresh storytelling voices which fit into common recognizable parameters.
I remember speaking to a wannabe film maker with naive bravura, who was going to “reject the system” and trail blaze his way to movie superstardom. After deeper investigation, I reduced his story to one of how power corrupts. What a recognizable and powerful concept, I told him. His execution was unusual (aliens interchangeably morphing from men to women) and admittedly, original. Despite my pleas that his story had a heart that studio executives would respond to, he wasn’t interested. After all, he was an misunderstood individual. I wonder what happened to him?
Remember, that everyone who has tried to re-invent the wheel, has come up with… another wheel. It’s circular. It always is. Some bigger, some smaller, some wider, some steel, some wooden, some tied with ribbons… but still recognizable wheels. Square wheels don’t roll.
Many new screenwriters confuse individuality and originality with desperation. How does a one-armed lesbian fembot set on a path of global domination grab you? Actually one of my university professors was one (except for the one arm), but that’s another story. Is Lady Gaga really pushing the envelope or simply re-engineering the work of her predecessors? Because few of us live in a vacuum, we are all influenced by our environments and so are our tastes.
Once you gain notoriety, you can experiment a little more. You can be more daring and unconventional. You have established a reputation with the powers that be, so they will respond to you. Until then, be more conservative. How else was “Precious” made? We love you, Oprah. Don’t blame Hollywood because “Iron Man 2″ got made. It got made because Iron Man sold in excess of $300 million worth of tickets in its first week. Now China has a stake in Iron Man 3.
Still wanna be an individual? You can and you can’t. But you can become a better writer by never giving up. Be outstanding within the industry parameters.