Reading Lucy’s great post the other day reminded me of an article I wrote for Scriptwriter Magazine a few years ago, inspired by the myth of ideas theft.
Motivation for screenwriting wasn’t immediately obvious to me. It would be easy to say I always wanted to tell stories to entertain people, but in truth that’s a predictably lazy piece of twaddle, and, certainly in my case, wouldn’t be the truth on its own.
The obvious motivations exist for me as they do for all writers. Orwell said it more eloquently, but it’s basically a very healthy dose of ego, combined with the pleasure of storytelling, the urge to uncover facts and truths, and a driven, almost self-righteous desire to expose injustice - all traits shared by all writers (don’t let them tell you any different); it’s just the proportions that differ, dependent on the writer’s state of mind at the time and the subject matter.
I’ve always had stories floating around my head. Actually, part of my problem is they don’t float at all, they wear cricket spikes and barbed-wire gloves and take lots of ecstasy and I’ve been forced to experiment with various ways of extracting them, or at least calming them down. Screenwriting appears to work as a way to get them out of my head and stop their bad dancing. Either that or I have to anesthetize my brain to such an extent that they appear to go away, which, although often a popular choice, is a bit like removing the flashing oil light on a dashboard because it’s becoming annoying - at some point you’ll need to take a bus.
I’ve been taking a lot of buses lately.
A while back I read in The Hollywood Reporter that a film addressing climate change was in pre-production. That wasn’t a good day, week or month for me. The Day After Tomorrow - a high-concept exploration of the effect of global-warming on a deluded population. Oh bollocks…
I’ve never been a naturally paranoid person, but I knew right then I’d been cyber-burgled. I've got pages and pages of research, treatments and character bios to prove it. The first draft was only a week away. Well, maybe a month away. Actually, thinking about what time of year it was, and taking into consideration my work commitments and a wealth of other thinking projects, along with my continued financial obligation to several local bartenders, plus all those bus journeys, I probably would have got round to nailing the first draft in about, oh, I don't know, a year or so? Maybe.
And there it was, my motivational epiphany: Get Stuff Done.
Ideas are everywhere, but until someone knuckles down and turns one of them into a viable script, they are worthless, hence the oft-repeated mantra about why there exists no copyright on ideas, just the manifestation of those ideas into scripts. This motivational epiphany extended to the knowledge that every single great idea I come up with - no matter how unbelievably unique and utterly brilliant I know I am - there will always be people the world over toying with a similar idea (just nowhere near as good) and maybe some of them are already working on treatments, maybe some have already completed drafts, and just maybe… uh oh…
It’s the most natural thing for storytellers to share a common currency of thought. Imagine a busy street with hundreds of people walking along it every day. Add something of interest in that street that draws attention and could inspire a story. Throw in a couple of screenwriters walking down that same street at different times, and they’ll be the ones most likely sucked into imagining the story behind it and the possibilities that story could inspire. In the same way that out of all those hundreds of people it will be the few photographers walking down that street who will focus on something else and be inspired in a different way, seeing hidden possibilities that most people walking past wouldn’t, and which crucially they feel are unique to them. And so it goes. Hence it really shouldn’t be a surprise when we screenwriters come up with similar ideas at similar times.
Sometimes, though, it is cyber-burglary, but I’m not going to dwell on that, even if it was by a successful German writer-director with an impressive list of films under his belt and possibly a bigger cock than mine. I’m over it. I’ve moved on. I’M FINE.
So, it’s quite simple. There are endless stories out there with varying basic motivations for telling them, but my immediate motivation lies in writing them before some other fucker does and I get my nose rubbed in it by The Hollywood Reporter. And you know what? It seems to be working. It’s helping me to get stuff done.
However, I do have another motivation that started long before I began writing for the screen, and it’s just as inspirational. I want my mum and dad to live in a big house by the sea and never have to worry about getting stuff done. That one helps when the bus journeys get longer.
Published in Scriptwriter Magazine, September 2006.