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Story of a Screenplay

September 2, 2009

I know I haven’t blogged in a while, mostly due to miserable working conditions and traveling to the Front Range every other weekend. I haven’t had the energy or heart to find my creativity. I’ve been at my job for almost 6 months now, and the more I’m exposed to paperwork and bureaucracy, the less I want to make Administrative Assisting my career.

I’m remembering why I went to the college I did. I’m feeling the need to make something out of that. So, 5 years after commencement, I’m finally starting another screenplay. My goal is to finish it by next summer.

I know. Like I need another project, right?

Ironically, my good friend Elly, who I’ve known for over 10 (wow) years, left this link on my previous post. Its about female characters on film, the rules of screenwriting, and the reality of  Hollywood.

I’d like to share my own story of this dealing with this truth, but first read the article, so you know its not just me.

My Screenwriting Story:

My senior year of college, I lived, went to school and worked in Hollywood. It was the final step in a college curriculum based on a 90% job placement in the extremely competitive film industry. Up until this point, We had been groomed and molded until our minds and bodies were prepared to achieve Hollywood glory.

I’ve written more than once about the egoism and elitist attitude I was exposed to at my college, but it was understood that the boot camp of film school was only to prepare you for how things “really were” in Hollywood. If you didn’t like it, then obviously you were in the wrong place.

As much as I hated my experience at film school, I was excited to get to Hollywood. I had faith in my work ethic, my flexibility & my creativity. I was ecstatic to finally enroll in a real screenwriting class, since I had only been writing media criticism, film treatments and creative works of fiction up until that point.

The class was small, one teacher and 5 other students. I was the only female. We had to write 10 pages a week, bring copies of our script, distribute roles and read aloud in class every week. I had been in high school theatre, so I remembered enjoying sitting around a table, reading out loud from a script.

Unfortunately for yours truly, this class would be nothing like that.

My first screenplay was a highly personal, highly angst-ridden, highly-feminine work of bitter, angry prose. It was titled “Pills” and it starred a 17 year-old fat girl with anger management issues and an addiction to Ritalin.

Taking that into a room full 21-year-old boys who showed up every week with car chases, crime syndicates, rockstars, guns and hitmen was like walking into the gauntlet.

After week 2, I dreaded bringing my work to class. It was like the first day of school every time I handed out the pages of my script. All my characters were female. All the students in the room were male. Every week, the members of my class laughed and scoffed and spoke in high pitched voices when my characters talked. They rolled their eyes and bit their lips in disgust as my PMS-laden, tampon-driven, birth control-soaking dialogue spewed out of their mouths.

The professor of this class was also female. At about week 6,  I desperately started to look to her for help. To save me from this humiliation. I though she might come to my rescue and tell these assholes to shut the fuck up and show some respect to me.  She never said a word about the quality of my script. I started to think I was a horrible writer. That maybe I really didn’t have what it took to  sell a script. If the 5 guys were any indication of a real audience, I was dead in the water.

The message I got was clear: No one wanted to watch a pimply, fat teenage girl whine about her life (even though Woody Allen has been doing the same thing and making highly successful movies for years).

By the final weeks of the class, I had given up on my story. I started writing the most outrageous things, just to spite my fellow classmates, to force them to recite the darkest, ugliest, most disturbing things about the female race possible. Things they never wanted to even think about.

Yeah, can you say “passive aggressive”? Ahem…Pisces.

After the class was over, my professor finally said to me “You are a natural writer. Your script had some very good moments in it.”

Well THANKS for keeping that little tidbit away from me in front of the boys. Thanks for gushing over Asshole #4′s amazing plot line, or Asshole #1′s strong character development. Thanks for NEVER giving me constructive criticism, or even acknowledging me once the entire time.

All I wanted was confirmation that I didn’t suck. That maybe someone wouldcare about the female anti-hero, but that’s not what the class was about. Perhaps my teacher was trying to prepare me for the real world of Hollywood, where my script would be shredded before it left the intern’s desk. Maybe she was trying to tell me that no one was going to hold my hand here, and that female screenwriters are few and far between for a reason. The ones that did survive played by the rules of the Bechdel Test.

I could have learned my lesson. I could used the harsh experience to my advantage. Instead, I dealt with my disillusionment like any cowardly Pisces. I packed my screenplay, snorted a percocet and headed home for Colorado.

It may be 5 years later, but I think I have it in me to write a better ending to this story. ;)

13 Comments leave one →
  1. September 3, 2009 8:51 am

    Go for it. U bet it will be great.

  2. September 3, 2009 9:18 am

    Whatever support and encouragement you lack in Hollywood, you know you can always find here. And you ARE a very talented writer.

  3. September 3, 2009 9:57 am

    I want to believe that the rules are changing. They’ve certainly been broken a few times with Juno, Meryl Streep…and I guess that’s it!
    As in everything, just stay true to yourself. Don’t worry about pitching it yet, just write the story you want to write.

  4. September 3, 2009 10:25 am

    Write the story. You have it in you, I know you do. And it’s going to be bomb-ass.

    And like April said–don’t worry about the elevator pitch, just do what you were born to do. The rest will come.

  5. September 3, 2009 2:18 pm

    You are a great writer…always have been, even in creative writing back in the day. I can’t wait to read the screeplay and if you want anyone to proofread for spelling or anything like that, let me know. Maybe I can put my English degree to work that way ;)

  6. Old Boss permalink
    September 3, 2009 7:11 pm

    I have said for a couple of years that I know you’re going to end up being a writer. You are creative, expressive, fearless, in touch, and so intelligent!! You’re on the right track… let yourself go with it because I know You know this is the real you! We’re all behind you and are anxious to support you in whatever way you need. You’ve got proofreaders, constructive critics, cheerleaders, and eager bystanders waiting for what’s inside you to be put on paper. You go, girl!!!

  7. irasciblecrayons permalink
    September 3, 2009 8:12 pm

    I’ve been reading your blog for a year now and you always amaze me with your writing. You magically and effortlessly shift from humor to deep emotion all with extreme dexterity and beautiful prose. I’m excited about this project and excited to hear about it. I think it is awesome that you are going for it! Like everyone said, I’m rooting and cheer leading for you!

  8. September 4, 2009 9:05 am

    I agree with everyone else who has said it so far — you are definitely an amazing writer!

    At least from the way you’ve described your film school experience here, I would have LOVED to hear your screenplays over all the other ones.

  9. September 4, 2009 11:02 am

    Hells to the YEAH Hanna. Go for it!

  10. Shiona permalink
    September 4, 2009 11:04 pm

    How exciting! You are an awesome writer so just go with the flow as I like to say. Good luck!!

  11. tallycola permalink
    September 9, 2009 5:02 pm

    Hey! I found your blog via a trackback on that article on the Hathor Legacy. This particular post really spoke to me.

    My first screenplay was a highly personal, highly angst-ridden, highly-feminine work of bitter, angry prose. It was titled “Pills” and it starred a 17 year-old fat girl with anger management issues and an addiction to Ritalin.

    Taking that into a room full 21-year-old boys who showed up every week with car chases, crime syndicates, rockstars, guns and hitmen was like walking into the gauntlet.

    I’m currently in film school (in Canada) and my first feature was about a chubby 17-year-old nerdy girl trying to lose her virginity. I had a similar experience, being in a class with a bunch of loudmouth 20-year-old dudebros who just refused to get it. I think I got a luckier hand than you, though, one of the best instructors at the school is a woman who is not afraid of being called a feminist and who has actually encouraged us to pass the Bechdel test in our work and write more characters of colour, and she gave me great feedback and called my script “sell-able” in front of everyone. Having workshops with other instructors was harder, though. I totally get what you’re talking about here.

    Anyways it was heartening for me to find this post and I’ll definitely be following your blog. :-)

Trackbacks

  1. Lighten Up. « Cost of Living
  2. Finished « Cost of Living

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