Although we don’t ask for them, hardly a week goes by that we don’t receive a movie script, reality show concept, or other media project at our offices in Los Angeles. When it comes to screenplays, it seems everyone is writing them, and most are convinced their first one will be a box office success. But the truth is – rarely are they worth reading at all. That’s why I was fascinated with Steven Shapin’s comment while reviewing a book on the history of science: “There’s a story told about a distinguished cardiac surgeon who, about to retire, decided he’d like to take up the history of medicine. He sought out a historian friend and asked her if she had any tips for him. The historian said she’d be happy to help but first asked the surgeon a reciprocal favor: “As it happens, I’m about to retire too, and I’m thinking of taking up heart surgery. Do you have any tips for me?”
The same could be said for screenwriting. Heart surgeons, pilots, army generals, college professors, pastors, and plenty of others never think twice about sitting down and writing a screenplay with absolutely no practice or training. But those same experts would never consider the idea of a screenwriter becoming a heart surgeon, pilot, army general, professor or pastor with no training in those fields.
Regarding the history professor, Shapin goes on to say: “The story is probably apocryphal, but it displays a real asymmetry between two expert practices. The surgeon knows that his skills are specialized and that they’re difficult to acquire, but he doesn’t think that the historian’s skills are anything like that. He assumes that writing history is pretty straightforward and that being a 21st-century surgeon gives you a leg up in documenting and interpreting, for example, theories of fever in the 17th century. Yet not every kind of technical expertise stands in this relation with the telling of its history. Modern installation artists don’t think they can produce adequate scholarly studies of Dutch Golden Age paintings, and it’s hard to find offensive linemen parading their competence in the writing the history of rugby.”
You get the point. Screenwriting takes skill, training, practice, and more practice. If you don’t have it, then get it. The Act One Program in Hollywood is a great place to start. It’s one of the most highly regarded screenwriting programs in the country, and if you’re serious about your craft, I’d check them out today. But wherever you decide to train, do it. Start investing in yourself and in your future.
Creating the blueprint for a motion picture is more difficult and challenging than you may expect. Before you become an architect for a film, learn the building process.