No country for a screenwriter

Cutting room floor

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In one swift motion, my large glass of water dumped all over the keyboard and seeped through every letter down to the motherboard. I heard an almost electric bubbling inside, sounds of murder, as I quickly turned my Macbook upside down and a disconcerting flood of water poured out. Later that night as it rested in rice, it started beeping. An ominous alarm — the stuff of HAL 9000 — crying throughout my house. I knew then and there that everything was lost, but my desperation led me to another month of visiting high-tech computer companies to essentially perform surgery. But, like I had assumed, it was completely toast.

That was the moment that I lost a year and a half of work on a screenplay. I began forming the idea back in November 2014, started writing it in December 2014 and kept adding to it over the next 17 months until that fateful May day. I remember that I had reached exactly 100 pages not too long before and had felt a surge of ideas for how the story would end. I knew I could finish it that summer. But something that didn’t make any sense decided otherwise.

As a year and a half of the only creative work I had done between November 2014 and May 2016 suddenly disappeared, I learned the worst perils of being a writer. There’s that cliched saying that a character becomes a writer’s friend. I kept it to the side as a cliche. But when DriveSavers — of all the data recovery joints in all the towns in all the world, this one boasts that they can recover anything (while charging an embarrassing amount that I will not repeat) — told me that the only file I wanted them to retrieve was unrecoverable even after the hard drive went through extra tests and specialists, I learned that that cliche is too real.

I had envisioned whole lives of three main characters and three supporting characters. I had taken them through a journey across the solar system, rocketed them in spaceships that don’t exist, landed them on planets we haven’t been to and pitted them against forces of the universe that many people don’t know about. These were six friends that I knew deeper than any of my others. They were trusty companions whom I could hang out with a few nights a week at my desk. And the universe they occupied truly seemed like its own.

I guess writers have the power to prove the multiverse theory in some way. We all can feel the tangible reality of the worlds that we write in a way that they can’t not be real.

I thanked my stars that I had backed up most of my other scripts. Those friends still alive. Worlds still intact. Art still existent. For the power of creating universes, screenwriting is inarguably an art. Many don’t agree, though.

Screenwriting may not have the same evident, artful style that novels, short fiction, poetry and playwriting have. But it’s that visceral relationship to an imagined image, which can allow it to create universes, that gives it a particular power. It may sound all twisty, but screenwriters essentially paint moving images with rather technical language. It gets so technical and strict that if one out of 20 possible things on a single page is wrong, the whole idea of the writing may be changed. All of this renders screenwriting as, without a doubt, an art form of the highest order and the subtlest of nuance. Take a look at any of Aaron Sorkin’s work — “The Social Network,” “Moneyball,” “Steve Jobs” — scripts that take those technical aspects and turn them into poetry. Unfortunately, though, something I learned early on is that many don’t see scripts that way.

Whenever I talk about my screenplays — I’ve written two feature length scripts and three short scripts — the next question I always receive is: “Have you had any produced?” I’m not trying to be ignorant of the realities of the film industry, but I always get a bit annoyed at that question. It implies that screenplays don’t matter if they haven’t been or won’t be produced.

I know that the goal of writing screenplays is to have them realized as movies. All screenwriters have a period in their life where they reject their work that doesn’t get produced. That may be a good trait to allow their to keep writing until one of their scripts gets picked up. But it’s also really, really sad because, even if left unproduced, screenplays can stand firmly on their own. They are their own art, not this middle-art bullshit that so many reduce them to. Paul Thomas Anderson adapted Upton Sinclair’s “Oil” for his script for “There Will Be Blood.” That script, in terms of epic character and grand story, reaches far beyond the original. So why can’t scripts be their own, revered entities?

Even so, the movies that scripts become are completely separate beings from the scripts themselves. There’s so much interpretation and addition and slashing and so on that happens when screenwriters let go of their baby that they become Frankenstein monsters that the writers couldn’t recognize. There’s no respect for it.

So, for the time being at least, I’ll reply “no,” unfazed and unembarrassed.

Kyle Kizu covers film. Contact him at [email protected]. Tweet him at @kyle_kizu.