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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Is Your Script Out of Synch?

The zeitgeist, she is a'changin'. Fast. The US has elected the first ever African American President, the economy is in the toilet and the era of W is coming to a shuddering, gasping close. So - what's in the air right now? Hope, high expectations, trepidation, change.

So - what if you are hard at work on an action script about the corrupt US government and it's set in the Middle East? Or what if you're working on a script about famine or rebel warfare in Africa? A romcom about a reality show?

I hate to sound the klaxon horn - but friends, your ship is going DOWN. Not good timing. All done, all old, all out of synch with the zeitgeist.

Up is the new down. Pessimism is out, optimism is in. The war in Iraq is out, a war in Venezuela is in. Terrorism is out, embracing Islam is in. Africa is out, India is in. Chocolate is the new vanilla and sleeping is considered passé.

How do I know all these things? I don't. I just made that all up.

Nobody really knows what the zeitgeist is all about; we're all guessing. But as writers, you need to use your best, most informed guess. Read the newspaper, watch the news, read thoughtful social and political essays online.

But most importantly, if you're writing something that you suspect is out of synch, abandon ship and do it now. Maybe you love and adore the project, maybe it's your passion and hey look, maybe in two or three years the topic will be back in the spotlight again. But if you're trying to set up a career now, you really need your finger on the pulse.

This warning is taken from a true story of a writer who worked hard on what looked and felt like a late 90s action script but he wasn't aware of that, he'd been working on it for so long. He was warned but he didn't listen. He was married to it, he'd worked so hard. He just took it out to some reps he had connections with. And he got slammed hard for being behind the times. I imagine right about now he is on a bender. I would be.

Don't let this happen to you.

My writing partner and I wrote a thriller which went out almost two years ago. We got plenty of praise for the writing but the subject matter was considered too much. It's about to go out again because a couple of movies like it paved the way and did well. So out of the drawer and back onto the pavement for that material. And that could happen to you as well. Take a look at your inventory and what you're working on now and put your energy into really nailing the zeitgeist as best as you can.

Zeitgeist is all about what is in the air and on the horizon. What are we collectively worried about or anticipating? What kind of new medical technology is on the cusp of changing our lives? How is the tectonics of world socio-economics shifting right now? Away from what and toward what? What is the new coin of the realm on a global level? How are families earning their living right now - how will they in ten years? Where is Facebook leading us?

Zeitgeist. Not only stay on top of it - get ahead of it. Use your imagination. That's what writers do. Now get back to work.

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Betty T. said...

Have you really seen romcoms about reality shows?

Désirée said...

Great article again.

Writing a movie script with the right theme or buying and selling at the stock market - I wonder which is most difficult.

The "problem" with writing a spec script is that it is my idea and my inspiration and I have no real knowledge if it will pay off. Speculations, like the stock market.

Benton Keane said...

Iraq won't be "out" for a significant amount of time.

Julie Gray said...

@ Betty - yes.

@Benton - yes it is. In the spec market. Will we see movies about Iraq ten years from now? Maybe. But in this moment in time, writing a spec about Iraq is not a good idea. The market has been flooded with them and remember, you have to be AHEAD of the curve. JARHEAD, LIONS FOR LAMBS, SYRIANNA, BABEL, RENDITION, STOP LOSS, all movies about the conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan or more thematically the troubled Middle East in general - none did great at the box office but much more importantly, the topic has been more than covered at the moment. If you want to write something about Iraq, something that is absolutely outside of the box, that would be great. Maybe you will write THE seminal movie on the topic. But as a spec writer, the subject is a bigger gamble, with slimmer chances than a script someone might write about an emerging conflict in another part of the world. But not Africa. :)

Anonymous said...

China would be next:)

Anonymous said...

Julie, how 'bout a modern love triangle with the backdrop of Iraq war, no?

Julie Gray said...

@ Anonymous: Personally? I wouldn't. But that's just me. What do I know?

Shrader said...

Thank you Julie.
I've been toiling over a script for too long.
With a nagging sense that its time had passed.
This was just the kick in the pants I needed.
I'm shelving it and moving on to another -- more current -- idea.

PJ McIlvaine said...

True story: I pitched an idea to a producer, she loved it, she has the perfect place to bring it to, they're looking for stories set in rural USA.

I began writing it. Midway through she threw me a curve when she told me that she had received another script with a plot point that I had in my script.


Thinking clearly, I pitched her a tweaked version of my script, eliminating that problematic plot point, she loved it.

I continue toiling on the script, and then just when I'm on the last 25 pages or so, I get an e-mail that she's been, ahem, downsized.

Double bummer.

Worse, the company that she would have taken my script to, another producer tells me, is no longer looking for scripts based in rural USA.

Triple bummer.