Doug Richardson’s first produced feature was the sequel to Die Hard, Die Harder. Visit Doug’s site for more Hollywood war stories and information on his popular novels. Follow Doug on Twitter @byDougRich.
After years of screenwriting success, plus countless meetings, pitches, business meals, and studio drive-on passes scotch-taped to my car window, not-to-mention a mile high stack of legal pads choked with handwritten notes, multi-act outlines, and character research, I was struck by this simple epiphany:
As a writer, who is my audience? My readers? The consumers of my sometimes carefully chosen words?
Not merely the manager who is rifling through scripts in hopes of finding the next mega-million dollar payday for his numero uno client.
Or the agent who’s hoping my tight, hundred-and-eight-page script is the magic elixir that uncorks the development chest of that unusually tight-fisted studio.
It’s not only the director who’s trolling for something completely unlike his last movie that blew the doors off the box office and finally proved to all the high-school doubters that he was a somebody after all.
The same goes for the studio executive, scared shitless to be moved or love something in such a way that it might hamper his or her ability to quantify a script’s box office potential.
Yes. As a screenwriter, this is my audience. My core readership. My ultimate fan base. And maybe that’s what it should be. Because I’ve just described the gatekeepers for whom most screenwriters knock themselves silly in order to get that one millimeter closer to the ultimate reward: production and a theatrical release. Talk about a tough room. To win over these folks takes heavy lifting most professional body builders wouldn’t so much as contemplate in a stimulant-induced dream state.
Not that making movies isn’t worth it. I wish for all scribblers, pro and otherwise, to experience the sensation of having made a hit movie. It’s a pop unlike any other. Like the first hit off a crack pipe, it’s an absolutely unforgettable rush. But when the high fades and reality returns, the professional screenwriter is back to battle. Alone and with fingers poised on the keyboard, belting out his or her stories for the most fickle audience on the planet.
Worth it? For some, yes. For you, maybe. But know that it can be a soul-sucking climb and can take a certain creative toll.
Most screenwriters hope to, one day, channel their success into directing. I was on that very track, ready to leap at the right opportunity. That was until my wife and I began making plans for a family. For me, the idea of stepping away from my parenting duties for a year or so to direct a picture wasn’t an option.
Thusly, I found myself penning my first novel. An experience best described as both terrifying and liberating. Not unlike the actor who, with an embarrassed giggle, relates to some interviewer about the moment he/she decided the time was right to drop his/her clothes and get naked for the camera. By scrawling out a book I’d be assuring myself no rehearsal or closed set. It would be just me, myself, and my naked words on the hook.
The risk paid off.
Then about the time my debut tome was set to hit bookstores, the publisher offered to send one hundred hardcovers to whomever I chose. I furnished them with the names and addresses of my hard-to-please audience.
I recall a particular phone call I received from producer Big Daddy:
“You sonofabitch!” shouted Big Daddy. “You wrote a fuckin’ book! I didn’t even know you could write!”
Yeah. He said that. And guess who else called? My studio pal-slash-gym-rat, Milton.
“Loved the book, man,” said Milton. “Really good stuff.”
“Wow,” I said. “Surprised you were able to get all the way through it on the StairMaster.”
“Haha,” he said. “I don’t read books on the StairMaster. That’s just for movie scripts.”
Yes. Haha indeed.
I recall when Lawrence Kasdan asked me about my radical choice to write that first novel in lieu of hawking one of my unproduced screenplays to the town with myself attached to direct. As I attempted to describe how my directing mojo had been strangely quenched, Larry listened intently as if soaking in every poorly worded sentence, applying his own highly-evolved cinematic spin, then regurgitated it all out in succinct, memorable perfection.
“Of course you’re satisfied,” he said. “You not only directed your book, you starred in it, played every part, designed it, scored it, and drew and painted in all the scenery.”
“Can pretty much say I got final cut,” I added.
“Exactly,” said Larry. “Books must feel like you’re in total control. Good for you.”
Good for me, yes. And in so very many ways. And it’s not just about the control. It’s about that direct relationship with the reader. From my brain to the page to a reader’s eyeballs and processed through his or her imagination. Simple. Complete.
Then came my blog. What began as an experiment to build a different kind of readership has taken on a life of its own. Sure, it’s a bit of a management quagmire. But since fatherhood I’ve morphed into a far more efficient multi-tasker. Often, when I run out of story and notice a few extra clicks left on the clock, I turn to the blog.
So as I continue the marathon run—writing one of my thrillers while carrying on with the stumping various film and TV projects—the weekly missive to my web constituency has proven to be another positive link between this writer and my new audience. It’s quick. It’s unfiltered. And the response is immediate, measured in both clicks and some lively commentary. It’s become its own uniquely satisfying experience and, like publishing fiction, salves the wounding that sometimes occurs when trying to get movies and television shows made.
- Read more articles by Doug Richardson
- Script to Novel Writing Tips: Why You Should Adapt Your Screenplay
- Balls of Steel: The Zig-Zag Screenwriting Career Path
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