SCRIPT on SCRIPT: Sept/Oct 2010, Part 2

Ah, the myriad of screenwriting advice we have to sift through in order to become masters of our craft — it can drive you to drinking. William Martell’s article “Worldwide Cool” in the November/December edition of Script magazine suggests we should be writing scripts that appeal to worldwide audiences. Sounds reasonable. More potential for international box office. But the part that rubs me the wrong way is when Martell basically suggests screenwriters not write a script that “focuses on culture or politics or social issues that are unique to America.” What happened to write what you know? Write it because you can execute it with flying colors. As a producer, would you rather read a really well written script about an American cultural issue, or a poorly written script with a bunch of “really cool stuff” in it as Martell suggests, that appeals to a foreign audience? My guess is the well written American-centric script is more likely to get you your next gig because you’ve proven your talent (God willing).

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the realities of the business. I just don’t think it’s the best advice for new writers. My partner and I have an old script centered on a teenage, African-American kid in a juvenile-hall setting. It won screenwriting contests and had actors attached and still hasn’t been made. To put it bluntly, African-American-themed stories don’t have foreign appeal, so it’s tough to find funding. But should I not tell that very personal, important, moving story because, as Martell says, “people in Uganda watching the film on the wall of a building” don’t care about some U.S. issue? I care about the people in Chicago who do care about the issue.

Another screenplay my partner and I wrote, which also received accolades and was well-received around town, focuses on another American-centric story. It’s a comedy set in the world of small town, Christian fundamentalism. Again, very little foreign appeal. However, this is the script that has basically launched my and my partner’s careers. Well, pseudo-careers — we’re getting there. Either way, every deal we have in the works is due to that script. Had we set out in the beginning, attempting to write some movie based solely on international appeal with a bunch of action and twists and turns and without any personal stakes, I’m not sure we wouldn’t have fallen flat on our faces. But that’s our story. Like I said in the beginning, it’s about sifting through the advice.

My partner and I are at the point now with some of the projects we’re writing where we certainly have to consider foreign box-office appeal, so I understand Martell’s advice. I just think depending on where you are in your career, that advice is not automatically the way to go. What do you think?

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