Sunday, May 01, 2005

WRITING AS APOSTOLATE

Back in L.A., I'm taking what must be just a short break from my work on the rewrite of the Spanish Civil War movie.

After spending the last five hours working as hard on this project as I ever have on anything in my life, I have to take a moment for a little recuperative self-pity. Wow. Being a writer is very, very hard. Being a screenwriter is agononizingly hard. This would be the wrong day for some brother or sister in Christ to say something to me about how the movies are so stupid that anyone could write better ones. If someone says that to me today, I am sure some kind of violent lunging will ensue.

I am particularly grateful today, that my father taught me to play chess when I was six. Because screenwriting is actually a lot like chess. It's fundamentally keeping eight things present in your head at every moment. And getting a few words down on paper is a constant matter of negotiating between all of the projects goals.

If I go for this witty piece of dialogue, am I messing with the character's arc?
If I let him have an early moment of heroism, do I lose the suspense of the piece?
If I throw in a moment of developement for one of the supporting players in this scene, do I dilute the tension in the overall scene for the main character?
Does this wonderful scene I just wrote have anything to do with what this movie is about? Is there any way I can keep it (The answer is almost always, "No.")
In giving this moment for theme, did I just blow my structure?
If I make the story points really clear, am I lying about the ambiguity of a real journey of faith?


I'm tired right now. And that's the other thing with writing for a living. You can't really stop when you're tired. When you really don't have anything left to say. When, by all rights and justice, you should stop, because the urgency of the truth is done with you for today....you have to keep writing.

Isn't there a wet dog somewhere I can go lick? (Private joke to those who have ears to hear.)

I am - overall - pleased with this screenplay. It was a very hard assignment because it's basically a saint's story - and those are almost unintelligible from a merely human, exterior visual sense. More on that in the coming months. I have learned a huge truth about writing God stuff in mainstream entertainment. And that truth is, "If you don't push the religion, you end up telling a lie." There is no way to soft-pedal religious faith as motivation for character choices.

The hardest thing about this project is coming up with the lyrical imagery that will give the audience a sense of the underlying truths of this essentially spiritual story, without insulting their intelligence. Can I just second JPII's call for "a new iconography" of religious art, that takes us beyond candles and rainbows and doves and wheat sheafs into a deeper level of meaning for people today?

Just now, I really, really wish I had gone with the adolescent impulse to be a forest ranger..... Which will last until the next line or two on the page that brings together my whole past, my memory, education and studies, and goes beyond what I sat down with to fuse with the Truth out there somewhere.

Then, writing is very cool.

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