It’s going slow for me in screenwriting land right now.
Like most writers who have to somehow pay the bills, I have a day job that has nothing to do with filmmaking. Actually I have two jobs. The first is my freelance graphic design business — Jaime Vallés Design — which I started in 2011. It’s been going very well, especially lately. Some of you might think “oh, he’s a freelancer, he can work and write whenever he wants!” The reality is that I work whenever jobs come up. And, of course, the jobs all landed on my lap at the exact same time that I started writing the script for ANOTHER JONATHAN. Granted, that’s a good problem to have when the bills are piling up, but it’s still a problem for the progress of my independent feature film.
My other job is probably not one you’d expect: I sing with the chorus of the New York City Opera. Right now we’re rehearsing two operas (Moses in Egypt and La Périchole) which means cramming music, text, and staging 11am-2pm and 3pm-6pm Monday through Saturday until the middle of April. That’s a lot of singing. Couple that with the pile of design projects I’m trying to complete in the near future, and you can see why I haven’t been writing as much as I’d like.
I want to make it clear that I’m not complaining. On the contrary, I feel blessed that I get to work in the arts for a living. I assume most folks trying to write screenplays have to deal with mind-numbing office jobs or waiting tables or (the horror!) being a telemarketer. I get to sing and make art every day, and get paid for it. I’m one of the lucky ones. And I am eternally grateful for that. But I want to finish writing this script. I have to. So I need to figure out how to carve out a few hours every day to try and get the first draft on the page (screen?) before somebody else steals my idea for the movie.
Speaking of which, I haven’t revealed what the film is about, have I? Well, ANOTHER JONATHAN is… being kept under wraps for a while. I’ve come up with what I believe is a unique way of telling this story, so I don’t want anyone else to beat me to the punch. I’ll clue you in later on, possibly once the script is finished and I’m about to start production. But until then, mum’s the word.
In the meantime, I just have to keep shaking the ketchup bottle of life* until some kind of spare time plops out that I can use to finish writing this thing.
*Did you know that the easy way of making the ketchup pour out of a Heinz 57 bottle is by tilting it and hitting the little number 57 that’s embossed on the glass with the palm of your hand? It works every time I try it!
Rule #1: The screenplay is the most important element of a film, yet it is the least expensive element of a film.*
Let that sink in for a second.
Rule #2: It is not possible to make a good film out of a bad screenplay.**
I mean it. No matter what you do, no matter how much money and resources you have at your disposal, there is absolutely no way that a good movie can be made from a crappy script. The world’s greatest actors, directors, cinematographers and editors can all try as hard as they possibly can, but it won’t make a difference if the screenplay is a train wreck.
Those two rules have been burned into my brain. I believe in them so strongly that the fear of not being able to write something worthy of them is almost paralyzing. The idea for ANOTHER JONATHAN occurred to me in October of 2008. I’ve spent over four years mulling it over, playing it in my mind, constantly tweaking, revising, adapting, and rewriting it, all without actually typing a single word of it. Because writing isn’t really writing, at least not for me. I’m not one of those people that wakes up, showers, has breakfast, sits in front of the computer and starts clackity-clacking X pages per minute (where X is an unspecified, though undoubtedly copious, amount) then prints out the pages and gives them a quick read, scribbles some notes on the margins with a red pen and starts again after lunch. No, writing isn’t writing. Writing is thinking. Pacing the room, trying to break the story. Connecting the dots from A to Zinc. Typing is easy. Three monkeys stuck in a room could type the script.
But imagining it, conjuring the idea out of thin air… that’s the magic. That’s the art. And I believe I am now finally ( ! ) ready to begin. Ready to make the leap from thinking to actually typing. And I’m terrified. I have the whole movie in my head, but staring at the blank page is torture. I look at the white, glowing rectangle that is my computer screen and all I can think of is a quote from the Bob Hope/Bing Crosby film ROAD TO RIO: “I hate you! I loathe you! I despise you!” I admit it. I hate writing. I loathe writing. I freakin’ despise writing. But Rule #1 says that the script is king, and it’s a very cheap date. And Rule #2 tells me the script’s gotta’ rock or the movie’s gonna’ suck. Since I can’t make my movie without a script, I’m just going to have to grit my teeth and do it right.
I want to make this film. I need to make it or I’ll go insane. And, so, let the cursing begin. I only pray the last four years of thinking were worth it.
* Some people will argue that there have been screenwriters who have been paid six or seven figures to write a movie script. This is true, but if a screenplay sells for five million bucks you bet your ass the movie’s going to cost many, many times that amount.
** I’m talking about straightforward, narrative, mainstream feature films. This rule doesn’t necessarily apply to experimental or abstract films, many of which may not even have a screenplay at all.