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A Two-Headed Screenwriter

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I’m nearing the finish line on the first draft of a top-secret horror screenplay.  I’ve been making motion pictures for twenty years… twenty five years, if you count the early/student work that has either never been publicly released (thankfully), or has received only brief home video distribution at the tail end of the VHS boom. 

As a young lad, I very rapidly acclimated to lighting, framing shots, directing, editing, and functioning as a producer, meshing together and coordinating the many disparate resources, people, and schedules necessary to complete a feature length, no-budget-but-still-complex-multi-layered-and-visually-dynamic movie.  I was just a kid, yet all these skills felt very natural, very early on - establishing a rapidly-built foundation that I would continue to slowly build upon for the next two decades. 

Writing was the skill that advanced at the slowest pace.  I’ve always had a super-charged imagination, but taking imaginative story ideas and putting them down on 90 to 120 pages, and making all the pieces click together correctly, was a discipline that evolved very slowly for me.  Writing was always a struggle in those early years.  In fact, Deadwood Park (2007) and a few unproduced screenplays I wrote around the same time felt like unpleasant uphill battles, hindered by fruitless meanderings and frustrating dead ends, before I finally typed up something that worked.

However, what the experts say is true: writing is a muscle, and it must be routinely exercised if it is to function properly.  This fact was proven to me after Deadwood Park.  I started writing more… a lot more.  Even this blog forced me to sit down and write something – anything – once a week.  All this did me a world of good.  After Deadwood Park, I wrote an unproduced screenplay called Seizure with Jason Christ.  We then collaborated on the screenplay for Ratline (2011).  On both of these writing projects, it felt like the engine had been oiled and the rails had been greased.  Both screenplays were easier to write than any of my past scripts.  They were better written and a lot more fun to write.  All that exercise was paying off.

Similarly, the screenplay I’m writing now is progressing quite smoothly.  Instead of writer’s-block shutdowns and derailments, the words are pouring forth very freely.  I’ll have a first draft complete in record time, I’m happy with what is going onto the page, and I’m enjoying the process. 

However, there is something different about the experience of writing this script, compared to all the other screenplays I’ve written.

In the past, I always had an idea of what my budget would be, and I tailored my screenplay to it.  Unless you are writing for a mega-bucks studio, one must be a two-headed screenwriter.  One brain must think creatively.  The other brain must funnel all the creative ideas into the limitations of a set budget.  If an idea does not fit the funding, the idea must be altered or discarded.  I’ve always written with my budget in mind, so this is not difficult.  This time, however, I don’t know what my budget (if this movie gets made) will be.

I’m writing sequences that tell the story in the best and most visually-driven way… knowing that if I get Budget A, the scenes will stay… if I get Budget B, many scenes will be simplified… and if I get Budget C, some scenes may be cut entirely. 

This may sound like a negative, but I don’t see it that way.  If one is always advancing, learning, and expanding their skill set, new variables will be introduced – and should be embraced.  It’s pretty exciting, after writing screenplays for a quarter of a century, to be introduced to a new experience.  Another part of that writing muscle is getting some exercise.

Thanks for reading.

- Eric Stanze

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