Screenwriting is Like Dating
by Mark Miller
“Writing is My Lady”
So I’m having a Rat Pack moment the other day, sipping a martini and listening to Frank Sinatra singing “L.A. Is My Lady,” in which he uses the City of Angels metaphorically for his romantic relationships. Yeah, it’s just a typical Thursday for me, when it strikes me that my own version of the Chairman of the Board’s hit would be “Writing Is My Lady.” And I know what you’re thinking: “Mark’s probably just saying that because he’s currently single and tends to see everything in the universe as a metaphor for a woman.” Okay, that’s true. You know me so well. But all that’s beside the point. The fact is that the arc of the script-writing experience absolutely parallels that of a romantic relationship. No, really. So quit giving me the stink-eye.
The genesis of every great script is the same – finding that amazing idea, the one worthy of several months of the writer’s time, multi-millions of the studio’s budget, and $12 and two hours of each audience member’s life – give or take $35 for a large popcorn and a box of Milk Duds. Oh, sure, we writers can have dalliances with an array of perfectly adequate ideas, but the great idea, like the great romantic partner, is rare. Which is why when we encounter either one it feels like magic. And why they throw money at a good idea like Russell Crowe tossing a telephone at a hotel desk clerk’s head – without fully thinking it through.
Naturally, we want to explore that magic. Find out everything we can about our idea, or about our romantic partner. Spend time with her, him, or it. Converse. Research. Run a background check. It’s The King and I’s “Getting To Know You” phase in which, whether it’s a wonderful idea or an amazing romantic partner, I notice that suddenly I’m bright and breezy because of all the beautiful and new things I’m learning about her/it day by day. Disgustingly sappy? Sure. But it’s okay, ‘cause I’m in love with a great idea or a great woman. So pour on the sap. It’s chocolate to me, baby.
Once I’ve spend enough time in the cocooning phase with my new PSO (Potential Significant Other), it’s time for us to appear together in public as a couple – our coming out, as it were. Show ourselves off. Let the world know of our love. Similarly with the written idea – we take it out of the drawer, run it by our friends, neighbors, fellow writers, for their feedback, hoping that they’ll equally embrace our idea and romantic partner – though for them, singing Rogers & Hammerstein is completely optional.
If the feedback is positive at this stage, we up the stakes, taking the idea to the next level – agents, managers, development executives. This is potentially the most dangerous level, because the idea can be killed here for any number of reasons: “It’s derivative,” “It’s already in development,” “Not commercial enough; it’ll never sell.” The equivalent danger territory here in romance is introducing our PSO to our family, whose negative response can cause the relationship plug to be pulled faster than Ricky Gervais being invited back again to host the Golden Globe Awards.
At a certain point, we push aside all our other writing projects – and dates, to focus exclusively on this one writing project – and date — that has so captivated us. Our friends have no need to ask what we’re working on or whom we’re seeing, because those ideas/PSOs are with us all the time. We eat, sleep and breathe them – which can’t be healthy, but what choice do we have? We’ve become obsessed….