Thursday, July 5, 2012


There are undoubtedly exceptions to these, but since I first became involved with the bizzness of filmmaking - all the way back to my acceptance into AFTRS as a screenwriting student (1981) -  I have constantly noticed the following:

The industry is dominated by three "tribes", which can be loosely characterised as follows:

Tribe 1: People that are hostile towards, ignorant of, and understand nothing or next to nothing about DRAMATIC ACTION.

Tribe 2: People who can tell you what’s wrong with your screenplay/story, but have little if any ability to illuminate its problems in ways that permit you to gain a fresh and clear perspective in order that you might effectively work through the weaknesses.

Tribe 3: People who can not only determine what’s wrong, but can illuminate character and action in ways that constructively aid you in overcoming the screenplay's problems.

If you are a writer that has had any experience with the screen storytelling industry in this country, you've most likely met people from all three tribes, and I know which ones you probably prefer. If you've kept your eyes and ears open you've probably also noted the following:

* Virtually no one in the acquisition, development, production or marketing side of the Australian screen storytelling industry would ever admit to being a member of Tribe 1.  But they’re there.  You can spot them easily if you keep your ears and eyes open. If you ask someone, “What’s the story about,” and they respond by actually telling you the story beat for beat; or if they want to talk about what it reminds them of, or if they make comments like :"I felt I was there.",  there’s an awfully good chance they don’t have a very good grasp of the concept of story.

* Most people in this country fall into Tribe 2. They know enough about story to be dangerous. That is they can tell you at least some of the things that are wrong with a script, but often their solutions are uncomfortably wide of the mark, or worse - they want to take over the writing by making suggestions that will force you to radically reinvent the story. They also seem incapable of anticipating how and why this merely creates new problems. They say things like “I know it’s called 'Gayby Babies', but why does it have to be gaybys?”

* If you’re a writer, you're probably hoping to find someone from Tribe 3.  Stop looking.  If you're really a DRAMATIC storyteller, your job is to SEE, HEAR and SOLVE the problems yourself (with the assistance of the other characters, of course) It's YOUR ability to identify a story’s underlying issues - and your insights! -  that will allow you to find solid, tangible and compelling ways of resolving your concerns. Look to yourself (or rather, your SELVES) - that will serve you better than anything you'll find in the first two tribes.

However if you are a member of Group 3, and you have a great script, or at least the makings of something good, you cannot speak to people that are in Tribe 2 and certainly not Tribe 1 as if they understand story the way you do.You have to be able to break down your analysis and ideas into a series of graspable talking points. If you try to impress them with your "deep" understanding of the nuances of story theory and rely too much on jargon, you probably aren't a fully intiated member of Tribe 3 anyway. You will most likely not only lose them, they will probably feel a great deal of discomfort sitting in a room with you.

Instead you must meet them on their level and shape your suggestions into digestible, bite-sized talking points that won't upset their stomach.This is not to demean them. You may know story, but you probably don’t know squat about business or the subtleties of networking. You have your talent.  They have theirs.

And by the way, this is not only about Tribe 3s trying to communicate with Tribe 2s or Tribe 1 people, it’s also about YOU appreciating the fact that people lead extremely busy lives, so being concise and on point is always the strongest and most dramatically effective way of communicating with them.

Bottom line: No one really gives a fuck about you or your story. They don’t really NEED to give a fuck, or know the ins-and-outs of story theory. All they want is for you to fix the damn script!  Or send a thrill through them. In other words - it's entirely up to you to make them give a fuck.

[Note: Are there producers that are members of Tribe 3? Absolutely. And that can be both a blessing and a curse, the former because you benefit from their great ideas, the latter because they will want to explore every conceivable plot possibility, hopefully a beneficial process, but an exhausting one].

Some of you might be asking: "How do I go about becoming a member of Tribe 3?" Apart from those of you that are precociously wise about character, action and dramatic screen storytelling, there is really only one answer. Immerse yourself in cinema. Not just screenwriting, but the entirety of movies.

See every film.
Read every book.
Analyze every script.
Study the business.
Think like a writer.
Think like a director
Think like a producer.

You should envelope yourself in everything related to filmmaking and the movie business. In other words, you have to love cinema and follow that passion. Passion is the key, because to write a damn good dramatic story and to make a damn good dramatic film are among the hardest things to do in the world. And if you don't have a passion for it, you simply won't have the energy or the will to overcome all the obstacles and complications that will arise in the process of finding the story.

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