Thursday, November 29, 2012


There are undoubtedly plenty of exceptions, but since I first became entangled in the rather curious bizzness of film-making - going all the way back to my days as a screenwriting student at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School in Sydney (1981), I have constantly seen evidence and been reminded  of how the industry appears to be 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 that can tell you what’s wrong with your screenplay/story, but have little if any ability to illuminate its problems in ways that help you gain a fresh and clear perspective so that you might be better able to work through its problems and weaknesses.

Tribe 3: People that not only can determine what’s wrong, but are able and willing to 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 have probably met people from all three tribes, and I know which ones you probably prefer to deal with. 

If you've kept you 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. A tip to figure their identity: If you ask someone, “What’s the story about,” and they respond by actually telling you the story beat for beat, 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 would 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 hope to find someone from Tribe 3. Stop looking. If you're really a DRAMATIC storyteller, your job is to see and solve problems (with the assistance of the other characters) It's YOUR ability to identify a story’s underlying issues and your insights that allow you to suggest solid, tangible ways to resolve those concerns 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 that is 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 initiated 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.

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 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 and 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! In others, 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 film-making and the movie business. In other words, you have to love cinema and follow that passion. Passion is the key, because to write a good dramatic story and to make a good dramatic film are among the hardest things in the world to do, and if you don't have a passion for 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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