21 May 2014

12 in 12: The (Mostly) Long and Short of "Education"

It's a strange thing:  When you've written a lot of screenplays, you get this peculiar ability to know, before you even write a page, about how long the script will be.  I knew Standers was going to be less than 80 pages -- though 12 less did throw me.  When I wrote Bake Sale in February, I knew it was going to be one of the longest scripts I'd written.  And it came to 122 pages, which is way too long for a comedy, but starting it I was sure it'd be somewhere over 115, so I wasn't surprised.

I bring this up because when I first got the inspiration for The Education of Tobias Smith, my intention was to write it as a short script (15-20 pages) for a class.  I got about five pages in and realized that it was going to take more than the 20 page maximum I was allotted.  So I put the idea aside and wrote Treading Water instead.  

And Treading Water not only got produced but led to a re-write job, so I suppose it all kind of worked out.
So now I finally -- after four or so years -- got to writing The Education of Tobias Smith.  The script is coming along great.  I'm about 15 pages ahead of my page schedule and I'm feeling good about what I've been scripting.  The characters have some depth and the plot is getting into full swing.  Well, maybe not full swing...  It's a character-driven story and there's not a lot of plot, per se, going on until about halfway in.

Right now, I'm on page 90 and going off my notes and outline, I've still got maybe 50-60 pages to go.

The West was big, so why not my script?
For those unaware, the rule of thumb is 1 screenplay page about equals 1 minute of screen time.  So you ideally want a script to be at least 90 pages but under 120, though capping yourself at 110 isn't the worst thing in the world.  Still, no matter how you look at it, however, I'm going to be between 20 and 30 pages/minutes longer than a standard spec script should be.  There must be some kind of irony that after writing a 68 page script, I write a 150 page script.  Right?  I'm not just imagining that, am I?

"But what's the big deal?" one might ask, "There are lots of movies longer than 2 hours."

That's true, but you'll find in most instances that the people making those films are names you're probably more than familiar with.  The Wolf of Wall Street clocks in at 3 hours, but with their partnered track record, Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio can pretty much do whatever they want.  

"What about Open Range or The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford?" some might say.  "Those were both Westerns 20 and 40 minutes, respectively, north of 2 hours."

You'll do your eyes a favor in seeing
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Very true, but Open Range had Kevin Costner behind it -- who spent some of his own money to get the film made -- and The Assassination of Jesse James... had Brad Pitt wanting to star in it as well as produce it (along with Ridley Scott and Tony Scott).  And while both films got made and screened and had good to great reviews, if you check out their box office performances (here and here), you can see how getting a 140 to 150 page Western script to a theater near you might have a few obstacles on its already uphill climb.  Heck, even the under-2-hours Appaloosa and 3:10 to Yuma didn't even make much of a financial impact. 

So what's that mean then?  Should I just quit while I'm (figuratively) ahead?  Honestly, if there's little to no chance of the script getting made into a movie, is there an actual point to spending anymore time on it?

Well, yeah, of course there is.

First off, I need to finish it for the 12 in 12.  Can't fail on the third script in, that's just bad.  Plus, what I post on this blog that no one reads?

Second, it'll be good to have the script in my portfolio to show producers that I can write a Western -- just in case there are any producers out there looking to make one.  In the same vein, it's another script to offer for anyone as a writing sample.  The thing might not get made, but someone can read it and see that I'm good with dialogue (which I am) or that I can handle pacing well (though that might not be a great case with a 150 page screenplay...).

Gonna have to do better
than this to get noticed...
Third -- and this is just as head-in-the-clouds as thinking the script'll get made -- it might win a contest or end up on The Black List.  Someone sees that, then they want to meet me, they want me to work with them, and voila:  screenwriting career!

And fourth...  Well, this one's really reaching for the stars with little to stand on, but fourth is I get working as a writer, maybe get a chance to director some films, have some success, and get offered to make something of my own.  Or I write something like Titanic or Avatar that nets me enough money to make it independently.

Above all though, is that I really like the script.  I like the characters, the story, the feel of it.  It's probably not going to be the best thing I've written, but it feels like the most personal thing I've written.  There are a lot of questions about morality and ethics that come up that I think about and that I think humanity as a whole struggle to find answers to -- if there are even any answers to conclude.

I don't know, maybe I've just been with it too long and that's why I'm all gaga about it.  But I spent a month with Standers and didn't get this way.  So there's gotta be something behind what I think about the script, right?

As always, if when I'm done with the script anyone cares to read it, just get a hold of me in one or all of the various available means.  I'd be interested in what others have to say about my epic Western.

This is how I hope others' comments will make me feel.
Optimistic, I know.  Naive, though, is probably the better word.

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