Is Writing Caring ?

It is said that writing exposes what we care about.  That might be true, though I’d love to deflect it.  In High School, my most active writing started out as love letters to a girl who turned out to be the last person on earth who should ever read those notes. I looked them over and found that there were some turns of phrase and some word play that I wanted to salvage, and from there started a habit of writing poems. Even got some of them published in a few poetry magazines. I had started out wanting to vent something or document a feeling or a state I was in, and eventually the best of it was what was least personal.  The shape, the sound or the presentation ended up being as important.

They say ride the horse in the direction it wants to go.  I say no, because form follows function: Unless riding itself is your goal you have a destination in mind and a need to get there. Travelling in the wrong direction, even to appease a collaborator, is not following your own instincts or drives. It may not hurt anything, but it will cause a delay.

I have been involved with enough screenwriting groups over the years that I know what it is like to get the wrong advice and be so open to options and insecure that I follow a dead end that costs months and valuable energy.

They say never look a gift horse in the mouth.  But I say no, because the lesson of the Trojan Horse should be don’t drag the bait into the gates of your fortress and endanger your community before making sure there is nothing hidden inside the offering.

Your favourite kind of dialogue may come from Neil Simon, John Hughes, Daniel Waters, or Diablo Cody where the word choices are memorable and snappy or quotable regardless of whether a person in real life circumstances would be so quick or articulate. Another person offering advice or feedback might want everything to sound like a transcript of the most banal conversation, something that only the presence and physically of an actor can breathe life into.

My preference is for the former, so I might have a run of dialogue that involves short lines back and forth with each line setting up the next and one might argue that the characters don’t have their own distinctive patter or quirky syntax. I don;t generally like to lay down accents too thick.  Variations on a line might be repeated. But sometimes what is special and of value and serves as your artistic expression can be suffocated by the supposed standards and preferences of someone who is merely regurgitating something they have read as a rule or supposed principle of the craft.

What can be objectively measured is the architecture of a story or plot.  I can crank out pages of dialogue easily. Very little of it would make the cut, and without an outline and knowing where it fits in the dialogue will be a show stopper.  Rewatching the 1982 movie Diner, I appreciate the cast and I can sit and listen with ease but I also know I would not lean toward making that kind of movie myself. Much of it included improvisation, and for me before using comic actors to get them riffing I would rather achieve that kind of patter by secretly recording real conversations and then transcribing them without all the broken sentences.  But even then, this approach in the screenplay itself would seem to take up excessive pages.

I admit caring that my credit for either writing or directing be something I can own with total honesty. That simple statement might rustle feathers, especially with so many shows using a “writer’s room” approach.  I would rather have someone say my writing is bad than take credit for someone else’ work.  And if I direct I am fussy about the frame and the cut.  If it alienates a cinematographer or an editor to be presented with storyboard drawings that I want to follow, so be it.  There is a point of view, even if the word vision sounds too pretentious.

Some people want a director or writer to just get out of the way and simply present situations that inform a crisis or an issue that needs media attention. People who like that sort of thing can comfort themselves with countless awards given in sympathy for those issues more than for appreciation of a movie’s aesthetics.

At the time of this post, I have been binge watching season three of The Expanse. It is both entertaining and able to include in its setting any concerns about politics, conscience, or diversity.  These things are part of the soup of the environs. The storytelling drives us through all of that so there is no tedious wallowing in spoon-fed messaging.  It is efficient, pure storytelling.

Another thing happening as I type this is that youtube is full of recitations and evaluations of a leaked December 2016 draft of Star Wars Episode IX called Duel of the Fates.  It also seems to be pure storytelling.  It was dated just before the death of Carrie Fisher at age 60.  Apparently, the director at the time Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed, Jurassic World) suggested having some scenes intended for Princess Leia be done by Luke Skywalker and that this would mean changing the ending of The last Jedi so that Luke would be alive. It seemed arbitrary that Luke vanished or discorporated at the end of The Last Jedi.  The more I hear about the production and resistance to having a male be the key leader the less pure the storytelling becomes and the less respect I have for the top-down Hollywood leadership when the top is not the director or writer.

I admit that caring about what adds up to movie trivia and behind-the-scenes politics means that my concerns are less focused on the larger injustices and ecological crisis of the world.  But I also know my limitations.  I know that I have little to bring as an environmental activist or advising on race relations. I would feel unqualified.  But mythology and character interplay, ultimately fun, are also worth caring about since they occupy time in an interesting way.  Some people do puzzles. I like to fuss over where an edit should land so it strengthens both shots. Much of that is intuitive, and so is the initial guess when planning it and I like to see my impulses vindicated at least within a craft.  I have cold feet about a few projects right now, so it is a matter of caring more about them than caring about my own discomfort in reaching out.


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Filmmaker, from North Bay, Ontario, currently in Toronto. Graduated from Humber Film and TV Production in the Nineties. Made countless short films.

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