Screenwriting in a digital era

In the conclusion of her book, Screenwriting in a digital era, Kathryn Millard presents a manifesto for ‘sustainable screenwriting’, stating that the current system for producing films from screenplays is simply unsustainable is there is any hope of producing unique films which aren’t targeting purely at making money for studios.

As a self-confessed introvert, this chapter scared me somewhat. I generally like to write on my own, even with all of the frustrations of working with myself, and discussing my ideas, opening up a script to suggestions from others, incorporating other people’s ideas into something I’m working on both fills me with trepidation and also excites me. There are times when I’m hugely stuck writing something, and someone else’s input would be hugely valued, but there’s also that part of me that still lacks any sort of confidence, and isn’t ready to share anything I’ve written with the wider world.

However, I know that screenwriting above any other form is writing, is a collaborative medium. The final draft of a screenplay (or shooting script, anyway) rarely resembles anything even close to what the original writer sent out. Whilst Millard says to ‘accept nothing less’ than being ‘involved in every aspect of designing and executing the screen idea’, it’s rare for a screenwriter to actually be involved that deeply once a film has entered production.

Unless, of course, you follow one of the ‘sustainable screenwriting’ paths Millard suggests. I would love to be involved with the writing and production of a film with a group of people I like and respect, but it’s making those connections and finding those collaborators (and finding the time!) that I’m struggling with at the moment. However, I do agree with Millard that independent production in this way does indeed appear to be the future, unless you somehow get noticed by someone with clout and are willing to write by committee. Of course, a well-made independent film of some description could potentially open many doors in the future, so it’s definitely something that I would like to do, given the opportunity.

More and more people do seem to be embracing the technological advances which make it possible to write and produce your own film on a limited budget, and this can only be a good thing. As Millard said, generally, studios’ ‘focus is entirely on financial outcomes – art has been edited out of the picture … Along the way, a plethora of well-meaning consultants and advisors assist in eroding the distinctive qualities of works, reader’s report by reader’s report, draft-by-draft.’ It seems to only way to retain your own unique film-makers’ voice is to go completely independent.

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