Screenwriting – Just How Much Harder is it?

When I sat in the classroom of my high school on that last day of senior year, when all the seniors were asked that typical question of where they imagined themselves going, I answered my teachers with the same confident answer. My dream, my goal, and my idea was to be a screenwriter. Music had been a hobby and not something I ever considered, not even for a second, to be a possibility. So, for the past year or so, my life has been about discovering a completely different way of thinking. Before now, my mind connected with the spirit of the movie world. I was, an still am of course, captivated by Hollywood and this powerful industry. However, after soaking in some of the things that Tom Schatz has to share in The Studio System and Conglomerate Hollywood, I only feel more comfortable with the fact that music somehow chose to pull me towards it’s world.

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That is not to say that the music industry is easier to handle. It doesn’t even mean that the music industry is better. In fact, so much between these two industries is similar. Take the names of “the players” for example. I mean, there are production companies, writers, agents, and lawyers in both the Hollywood and Nashville scene. There are “stars” who make it simply because of looks and powerful acts who have the ability to strive because of their genuine talent and art. However, when it comes to the process of how these “players” work in the industry and the formulas that take place during the development stages of projects, that is when my mind begins to accept the work of songwriting over the ways of Hollywood.

Development deals in Hollywood, for writers, just seems to resemble a completely different meaning for the word stressful. There are just so many processes that can take place, so many different directions and rules for ideas to follow, that it feels like remembering the original concept for a film might eventually become impossible to track down. As Schatz mentions on page 50, “the development stage may include activities related to organizing a concept, acquiring rights, preparing an outline, synopsis, and treatment, as well as writing, polishing, and revising script drafts”. So with all these changes that can happen, with so many different “players” having a say on the direction of the film, then who gets to claim the story when all is said and done? The fact that this idea of property in the film industry seems so smudged and clouded makes me appreciate the form of songwriting more and more each day.

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When discussion financing and production in the film industry, Schatz makes the case that “Everyone in Hollywood seems to have a screenplay or an idea for a film. It is no uncommon that directors or producers also are writers. However, only a relatively small number of writers actually make a living from screenwriting and typically writers have little clout in the industry” (Schatz, pg 50). So what if I want my story to remain my story? Sure, maybe I’m completely open to others peoples input, their ideas that could make the story stronger and more successful. However, what if the writer isn’t worried about the money made and is just more connected to the words of the story itself? What if they want to have a say in the final product of the film even as just a writer? “The players” of the industry seem to get complete control over any of these written ideas no matter who the words belong to. With agents/agencies reaching out to things such as product placement deals, a story can even see a complete change there. Maybe a scene in the film has to be rearranged just to make sure that one product is mentioned or seen in the film. That one little thing has to change in the story specifically for someone else, and because of that change, that writer has already lost a piece of the story, the ownership.

For Music - that pitch/demo can be sent straight through a .zip file. As easy as that.

For Music – that pitch/demo can be sent straight through a .zip file. As easy as that.

But jump away from Hollywood and film and land in the Nashville area. In this writing world, just like in film, things start with a story. The story starts with a writer, maybe two, maybe three, maybe even more, and things begin to form. Then, just like in film, the “pitching” takes place only the word used here is demo. Easy thing about this process in the Nashville world compared to Hollywood – the demo can take place through the forms of sharing an iPhone memo, to sitting in the Universal Music Company office with a guitar and hand giving a first hand performance to a table of producers. In this setting, with the demo now displayed, the formula can be rather easy if gone about the right way. Once Copyright is in place, literally once the U.S. Office Form is filled out with the audio recording attached, that song is protected and immediately linked up to the original source. Meaning, in the Nashville world, that original story can be traced back to the beginning stages, even if that stage was the back porch of a run down Knoxville loft. No matter who takes it over, no matter who takes on the song and even mixes around with the sounds, those words of the writer will forever belong to them. Then, with publishing protectors such as BMI, ASCAPE, and SESAC, the writer can be comfortable with the idea of their song being advertised. All that happens with these songs and stories once in the hands of the publishers is getting the song out there. They calculate the questions of who does this song best fit, which producer can hone in on these sounds if the original demo recording wasn’t one hundred percent ready. Then, once that person to sing the song is found, once that sound is finalized, the deal is signed on the record. The royalties are collected and given to the publisher. Next, the publisher distributes the rest of the royalties to the writer who still holds the complete title to the Copyright.

The Copyright form - in recent experience, submission of this form has held the cost of 30 dollars.

The Copyright form – in recent experience, submission of this form has held the cost of 30 dollars.

In Nashville the writer is not forgotten, they are not left out of the equation once the story originates. The writer is kept in the loop from day one through production and so far, especially after the words of Schatz, that just does not seem to be the case for a screenwriter. Yes, I’ll always have this passion for film. It will always be alive inside of me. But gosh, I’m just starting to enjoy this music hobby of mine more and more. Maybe even a little bit to much.

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