Screenwriting : Work not Art by James Murray

James Murray

Work not Art

This speech has probably been the subject of more than one lounge discussion. I'm curious though how he starts by talking about all the worker bees that control whether a script gets picked up and then quotes Chayefsky saying treat writing as work not art. Thoughts? Oh and I love the "when any image is possible, no image is all that impressive." https://medium.com/art-science/a-warning-for-our-next-great-screenwriter...

A Warning For Our Next Great Screenwriters
A Warning For Our Next Great Screenwriters
You are now part of the most collaborative medium anywhere in the world and much of your success in it is going to be determined by how well you listen. I was very fortunate in that regard. As the chi…
Terri Viani

I can only speak for myself but I've never seen my writing as an art but a craft, and craft to me implies work, putting ass in chair in front of computer, getting down in the mud and wrestling with the words. Of course on deadline that's a given, but with my own personal work this has helped me be in the chair regularly, rather than just sort of thinking, "Oh I'll write if I can find the time." Good article.

B.V Jottsonne

It's kind of funny. Every element of the film from the music to makeup to acting and lighting is supposed to be excellent except for the story. And this speech was four years ago when thing s were much much better.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Art takes a lot of work to achieve. Art = Work. I find this debate to be a sort of a chicken-and-egg dilemma—which should be considered first or which is the source of "success" or gives "life" to film. It's both, really. Think, believe whatever you wish—to each their own!— but without creative infusion, then what's the point? It's pretty boring without that soul, that theme, that vision, that voice, whether it comes from one person or a team working together. To me the better message is: Don't listen to cynics. :)

Dan MaxXx

Art? I can buy art! Hollywood is a business. People have to eat, pay rent, survive. filters down from the top bosses to agents to actors to directors...all the way to the lowly paid PA. If Writers wanna be artists, go write a novel or broadway play . Movies, since the beginning, is about entertainment.

Bill Costantini

That's an old Billy Ray article, bemoaning the fate of today's screenwriting world versus the screenwriting world pre-CGI and pre-numbers crunching. He's a great writer, no doubt, but for the most part, today's world still calls for "good" scripts, too. Just the fact that somebody in the marketing department of a studio wants to crunch numbers on your script means it's a good enough script for them to consider. And if the numbers don't work well enough for them, there's always the area of filmmaking where the vast majority of films are made: from independent producers. Studios, for the most part, concentrate on pre-existing IP's anyway. May the heavens continue to bless all producers who make films, and all writers who try to write worthy stories - and the number's crunchers, too.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Yes, it's a business... built on creative ideas! A team of artists work together on a film, do they not? I won't bore everyone by listing them all. Why does the mere mention of art cause people to accuse it, or those talking about it, to not be business savvy or that it isn't work? Especially when it is the very thing that separates and elevates one script over another—one writer over another. Not only is someone like Tarantino (everyone's favorite example) an artist (he calls his writing ART, by the way) he is extremely business savvy. Alfred Hitchcock is considered an artistic genius. Most successful artists are very business minded. Dan M, perhaps broaden your notion of what art is. Part of being an artist is being visionary, seeing what others cannot. That doesn't just mean "fanciful" or hanging something on a wall or writing poems or novels. It's unfortunate to try to consider these notions as separate entities when they are truly symbiotic, especially in this industry.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Bill, thank you for constantly mentioning the Indy film industry and other options. This isn't just about "Hollywood."

Beth Fox Heisinger

Oh, and "art" isn't entertaining? Okay... That's new. Without it, I think film would be pretty boring to watch. LOL! :)

Dan MaxXx

beth- all I'm saying for every great piece of Art, u also gotta take 1 job to pay bills.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Sure. Of course. :) But, does that have to suck the life out of everything? Just saying. LOL!

Dan Guardino

They call it "show business" and not "show art" for a reason. The movie business really is a combination of art and business. Personally I like both sides of this thing we call "show business."

Bill Costantini

Beth - you're welcome. I'm making a wild assumption and guessing that Billy Ray's frustrations stem from the fact that he is a champion of psychological, adult-oriented movies. Just looking at his bio, and the films that he has written and directed, is the basis of my assumption. Writing Four-Quadrant films with international box-office potential and that are heavy on the SX and CGI are probably not the reasons he is a writer. He seems to be more of an old-school 1970's kinda writer, and his articles and references in those articles make that knda clear - at least to me. I guess it's kinda hard to step back down to the indie world after being a writer/co-writer on films like The Hunger Games and Captain Phillips, although he did do just that with his last film that came out recently. I wouldn't be surprised if he practices what he preaches and has turned down some pretty big paydays as a result of his feelings and views.

B.V Jottsonne

Bad movies do actually lose money occasionally. But what strikes me as the most foolish trend by the marketing gurus is to actively encourage the idea that going to the movies will be a sporadic activity and not a regular one. This is kind of like Starbucks saying we might occasionally have coffee but please don't expect it everyday.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Bill - Yes, I'd have to agree with you. That would seem to be Billy Ray's frustration. And from his perspective it makes perfect sense. However, I found this speech or article to be so self-centered and imbued with cynicism, that I think it's unfortunate as a message or rather "a warning" to the next generation. It didn't quite read as practical real world advice, but rather seemed uninspiring and biased. Perhaps that's just my interpretation. :)

Bill Costantini

Casper - I don't know how you define "bad movies" (probably based on your own subjective tastes), but lots of movies - good or bad, subjectively speaking - lose money. It's easily the best business strategy for a major studio to take a concept that is familiar; put a lot of money into its production; market the heck out of it; make it as globally appealing as possible; and repeat as often times a year as possible. "Going to the movies" is a sporadic activity. How many films in the theater have you seen in the past three years? When I was growing up, we had three television networks, PBS and a couple independent stations. There wasn't the Internet, there wasn't cable, and there wasn't video. Going to the theater was a weekly event. Nowadays, most people probably don't even go monthly. I know people who haven't gone in years. So yes...if I as a studio head am making products for people who sporadically go to theaters, I am probably going to focus on lowest-common-denominator films that get the most bang for my studio buck as possible. And I'm kinda an old-school guy, like Billy Ray, too, and see way more smaller films in the theater than tentpole films.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Bill, I had a similar experience growing up. Going out to see a movie was exciting and fun. I remember Tarantino talking about how movies were once considered to be the "every person's theatre." That it was fantastic, affordable entertainment. Something anyone could afford and enjoy. Not just the rich. And he lamented how it's quite different now, that ticket prices have increased so much to support these huge budget films. But... has movie going lost its magic as well? Perhaps? I don't know? There are so many options now. I rarely go to a movie theatre these days. For me and my family it costs $60+ for one movie! Personally, I find "blockbusters" so disappointing that I stay home. The joke is: Is this movie worth $60 to me? And usually the answer is "no." I tend to hold out for smaller films or animation—great storytelling! Anyway, I'd rather support small films. The loss of my ticket sale for these big films hardly makes a dent, but for me it means something. Getting back to Billy Ray, I do understand where he's coming from, but he seemed to be looking down on Indy films.

Dan MaxXx

billy ray doesn't turn down 'polishing' script assignments. is that art? nope. that's business. and pays the mortgage. take the check. very few people do 'art'.

Dan Guardino

Dan Max. Some screenwriting is an art which is fine. Personally I think it is a job so I look at it like it's just business. However, I think I might be a minority when it comes to my way of thinking on this subject.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Sure, some jobs are just jobs. Gotta put food on the table! :) So... it's either one thing or the other, huh? No gray areas... Just black or white... No blending... No variants... No considerations across a broader spectrum... Got it. I guess it depends on how one defines "art" or what it means to be "artistic" or "creative." Anyway, yup, it is a business. No doubt.

Jody Ellis

Movie going hasn't lost its magic for me, it's still one of my favorite pastimes. I try to go at least twice a month.

Dan MaxXx

movie fans dont buy tickets to see writers (unless you're QTarantino). movie fans buy tickets to see actors and directors. :)

Dan Guardino

Beth. It really doesn't matter how a screenwriter defines what they do as long as they do it well. That is all that really counts.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Very true, Dan Guardino! :) Sure, Dan Max. True. I get your point. Makes perfect sense. However, it all starts on the page, does it not? LOL! ;)

Dan Guardino

Beth. You are right. They can't make movies without us. I never suggested screenwriters don't play a big role in making the movie.This debate about screenwriting being an art or a craft or whatever has been going on for decades and will continue long after I am dead. It makes an interesting discussion but like I said it is the end results that really matter not what we call ourselves. In stead of an artist I refer to myself as a self-taught hack because that is how I see myself. .

Mark W. McIntire

As kids, my buddies and I went to the cinema for the entertainment and diversion. The ticket price was $1.00 at the first Saturday showing. We could afford to be non-discriminating in taste; however, with current pricing, I want to know the film has a great story before I shell out the ticket price for my wife and me. Otherwise, it's Netflix at home just to see the actor's performance or the director's skill.

James Murray

Reading this discussion (thanks!), I keep hearing my acting coach's voice when he says, "Acting isn't a career, it's a calling." Yes, he's a purist, but at the same time, how we see ourselves, is a way to inspire ourselves, no?

Desiree Argentina

I think the future of film can be looked at as bleak or full of hope. I believe that so many people have such talent and incredible ideas and now with the internet it is possible to get those ideas out there. In the other hand, it does often feel like everyone is just trying to top each other with special effects. There are so many films out that the story doesn't even make any sense but the visuals are stunning. I have been leaning more toward indie films lately because I love the creative, quirky stories. Some of the films are pure genius. I look forward to seeing how films develop over the next decades!

Doug Nelson

Screenwriting is neither all work nor all art; it is a very complex blend of art, craft, work, technical prowess, imagination, dedication…on and on. And for each person, the blend varies – it’s undefinable. Now that I’m old and retired, the art takes precedence. When I was young and struggling and needed to pay my rent, having that 9 – 5 job in the writer’s room for a TV show took precedence.

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