... this is how I realised I wanted to be a screenwriter. It did not start well. It started, all things considered, disastrously.
Firstly, the caveat: Yes, writing about how I decided I wanted to become a screenwriter whilst still having next to no success at it is monstrously egotistical. I know this, and yet I type on...
Back around, ohhhhhh, 2005 or so I was harbouring some ill-born notion of being a novelist. My dazzlingly brilliant début novel was to be titled A Billion Atoms, a tragic love story about murder and reincarnation which would leap straight from my pen to the top of best-seller chart to Richard and Judy’s collective lap. I started penning (with an actual pen! I know!) this load of pretentious twaddle in notebooks for a little while before it became apparent that whatever I might be, I was not a novelist.
Round about the time that I was not writing my novel, my girlfriend mentioned a pop-science article about how serial killers may be the result of a faulty gene, and the ethical ramifications of scanning expectant mothers to find Li’ll Ted Bundies. I read the article and said “Oooh, there’s a movie in that”*. Out loud.
I’d written scripts on and off since I was about eight, when me and my friends came up with a television script called ‘Mean Streets’ (being eight, we were unaware that Martin Scorsese already had his mits on this title), which was a bit like Monster House. We even got as far as sending a proposal to the now defunct TSW, who wrote back very positively, as I remember it**.
Scripting continued here and there, a few unfinished horror scripts and shorts whilst I was at college, a few aborted comedies at University. I entered the odd competition, including that one that James Moran won and I did not.
I hadn’t written anything in script form for a couple of years when this idea came to me, but when it did, it gripped me. I was sure it was going to be a super-duper smash, that the cream of directors and stars would be falling over themselves to make it. I direct you to my comments above regarding my ego and its monsterism.
I bought ‘Teach Yourself Screenwriting’ (actually not as terrible as it should be, and certainly more fun to read than ‘Story’), read it from cover to cover, then began in earnest. I didn’t own a computer at the time, so I wrote a step outline and treatment longhand in a spiral bound notebook. This still baffles me.
After finishing the treatment, I transcribed my Tipex encrusted masterwork onto a very very old laptop that was donated by my girlfriend’s brother. You know the laptop that Julia Roberts uses in My Best Friend’s Wedding? Exact same one. It had a floppy disk drive, which seems as archaic as cave-paintings now, and it would frequently corrupt my files. I loved it to little pieces.
I worked feverishly on the script for about six months, all told. I’d write in bed and during my lunch break, on my custom Word template, transferring files between two or three floppy disks because at least one would need formatting by the end of the day.
Then, one day, I was done. I printed it up, bound it, looked at it proudly.
And I knew that day that it was a steaming pile of shit.
Truly, it’s a terrible, terrible script. All of the stuff from the article was jettisoned, and I was left with an action horror movie about a world full of serial killers. Not a good one. A really, really bad one. This wasn’t just writerly post-partum depression, which hits me every time I finish a script whether I think it's good or not. I still check in on the script occasionally, like a deformed incestuous son I’ve locked in the attic. It’s still just as evil and ugly, munching from its bucket of fish heads in a darkened corner.
Despite all this, I loved the process tremendously. I knew I was going to be a screenwriter, even if I wasn’t good at it yet. Hubris gets me through a lot.
The next screenwriting book I bought remains my favourite non fiction book of all time: Which Lie Did I Tell by William Goldman. Reading it directly led to my next, much better script, not in terms of story, but in being inspired to write. And, yes, trying to write a bit like William Goldman.
Incidentally, at the end of Which Lie Did I Tell, Goldman lists a number of ideas for movies that he likes but couldn’t be bothered to write because he’s too old and too rich. One of them’s about identifying a gene which is responsible for creating serial killers, and the action-horror that could unfold from this.
Huh, I thought.* Reading this back, it appears that my attempts at a screenwriting career started as an elaborate form of procrastination, doesn't it? For the avoidance of doubt, I really really love screenwriting.
** Come to think of it, I think it might have been the nicest reply I've got to date. Hmmmmm...