There’s an awful lot screenwriters can learn about the craft of screenwriting from watching the bloated, melodramatic behemoth that is the Academy Awards.
(And it’s just not about guessing which best supporting actress will get too drunk before the show to present “best adapted use of a costume design”.)
So in that spirit, here are five things screenplay scribes can observe from the Academy Awards:
Screenwriting Oscar Takeaway No.1: Screenwriters Do Not Wear Designer Gowns
Unless you’re Diablo Cody — and screenwriters that used to be strippers are like Michael Jordan; they only come around once a generation — nobody cares what you wear.
World-class screenwriters are paid, and handsomely so, to engage in self-loathing, produce pages, and get fired off their own project.
They are not paid to wear Versace or buy four-hundred dollar sunglasses. (That only happens in movies about screenwriters.)
Screenwriting Lesson No.1: Any time spent worrying about your “image” as a creative artist could be better spent working on your writing.
Screenwriting Oscar Takeaway No.2: Screenwriters Get Cut Off During Acceptance Speeches…Unless They’re Really, Really Funny
If you’ve been working on your 2-minute Oscar acceptance speech for years in front of the mirror, I hate to break it to ya…nobody wants to hear it.
There’s nothing the “community” cares about less than you thanking your manager, dog-sitter, masseuse and third-grade babysitter for giving you the support you needed to finish that four-hour historical epic about the Spanish-American war. (Unless of course it’s a documentary filmmaker talking about “anything.” Nobody ever wants to hear about that.)
But as in the rules of screenwriting structure: if you’re writing a drama, stick to the basics of a 3-act structure. If you’re hilarious…then you can do naked push-ups while wearing a tutu.
Screenwriting Lesson No.2: Keep it short. (Both your scripts and your acceptance speeches.) Unless you’re funny. Then you can do whatever the hell you want.
Screenwriting Oscar Takeaway No.3: Nobody Thanks the (Screen) Writer
Remember that time the best actress winner thanked the screenwriter for giving her the chance to express her talents?
Yeah, me neither.
Truth is, nobody thanks the writer. Hell, even screenwriters who adapt novels forget to thank the “original” writer.
Perhaps it disrupts the illusion that words just magically come out of that anorexic illiterate from the San Fernando Valley who really just cares “about” the work and isn’t in it for the money.
Or maybe it’s what the lighting director from my college theatre department said when I asked if it bummed him out none of the cast thanked him.
His reply: “If they were the kind of people who remembered to thank me, they wouldn’t be actors.”
Screenwriting Lesson No.3: Don’t be in the writing game for the applause and the accolades. They will never come, especially from fellow writers.
Screenwriting Oscar Takeaway No.4:…But They All Need the (Screen) Writer
Now here’s the deep down dark secret nobody in Hollywood wants you to know about: they need you desperately.
And they know it.
Of course, they won’t come out and say it. An addict doesn’t admit they have a problem. A hoarder doesn’t think they have too much stuff. Everybody thinks they are the best driver in the entire world, even when they aren’t.
But make no mistake: none of the pomp and circumstance and outright ridiculousness of the Academy Awards is possible without some over-caffeinated and under-compensated screenwriter pounding away on a laptop somewhere.
So be sure you look real close at every botox-filled, wheatgrass-fed face in that dimly-lit theatre. Beneath that smooth chemical-peel exterior is a raging insecurity that all of this is dependent upon the most undependable thing in the world…a writer.
Screenwriting Lesson No.4: Don’t worry about having power and influence. Just cash those checks and realize NOTHING starts until you write it.
Screenwriting Oscar Takeaway No.5: Master Screenwriters are Married. To the Same Person. For a Long Time
You’ll notice this during the red carpet cattle call. As George Clooney strolls by with his waify supermodel-of- the-month, they’ll point to a nominated screenwriter and their spouse. And you’ll say to yourself: “Wow, that spouse looks so..normal.”
Screenwriters don’t get to the pinnacle of their career by dating Latvian catalogue models or hunky Malibu lifeguards. They get there by finding someone loving, supportive, and…most importantly..stable.
So, before you plan to trade-up your significant other for a newer model remember: being with a screenwriter is like having a ferret as a pet. Fun at first, but then it ends up being a lot more trouble than it’s worth.
Screenwriting Lesson No.5: If you find somebody good, don’t let them go. And if you’re single…don’t wait till you’re famous to find love. Find it now…before you become a huge a#%hole.
And remember to have fun when watching the Oscars. Just don’t make fun of those schmucks too much in the audience.
Fingers crossed, you’ll be joining them before you know it.